The emotional high point of Thursday’s Tibet House Benefit Concert at Carnegie Hall came early in the night. Laurie Anderson was delivering her new composition “Don’t Go Back to Sea,” a gentle spoken-word piece she performed with the aid of a keyboard and a vocoder that began with clear anti-Trump lines like “you don’t look like a president to me.” All of a sudden, it transformed into something far more personal. “Lou, I miss your touch,” she sang in reference to her late husband, Lou Reed. “Your kiss. I miss you so much.” She then quoted lines from his 1989 comeback hit “Dirty Blvd.” that have never sounded more relevant: “Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor/I’ll piss on ’em/That’s what the Statue of Bigotry says.”
If Reed was still around he certainly would have been at the show, one of the longest-running benefits in America that never fails to put together an incredible lineup. This year celebrated not only the 30th anniversary of the Tibet House, but also the 80th birthday of longtime Tibet House advocate Philip Glass. These milestones made for a stellar evening of music. Here are six other highlights.
Iggy Pop Plays With New Order One of the great moments in Tibet House history came in 2014 when Iggy Pop performed the Joe Division classics “Transmission” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart” with New Order. Not only was the team-up the perfect fusion of proto-punk and post-punk, but Iggy’s baritone voice made him sound eerily like the late Ian Curtis. (Even stranger: Curtis was playing Iggy’s 1977 LP The Idiot when he killed himself.) This year, they opened up with “Stray Dog,” a 2015 New Order cut that featured Iggy on the original. They then reached way back into Iggy’s solo catalog and dug out the fantastically random “Shades” from his 1987 album Blah-Blah-Blah. Virtually nobody in the house seemed to recognize it, but Bernard Sumner and Iggy had a blast sharing the vocals. They wrapped up with Joy Division’s “She Lost Control” with Iggy handling most of the vocals. It was sensational, though security pounced on anyone that took out a cellphone camera (even ejecting one guy that broke out a camcorder), so let’s hope someone manages to get it on YouTube in decent quality. This needs to be preserved for history.
Patti Smith Covers Bob Dylan In December, Patti Smith performed “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” at Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize Ceremony, but she become so overcome with emotion that she struggled with some of the words. She more than made up for it by delivering a transcendent rendition of the 1963 protest anthem as her opening number, spitting out the words with growing intensity until it reached an amazing climax in the last verse. Next up was “Citizen Ship” from her 1979 album Wave. The song celebrates immigrants, and it’s no coincidence it has re-entered her set list in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory. “Citizen ship we got mem’ries,” she sang. “Stateless, they got shame/Cast adrift from the citizen ship/Lifeline denied, exiled this castaway.”
Alabama Shakes Stun If any classic rock fans that went to Tibet House to see Patti Smith and Iggy Pop entered Carnegie Hall not knowing much about Alabama Shakes, it’s hard to imagine them not leaving as fans. The incredible acoustics of the venue showcased every nuance of Brittany Howard’s powerful voice, from her quiet whispers to her screaming roars, with Philip Glass sitting in on on piano along with a harp player and a string quartet. Their three song set of tunes from Sound & Color had the crowd begging for more.
Rock’s Next Generation Helps Out Patti Smith has been playing with her daughter Jesse on piano and son Jackson on guitar for years, but they weren’t the only second generation talent on the stage. Philip Glass’ son Zack performed the gentle ballad “Southern Skies” on acoustic guitar, and Ben Harper brought out his daughter Harris to join him during his brief set. She’s just 15, but was amazingly poised and clearly inherited her dad’s singing chops. Shortly before their duet, Jesse Smith and Tibetan musician Tenzin Choegyal added haunting music to the “Elemental Prayer” from The Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Everyone Goes After Trump The evening was devoted to raising money for the people of Tibet and spreading awareness of their plight, but throw a bunch of progressives into a room two months after Donald Trump’s inauguration and it’s inevitable domestic politics will come up more than a few times. Tibet House president Robert Thurman began the night by referring to 2016 as the “Year of the Orange Monkey.” Sufjan Stevens and Cat Martino sang a moving rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that’s been part of his live repertoire since the Illinois tour in 2005. Surprise guest Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, got a huge ovation before he even opened his mouth. “We haven’t had much to celebrate at the ACLU in the last four months,” he said. “We’ve seen the actions of this administration betray our most fundamental American values. What makes this country great are the values that are under attack at this very moment.”
The Night Wraps With “People Have the Power” It may have been predictable that the evening would conclude with Patti Smith and all the night’s performers joining her for “People Have the Power,” but that didn’t make it any less special. Iggy and Patti have rarely shared the stage over the course of their long careers, so to see the two 1970s punk legends joining their voices together on the ultimate anthem of empowerment was an amazing sight. If we’re lucky, we’ll get to see them do it again next year.