A sold-out audience at Carnegie Hall Monday night (Feb. 17) was treated to a
night of the types of collaborations between artists like Michael Stipe,
Natalie Merchant, Billy Corgan and Patti Smith seen only at benefit shows.
The fifth annual Tibet House benefit was a two-hour meditative pulse of
traditional and modern music by a revolving cast of big-name musicians, who
joined together on new and old material and a few classic jams. Organized as a
show of solidarity with the Tibetan people, who've been fighting for cultural
freedom from the Chinese government since the occupation of that country by
Chinese troops in 1959, the evening was described by New York Times
writer Jon Pareles as "an event where songs outnumbered prayers but were
offered in a similar spirit."
The concert opened and closed with the
chanting of eight monks from the Drepung Loseling monastery, who, like Tibetan
spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, are currently in exile in
Highlights of the night included an all-star band with Billy Corgan
guitar and the Velvet Underground's John Cale and composer Philip Glass sharing
a piano while Beat poet Allen Ginsberg recited his laundry-list political beat
down, "Ballad of the Skeletons." Cale also performed "Ship of Fools" and
"Chinese Envoy." The unlikely duo of Glass and Natalie Merchant took the
opportunity to debut a new song they wrote together entitled "Planctus," based,
according to Pareles, "on a 12th-century lament portraying the Virgin Mary at
Corgan also debuted a new song, entitled "Need," followed
by somber reading of the blues standard "Death Don't Have No Mercy." Ben Harper
did a solo cover of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song," Stipe performed "E-Bow the
Letter" with Patti Smith reprising her role on backing vocals, as well as a
hushed version of Pearl Jam's "Long Road."
But the high point of the
evening was Smith's shattering performance of her signature tune, "People Have
the Power," for which she shared the stage with all the night's participants
and sang in a voice Pareles described as "blazing with optimistic conviction."
The evening closed with a final chant by the monks.