NEW YORK Phish frontman Trey Anastasio doesn't usually perform in the kind of tasteful black suit he wore Saturday night at Carnegie Hall. Then again, his usual jam partners aren't exTalking Heads leader David Byrne, punk icon Patti Smith and classical composer Philip Glass.
"It's an honor to be here there's so many great musicians here," Anastasio said from the stage.
The occasion was the eighth annual benefit concert for Tibet House, which aims to preserve the endangered culture of Tibet, a nation that has been under Chinese occupation since 1949.
The event, held to coincide with the Tibetan New Year, is known for bringing performers together in unusual configurations on Carnegie Hall's famed stage. Saturday night's show gave nearly equal time to Western pop stars and performers from other cultures.
Though Phish once covered Talking Heads' 1980 album Remain in Light in concert, in its entirety Anastasio and Byrne both avoided the their bands' catalogs when they took the stage together early in the show.
Instead, the duo launched into a stripped-down version of Tom Waits' "House Where Nobody Lives" (RealAudio excerpt of Waits version ), from the singer/songwriter's 1999 album, Mule Variations. Anastasio, who strummed an acoustic guitar, replaced Waits' bellow with his own wispy tenor, while Byrne, who played an accordionlike pump organ, added high, rustic harmonies on the chorus.
The vocal Phish fans in the audience took the pair's unexpected song choice in stride. "That was a cool surprise; everyone expected them to do Talking Heads," Joe Adler, 25, of Takoma Park, Md., said.
Anastasio, who also performed at last year's Tibet House benefit, appeared early and often this year, perhaps because organizers remembered last year, when impatient Phish fans had greeted other performers with cries of "Trey, Trey."
Anastasio played a new instrumental piece, the brief, airy "3rd Street," with Glass, and backed two flutists R. Carlos Nakai, who played the Native American flute, and Nawang Khechog, who played the Tibetan version of the instrument for another instrumental work, "Universal Peace."
It was the first time that these two instruments representing two endangered cultures had been played together in concert, Glass said from the stage.
Khechog, who wore bright-yellow traditional garb, opened the song on a dark note, pointing out that while he and the audience enjoyed the show, "fellow Tibetan freedom fighters are lingering in prison, tortured every day, living in fear."
During the song, Anastasio played a quieter, finger-picked accompaniment as the two flutes intertwined in a mournful melody.
Megan Hollman, a 24-year-old Phish fan from Maryland, cited that performance as a highlight. "It was beautiful. Trey's such a modest musician ... so versatile and unassuming," she said.
Offbeat, As Usual
Byrne was also highly visible during the show. During his own set, he introduced a new, unrecorded song, "Revolution," which combined a sweet pop melody with characteristically offbeat lyrics: "Beauty rests on mattress springs/ Wearing just her underthings."
Byrne, whose Luaka Bop label focuses on world music, sang a duet in Portuguese with the operatic Brazilian singer Virginia Rodrigues, whose rafters-shaking alto contrasted sharply with Byrne's decidedly nonoperatic delivery.
Byrne, Anastasio and singer Angelique Kidjo from the West African country Benin also joined singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright for a rocking version of the Everly Brothers' "When Will I Be Loved," backed by Patti Smith's rhythm section.
Though Anastasio and Smith were clearly the crowd favorites, Byrne had his partisans. "David Byrne is the sexiest man alive," Amie Marie, 20, of Pittsburgh said.
Smith, who closed the show with her band, also appeared with Glass, for a reading from late beat poet Allen Ginsberg's "Howl." As Glass played rolling piano chords, Smith, wearing a black knit cap and a work shirt, declaimed Ginsberg's words fiercely, often with the cadences of a preacher.
She brought the same intensity to her own set. Her first song, "China Bird," from her upcoming album Gung Ho, rocked hard, with a fleet-fingered, tremolo-colored solo from longtime Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye. Without elaboration, Smith dedicated the song to her father.
Smith, a veteran of the Tibet House shows, followed her own tradition by
closing the show with a powerhouse version of her anthem "People Have the
excerpt) with the night's performers, including a group of Tibetan
monks. For the first time all night, the audience stood up.
"God bless the Tibetan people. God bless all people," Smith shouted as the song crashed to a close.