The 21st Annual Tibet House Benefit was an eclectic and diverse affair at Carnegie Hall. Celebrating, creativity, passion and freedom for Tibet, Philip Glass brought disparate artists together for one beautiful cause.
The evening began with an invocation from monks studying at the Drepung Gomang Monasteries. The wordless song was visceral and immediate. The monks were motionless, letting their voices rise in harmony and create a powerful resonating moment of reflection. In previous years, instruments aided their voices but not this year. In some ways the unaccompanied vocals were more powerful, more affecting because of this stripped down presentation.
As Robert Thurman, Buddhist scholar and Tibet House co-founder and President, touched on the present conflicted state of affairs across the globe, he also reminded the gather audience at Carnegie Hall about the beauty and joy of creativity. Thurman was optimistic about Tibet’s freedom in his lifetime and his conviction was a light that helped illuminate a hopeful future. He pointed to the portrait of the Dali Lama’s historic Tibet residence, Potala Palace, that hung in the background. It served as a reminder of what was lost and what could be regained.
The night, as much as it was about Tibet, was about music and things started off wonderfully with a short story by Laurie Anderson. Accompanied by her violin and synth, she told a wry story of a Buddhist retreat going horribly awry. Anderson smoothly transitioned to a beautiful collaboration with Antony for “The Beautiful Dream.” It was sweetly sung with Antony’s voice being powerful and with as much character and conviction as the subjects of the song.
Just as quickly as Antony mad his appearance, he made way for James Blake. I was intrigued to see how this unique performer would do in Carnegie Hall, where the acoustics reign supreme. Unfortunately, his voice was drowned out at times, especially during his opener, “Lindesfarne.” During “The Wilhelm Scream,” there was more of a balance between the electronic elements of Blake’s music, his vocals, and the guitar work. It gave a hint of why so many people were drawn to Blake’s unique take on Dubstep.
Glass walked on stage to begin his performance which was more befitting of what usually is scheduled at Carnegie Hall. Glass was joined by violinst Tim Fain for a rendition of “Pendulum.” Fain played his part from memory, which was an amazing feat considering the intricate nature of the piece.
Serpentine arpeggios danced around Glass’ intricate piano playing and created a hypnotic and engaging piece of neo-classical music. “Pendulum” was written to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Dechen Shak-Dagsay brought the Benefit back to its roots in Tibet. Shak-Dagsay’s traditional, yet strikingly modern, ode to Tibet was beautiful and transcended boundaries and any language barrier.
Shak-Dagsay’s music felt modern rhythmically, having a swaying and breezy tempo. Shak-Dagsay’s traditional vocals reached its apex as her voice rose towards a traditional Tibetan yodel, closing her set.
A surprise addition of The Two, who were not originally listed, was a brief interlude of uptempo rock. They were backed by The Patti Smith Band, and were a nice segue into the moment of the night; Das Racist.
It was interesting to see Das Racist on the bill for the Tibet House Benefit and it was even more odd to see Glass introduce the Brooklyn hip-hop trio. Backed by the Scorchio String Quartet, they cut into “Michael Jackson,” loose and easy like it was any other night. Not as sloppy as I’ve seen them in the past, Heems and Kool A.D. wore suits but did there best to cause some trouble. Hype man Dapwell gyrated sexually and spun around to cap off the performance. Of course, it being Carnegie Hall and the Tibet House Benefit, most in attendance were perplexed.
Stephen Merritt, front man for the Magnetic Fields, had perhaps my favorite set (aside from Rahzel) of the night. Starting off humbly with his ukulele wishing he had an orchestra backing him on “This Little Ukulele.” For “The Book of Love,” Merritt was backed by the Scorchio String Quartet for a gorgeous little tune. Merritt ended the night with the hilarious new single from the Magnetic Fields, “Andrew in Drag.”
Following Merritt was another change of pace, Rahzel. The beat boxer extraordinaire, began with “Transformer,” making time, rhythm and noise all his own. He was a unique and wonderful spell that Rahzel wove over the crowd. Each rumbling note that Rhazel produced further created a sense of detachment from everything around you.
It was an amazing feat considering it was just one man. Rahzel was soon joined by Das Racist who paled in comparison to Rahzel but caused some controversy for dragging the American flag across the stage. Rahzel closed out his powerful performance with the Scorchio String Quartet.
Lenny Kaye, with The Patti Smith Band, celebrated the 40th anniversary of Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965â€“1968, with fun takes on “Night Time” and “Born to Lose.” This was perhaps the smoothest transition into acts as right after Kaye was the headliner of the night, Lou Reed.
Lou Reed did not pull a Metal Machine Music nor did he bow to playing a greatest hits set. It fell in between with a sort of off performance by Reed due in part to his reliance on reading the lyrics. Reed was backed by another guitarist as well as The Patti Smith Band and the Scorchio String Quartet. I wasn’t sure if Reed was impatient or trying to get the Quartet to improvise with him at times, but it was interesting to see Reed work his way through “Ecstasy” and “Who Am I?”
As Reed cut into “Beginning to See the Light,” the night’s performers begin to join Reed on stage to close the night on the 21st edition of the Tibet House Benefit. Fittingly, the man who has put so much time into the Benefit, Philip Glass, received a wonderful “Happy Birthday” to end the night.
The Tibet House Benefit continues to inspire and create a sense of passion and perseverance through creativity. More photos by Tracy Ketcher from the night are below.