Tibet House US held their 34th annual Benefit Concert yesterday, virtually, for the first time in the event’s history. Nonetheless, it brought a vibrant show packed with impressive performances, poetry readings and empowering messages from some of the arts’ leading legacies.
Following an introduction from composer Philip Glass—who hand has selected performers and artists for the event since its initiation—and a somber reading of “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” from Iggy Pop, Laurie Anderson commenced the night with a spoken-word performance, showcasing “Lotus Born, No Need to Fear.” Anderson played her own instrumental creation, the tape bow violin, and was joined by Tibetan artist and activist Tenzin Choegyal; together, they created a transcendental soundscape.
Jesse Paris Smith dedicated “Monster,” a song she wrote about the struggle of advocacy and performed on the ukulele, to Choegyal. Her tone was vaguely reminiscent of her mother, though it carried a lighter, feathery texture and a singsong, sweet quality.
Black Pumas brought all the necessary groove with “Colors.” “Black Pumas, help the people feel alright,” Burton cooed mid-song. Known for his psychedelic soul sound, singer Eric Burton’s rich voice melts sublimely with the synthesized keyboard and leaves space for guitarist Adrian Quesada’s smooth solos throughout.
If there have been a few rare treasures emerging from the pandemic, The Flaming Lips’ Space Bubble Concerts would certainly be top of the list. In pre-recorded video footage from January, the band and audience enjoyed a performance of “Flowers of Neptune” under neon lights, all while contained in separate, individual plastic bubbles. If the image in your mind seems surreal, you’re on the right track. Down to drummer Matt Duckworth and his drum kit locked inside his own bubble, every person in the venue was free to vibe out in their illuminated bubbles. If that’s the future of live music…we’ll take it.
“For me, art and music are like drifting clouds, where the cloud doesn’t worry about human-created boundaries,” Choegyal shares before announcing Angélique Kidjo, an influential Beninese-American singer/songwriter with a soulful, warm talent. Kidjo put on two eccentric covers of the Talking Heads’ “Crosseyed and Painless” and “Once in a Lifetime,” before a bedazzled Brittany Howard took the stage to belt out “Stay High” with a full band.
Alone with her piano, Annie Lennox took over with a short but emotive set list, including the Eurythmics’ “Here Comes the Rain Again.” Valerie June also performed solo aside a fireplace, covering Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” her distinct voice shatteringly beautiful and raw. Cage The Elephant switched things up, giving people a studio performance of “Skin and Bones,” before ramping it up for “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked.”
The biggest collab of the night fell on Phoebe Bridgers’ massively successful rock hit “Kyoto,” joined by Philip Glass on the ivory keys, Jackson Browne on backing vocals and the Scorchio Quartet filling the air with euphoric strings. The powerful collaboration slowed down the tune, filling every space with sound, and turning Bridgers’ grammy-nominated track into a heavenly orchestral number. Bridgers’ voice held a certain clean, childlike quality, serving as a mortal instrument throughout the performance, through “Kyoto” and ending with the lyrically torturous “Moon Song.”
Eddie Vedder dedicated “Can’t Keep” to his admiration for Philip Glass, playing in a short video clip with his ukulele. “Because I fucking love him,” Vedder chuckled.
A long-time friend of Tibet House US, Patti Smith returned with daughter Jesse for the event’s final few performances; first, Smith’s reading of her poem, “A New Year,” joined by Jesse on the piano, playing a softly melancholic melody. The melody twisted and transformed fluidly into “Wings,” Patti’s voice flowed over the keys like an eternal call for nostalgia.
Per the event’s tradition, the finale stood with “People Have The Power.” Patti Smith appeared on a video square alongside various guests, from musicians to singers, children, artists and dancers from across the globe. As Philip Glass put it, in this “retreat of COVID,” the night proved to be a unifying event for all and a heartfelt way to ring in the Tibetan New Year.
Laurie Anderson — Lotus Born, No Need to Fear
Jesse Paris Smith — Monster
Black Pumas — Colors
The Flaming Lips — Flowers of Neptune, All We Have Is Now
Angélique Kidjo — Crosseyed and Painless (Talking Heads), Once in a Lifetime (Talking Heads)
Brittany Howard — Stay High, Baby
Annie Lennox — You Have Placed a Chill in my Heart (Eurythmics), Cold, Here Comes the Rain Again (Eurythmics)
Valerie June — Fake Plastic Trees (Radiohead), Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)
Cage The Elephant — Skin and Bones, Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked
Phoebe Bridgers — Kyoto (with Philip Glass, Jackson Browne and the Scorchio Quartet), Moon Song (with the Scorchio Quartet)
Eddie Vedder — Can’t Keep (Pearl Jam)
Tenzin Choegyal — Be the Sky (with Philip Glass and Saori Tsukada)
Patti Smith and Jesse Paris Smith — A New Year, Wing, People Have The Power