ATLANTA -- As two colorfully-clad Tibetan Drepung Loseling Monks danced about the stage to their brethren's instrumental bellowing, a
scattered crowd of hundreds reacted with polite applause and bemused stares.
That pretty much set the tone for the "Save Tibet Concert," which unfolded
Saturday at the Chastain Park Amphitheatre. The benefit show -- with sets
from Grant Lee Buffalo, Wyclef Jean, Joan Osborne, Brute (Vic Chesnutt and
Widespread Panic), Sheryl Crow and Patti Smith -- was in honor of the
International Campaign for Tibet, but, as is sometimes the case with
all-star benefit shows, members of the crowd seemed more concerned with
hearing their favorite artists than changing international policies.
And if many of the concert-goers were hard-pressed to come up with exactly
what Tibet needed to be saved from, Grant Lee Phillips, lead singer of
Grant Lee Buffalo, saw the show's value nonetheless.
"I can't claim to be an expert by any means on the subject of Tibet or
Buddhism," Phillips said the day before the show. "But something like this
... alerts all of us to a particular cause. So I see it as a good thing.
It's a way to rally around a particular point."
Proceeds from the ticket sales went to the International Campaign for Tibet, a volunteer effort that works for Tibetan human rights, self-determination and cultural survival.
During his performance, Phillips unleashed his wildly-dramatic falsetto vocals on an inspired
version of "Bethlehem Steel" (RealAudio excerpt) -- a lengthy dirge from
Grant Lee Buffalo's 1996 album, Copperopolis -- for the crowd of
yuppies, alterna-kids, their
middle-aged parents and a few aging hippies.
The Fugees' funky rapper Wyclef Jean followed Buffalo, prodding the
mostly-white audience to its feet with a call to the dancefloor. With the
sounds of the Bee Gees' 1970s dance classic, "Stayin' Alive," grooving in
the background, he and a few of his Refugee All-Stars dropped the sharp
rhymes of his hit "Tryin' To Stay Alive." Though the
tune got the crowd on its feet, it wasn't until people heard the first few
twangy plucks of Jean's country-fried crossover hit, "Gone 'Til November,"
that he finally won them over. Unfortunately, the flame was quickly
extinguished, as the PA cut out after 20 minutes, a none-too-subtle
reminder that Wyclef and the All-Stars' time was up.
Bluesy singer Joan Osborne opened her short set with some amelodic chants,
after which she previewed two new songs from her upcoming album. The singer
seemed thrown off by the audience's restlessness and, visibly miffed,
quipped, "Don't bother getting out of your seats. I know you did earlier. I
wouldn't want you to wear yourselves out."
Predictably, the only performer who made more than a passing reference to
the Tibetan cause was punk poet Patti Smith. She hit the stage howling,
pausing in mid-set to introduce "1959," a recent single that details the
Tibetans' struggle against Chinese oppression. Smith angrily denounced
commercial radio stations, even pointing a finger at the night's main
sponsor, radio station 99X, for their refusal to play the song (she
implied, questionably, that it was being kept off the air for political
reasons). The diatribe seemed to invigorate Smith enough to make her offer
an absolutely vicious version of her defiant classic, "Rock 'N' Roll Nigger."
Brute -- subbing for Scott Weiland, who pulled out of the event last week -- stepped up after Sheryl Crow to receive the night's warmest reception. From the moment a bluesy slide guitar opened "Good Morning Mr. Hard On," local avant-folk hero Vic Chesnutt and his friends from Widespread Panic had the crowd in
their back pocket.
Unfortunately, after less than 30 minutes of revved-up
folk/blues noise, the show was over -- shut down by the upscale
neighborhood's 11 p.m. noise ordinance.
James Borteck, 19, of Atlanta, was less than pleased.
"That fuckin' sucked," Borteck said. "Widespread only played five songs."