Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, and Alabama Shakes ignite Tibet House Benefit stage
EW's eight highlights from the annual charity concert.
Thirty years ago, influential composer Philip Glass, actor Richard Gere, and Columbia University professor Robert Thurman founded the Tibet House U.S. in New York City. Working at the request of the 14th Dalai Lama, they hoped to both celebrate and preserve Tibetan traditions in America.
They’ve raised funds for the organization with an annual star-studded gala concert in Manhattan, but this year, to commemorate the Tibet House’s 30th anniversary, as well as Glass’ 80th birthday, they truly went all out. Taking place Thursday evening at Carnegie Hall, the night’s lineup of pop and rock favorites included Alabama Shakes, Ben Harper, Sufjan Stevens, frequent guest Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, and more, along with Glass. And over the course of 140 minutes, there were a delightful number of memorable moments. EW’s favorites are below.
Robert Thurman welcomes attendees to the Year of the Firebird
The founder was the first to address the sold-out crowd and he used his moment to kick off a stream of “Happy birthday!” wishes for Glass. He also welcomed everyone gathered to the Year of the Firebird: February 27 marked the New Year on the Tibetan lunar calendar and as Thurman — who is, yes, Uma’s father — explained, the Firebird is like a phoenix. “We will arise out of the ashes of the horrible Year of the Orange Monkey!” he quipped, landing the evening’s first poke at President Trump. He then reminded the audience they were supporting the Tibetan resistance against China. “They have been standing and resisting, and no, they have not prevailed, but they continue to resist in a loving way,” Thurman said of the plagued population. “They feel you can make a friend out of an enemy.”
Brittany Howard is a national treasure
Wrapped in a floor-length velvet dress that matched her now-famous blue guitar perfectly, the Alabama Shakes frontwoman made her case as one of America’s finest rockstars. Howard and her ace band, with help from Glass, the Scorchio Quartet, and harpist Lavinia Meijer, were the first to get the crowd to their feet as they worked through “Gimme All Your Love,” “Over My Head,” and “Sound & Color,” all from their rowdy 2015 LP Sound & Color.
The evening was a family affair
Glass’ son Zack took a turn at the mic with his acoustic guitar and harmonica strapped on to perform “Southern Skies”; Ben Harper’s stunningly talented daughter Harris joined the slide guitar master for a duet of “Everything,” off his 2003 album Diamonds on the Inside. Headliner Patti Smith’s two children also performed. Her daughter, Jesse, helmed the piano to perform two traditional Tibetan songs with Tenzin Choeygal early in the evening, while her son, Jackson, played with his mom and her band for the night’s raucous closing.
Also, a worldly, world music one
The number of other rosters including a punk legend, a top-tier classical composer, Southern rock firebrands, and a Tibetan musical star this year is likely zero. But the corners of the earth don’t just share billing at the Tibet House Benefit — they also share the stage. Collaboration is always a defining characteristic of the evening and Thursday night did not disappoint: Alabama Shakes performed with Glass on piano; New Order thrashed as Bernard Sumner and Iggy Pop tackled the English rockers’ “Stray Dog” from Music Complete and Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control”; Patti Smith Band backed Sufjan Stevens for her version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Swoon.
Tibetan music gets a chance to shine
The evening’s organizers more than accomplished their intent to spotlight Tibetan culture. Before Thurman addressed the crowd, a group of Tibetan monks offered a warm, enveloping chant and, later, Choeygal offered his own amazing tribute to his country. He and Jesse Smith formatted “Elemental Prayer” as a call-and-response, where she would translate his verses after he’d finished. And for “Snow Lion,” which he dedicated to Glass, Choeygal elevated the traditional sounds into a moving, orchestral moment of catharsis.
Iggy Pop and Bernard Sumner dance together
It’s hard to imagine that two people have ever appeared as thrilled to collaborate as the Stooges frontman and New Order/Joy Division founder were. Trading dance moves and smiles as frequently as notes, their three song team-up was positively joyous. Following “Stray Dog,” they offered an expansive take on the punk legend’s 1986 Blah-Blah-Blah cut “Shades.” “That’s a song of Iggy’s that I’ve been a fan of for many years,” Sumner told the crowd afterward. “We played that at my request.” Before launching into “She’s Lost Control,” he added, “And we’re playing this one at [Iggy’s] request.” From the corner of the stage, Iggy shouted, “It’s a good one!”
Sufjan Stevens’ “Star-Spangled Banner” soars
The evening was theoretically rooted in the politics of the far east, but strongly infused with feelings toward the current U.S. system. Along with Thurman’s opening remarks, Anthony Romero, the executive Director of the A.C.L.U. spoke about Americans’ need to oppose the current White House’s infringements on civil liberties with the same loving values that Glass has lived his 80 years with, and Laurie Anderson called out the need to fight for freedom and the rights of immigrants with “Don’t Go Back to Sea.” But it was Stevens’ performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that really shook the audience. The Detroit-born indie rocker first released his rendition, which features a wonky guitar solo and updated lyrics, in 2012, but it’s mournful tone felt especially heartbreaking Thursday. “And our flag marked with blood, with the blood of our hands,” he sang. “And our hands marked with death, with the blood of the man / And the man on the cross, and the cross on our hearts / Has it done nothing more, than to drive us apart?”
Patti Smith’s thrilling call-to-arms
Smith and her band, along with her son on guitar, began their three-song mini-set with a stellar cover of Bob Dylan’s 1962 classic, “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” rocked right into her indicting 1979 song “Citizenship,” and closed with “People Have the Power,” off her 1988 album Dream of Life. For the last number she invited back the night’s previous guests, sharing the mic with Iggy Pop, Britney Howard, and Ben Harper and leading a near 3,000-person singalong. And as the final notes crashed, the icon sent the audience out into the crisp evening with fierce instructions. “Don’t forget that joy is one of our greatest f—ing weapons!” she reminded.