Patti Smith, Wyclef Jean Sing Out At Save Tibet Benefit

Crowd gets mix of Grant Lee Buffalo and Vic Chestnutt and calls for greater awareness of Tibetan struggle.

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."