Art Gallery of Ontario Patti Smith knows how to commune with the dead. She…
- Posted on Mar 4th 2011 3:45PM by Alex Suskind
Samuel Dietz, Getty Images
While the majority of the lineup wasn't what you'd consider typical "Carnegie material," the showmanship and raw talent was. Like past years, the roster for this year's show read like an outline of rock 'n' roll history: blues great Taj Mahal, alternative rock god Michael Stipe, punk icon Patti Smith, hip-hop pioneers the Roots and psych-rockers the Flaming Lips, all on the same bill. Accompanying them were other talented musicians, including the legendary composer, Philip Glass.
All of these performers had been brought together to promote peace and prosperity in Tibet. The annual concert, organized by Tibet House US, a non-profit institution looking to restore Tibet's unique cultural heritage, commemorates the Monlam Prayer Festival, which traditionally takes place at the time of the Tibetan New Year. To honor the occasion for 2011, the show began with a performance from a group of monks from the Drepung Monastery in Tibet, who brought with them a set of horns, symbols, a drum and various other percussive instruments.
But no one was kidding themselves as to who the obvious draws of the night were. One after another, each big-name act came out and topped the previous performance with a powerful rendition of one of their own songs or a cover: Angelique Kidjo and the Roots playing a soulful, energetic rendition of Curtis Mayfield's 'Move on Up'; the Roots jammed to an amazing, jazzed-up cover of Neil Young's 'Down by the River' (seriously, is there a song that the Roots can't play at this point?); Taj Mahal performed a duet with his daughter, the gifted Deva Mahal; Stipe played a new R.E.M. song, 'Every Day Is Yours to Win'; and Glass performing alongside the Flaming Lips for the psychedelic 'Do You Realize??'
By the time Smith returned (she had read a poem earlier in the evening while her daughter, Jesse, and Michael Campbell accompanied her on the piano and xylophone, respectively), the crowd was ready to get a little loose and into the spirit of the night. The punk legend first sang a cover of Chet Powers' 'Get Together' (a tune made famous by the Youngbloods), the iconic 1960s anthem for peace and happiness. She followed that up with a rousing rendition of the rock music staple, Buddy Holly's 'Not Fade Away' as the audience clapped and danced along to the beat. While Carnegie Hall is usually known for its operas and symphonies, Patti Smith is going to be Patti Smith: The vociferous singer-songwriter dropped plenty of f-bombs, and even threw in a few good wads of spit. Granted, this wasn't even close to the most vulgar thing of the night, which was reserved for the reading of William S. Burroughs' 'Roosevelt After Inauguration' piece, which was backed by a haunting composition by Glass.
As has been tradition for past Tibet House Benefit Concerts, all the participating artists came back onstage for the last song, a giant sing-along to Smith's 'People Have the Power.' Everyone was smiling, people in the crowd were laughing and dancing -- from a musical standpoint, it was far and away a success. But the most important thing that those in attendance could take away from this was a better understanding, or at least a recognition of the hardships faced for the struggles of Tibet. During 'Get Together,' Smith perhaps explained it best -- a battle cry that compared the current situation in the Middle East and North Africa to things a little further east: "Vengeance in Cairo, in Libya ... the people taking the power. C'mon motherf---ers!"