Thursday night’s Tibet House U.S. Benefit Concert at Carnegie Hall–the 25th such event–took place “right on the Auspicious Great Miracle full moon of the Great Prayer Festival of the Wood-Sheep Year,” according to the program, which may explain the number of extraordinary moments that occurred during it.
Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange) continued his project of uniting classical music and pop (instead of promoting his long-tail hit LP Cupid Deluxe in the traditional way) with a pair of sparkling songs backed up by a saxophonist and the Scorchio String Quartet. Ira Glass—backed by his cousin, the avant-garde icon Philip Glass—delivered an impassioned reading of Allen Ginsberg’s “Witchita Vortex Sutra” with a frantic, fiery emotionality that would startle anyone who only knows him as the sedate voice of This American Life. Singer-songwriter Sturgill Simpson explored a unique bond between traditional country music and an eccentric personal mysticism fueled by the Bardo Thodol, Stephen Hawking, and psilocybin. And Tenzin Choegyal–the only actual Tibetan to take the stage the whole night aside from the Buddhist monks who chanted an invocation at its beginning–stunned the crowd with a musical adaptation of the Heart Sutra that seamlessly united Tibetan folk music and American rock ‘n’ roll.
Still, afterward all anyone talked about was Patti Smith’s concert-closing set. Obviously the jammed-out finale “People Have the Power” was a point of conversation—how often do you see Dev Hynes, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, Debbie Harry, the Flaming Lips, Miley Cyrus, and a squad of Buddhist monks singing backup at a rock show? But even that level of novelty paled in comparison to her performance of “Gandhi,” in which she was backed only by her band. Forty years after Horses she’s still capable of channeling the same level of shamanistic energy, but she no longer seems surprised at her ability to do it, and her ability to summon a storm while remaining calmly centered in its eye is like nothing else on earth. For its duration, Carnegie Hall felt like church.