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The US Tibet House 34th Annual Benefit Concert, Virtual Due to Covid, Reviewed

Has it really been only a year since I went to Carnegie Hall for the Tibet House 33rd Annual Benefit (here)? That was the fourth time I’ve been to the benefit, and it was a goodie indeed (I forgot I liked Phoebe Bridgers at that gig), though I had taken a gummy bear laced with THC before the show, and it hit early on and left me comatose -so I was just about tripping throughout… it might have actually helped because after investing $25 to stream the virtual Benefit for 2021,  yesterday’s show was not as good at all. Phoebe was the whiny, slow, sadgirl she always is, “here’s another miserable song” she said after a strings drenched “Kyoto” and we went from there.

Ah, yes… Tibet… For thousands of years various dynasties and outside powers (hi China, hi Mongolia) controlled the autonomous highest place on earth Tibet till 1950 when, in the wake of the Chinese revolution, Mao Zedong put the boot in. Tibet had been semi-autonomous with freedom to govern as they saw fit while following China’s foreign policy. Mao pulled a fast one in 1951 and made the Seventeen Point Agreement where delegates of the 14th Dalai Lama, sovereign of the de facto state of Tibet, reached an agreement with the Central People’s Government of the newly established People’s Republic of China on affirming Chinese sovereignty over Tibet. The Dalai Lama hadn’t approved it and by 1959 was in exile. As for Tibet today, the country  super-Surveillance means a single Chinese soldier for every single person living there: Shangri-la meets Siberia.

So starting promptly at 8pm with the Tibetan Monks chanting (at Carnegie Hall they walk down the middle of the aisle)  and Iggy Pop reciting Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night,” there were a number of poems throughout the evening including Patti Smith who performed her utopian “New Year” – the opening line “and the world fell into an unprecedented calm” had me convinced she’d pulled off the first original thought about the pandemic… she hadn’t but with her daughter Jessie Paris Smith accompanying her on piano, she just about pulled it off. Indeed, with “Wing” (off her best album not released in the 1970s) and concluding with a virtual singalong to “People Have The Power,” Patti had a pretty good night as did  Jesse though her solo acoustic song is less thrilling.

Following Iggy, Laurie Anderson -a woman I love much more in theory than I ever shall in practice, was joined by Jesse, as well as Tibetan musician Tenzin Choegyal, and ace cellist Rubin Kodheli, with whom she recorded 2019 Songs from The Bardo, for a reading of the Tibetan Book Of The Dead with music. Let’s leave it as an acquired taste… So is Phillip Glass (but he always is), and so is Eddie Vedder wearing a GTFO (Get The Fuck Out Of Here) baseball cap from somewhere in Hawaii. “I want to play a song for Phillip Glass because I fucking love him” Eddie said before strumming his ukulele through “Can’t Keep” from 2011,  which wasn’t much. As a whole, the rockers didn’t fair too well last night. Both Black Pumas (Man, talk about overrated) and Cage The Elephant weren’t up to much. The Flaming Lips shared some songs from their performed in bubbles concert last year, it sounds awful and looks worse.

Which meant the night belonged to women of color. Brittany Howard’s exquisite singing on “Stay High,” Valerie June who pulled off the over used “Landslide,” and most of all Angelique Kidjo, performing the best version of “Once In A Lifetime” you have ever heard (unless you saw her open for Vampire Weekend in 2019 here), Kidjo performs African pop mergers with flair, verve and spirit and she owns David Byrne’s greatest moment.

Towards the end of the two and a half hour set we get His Holiness The Dalai Lamas, who is really great, and who finds the silver lining in the Tibet occupation, it freed the people to introduce the world to Tibetan culture and then MC Glass, with various monks, performs “Be The Sky” with Tenzin Choegyal chanting. I haven’t mentioned head organizer Bob Thurman, but then he didn’t sing…

And then we have the power, turn over, and go to sleep…


Grade: B-


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