Angélique Kidjo, Jon Batiste, Stephen Colbert, Debbie Harry, New Order, Patti Smith, Philip Glass, Nathaniel Rateliff, Jason Isbell, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Tenzin Choegyal, and Laurie Anderson performed at the 32nd annual benefit for Tibet House US at Carnegie Hall on February 7. The annual concert raises funds and awareness for Tibet House US—the art gallery and cultural center created at the request of the Dalai Lama. At the inauguration in 1987, His Holiness stated his wish for a long-term cultural institution to ensure the survival of Tibetan civilization and culture, whatever the political destiny of the six million people of Tibet itself.
The concert provided many highlights as the performers celebrated the Tibetan New Year. Six Tibetan monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery opened the concert by chanting blessings for the new year—the Earth Pig Year, according to the Tibetan calendar. Pianist-composer Philip Glass curated and served as the artistic director for the evening, as he does every year. In his introductory remarks, Glass told the audience “everyone who plays here is a gift.” Avant-pop artist Laurie Anderson, accompanied by cellist Rubin Kodheli, dedicated her composition to her teacher, Tibetan Buddhist lama Mingyur Rinpoche, who taught her that “everything is love.” Anderson ended her brief appearance with a couple of jokes and, inspired by Yoko Ono‘s social media reaction to Trump’s 2017 election, rallied the audience in a collective scream.
Tibetan musician Tenzin Choegyal played a long-necked Tibetan lute called a dranyen, with Philip Glass on piano, Leonardo Heiblum on tablas, and the Scorchio Quartet (who later also backed Debbie Harry, New Order and Jon Batiste) on strings. Choegyal encouraged the audience to accompany him in chanting the Sanskrit mantra “om mani padme hum.” Although billed as a Chris Robinson Brotherhood performance, the band was actually Chris Robinson and Neal Casal of the band, plus members of the Patti Smith Band. Announcing his seventh anniversary of sobriety, Jason Isbell surprised the audience when he played an experimental instrumental guitar improvisation to a pre-recorded drum track rather than perform from his country music catalogue. Nathaniel Rateliff was one of only two artists who performed three songs. He performed solo, then sang with the Patti Smith Band, and then sang a duet with Jon Batiste. Philip Glass performed a neo-classical instrumental.
Patti Smith read a passage called “Prophecy’s Lullaby” from her latest book The New Jerusalem before she with her band launched into a cover of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush.” She also read an untitled original poem before covering Midnight Oil’s “Beds Are Burning.” Smith then left the stage, and her musicians performed the Rolling Stones’ “I’m Free,” working in portions of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.” New Order consisted of three of the band’s five current members, vocalist/guitarist Bernard Sumner, guitarist Phil Cunningham, and bassist Tom Chapman, plus Joe Duddell, while Debbie Harry performed a slow, deconstructed and reimagined version of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” with backing by the Scorchio Quartet.
The Late Show host Stephen Colbert, who had met his wife at an Allen Ginsberg/Philip Glass event, was invited to read a Ginsberg piece for the benefit. He chose the shorter of two options he was offered, “Birdbrain,” accompanied by Glass on the piano. Colbert’s bandleader on The Late Show, Jon Batiste, played piano and had more stage time than his boss. Benin-born Angélique Kidjo sang a Swahili song, and then most of the night’s performers joined her on stage for a cover of Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime.”
Overall, it was a remarkable evening dedicated to a remarkable purpose.