Review of 03/09/98 Tibet-House concert, Carnegie Hall, New York City



DURING a workmanlike concert of world music that ranged from monk funk to rock 'n' roll, the annual Tibet House Benefit would have been perfect for most of the audience if there were an announcement that there would be Chinese take-out - or, more accurately, the withdrawal of Chinese occupation in the tiny mountain country of Tibet.

Although last night's Carnegie Hall concert was long on music and short on talk, the evening carried a political charge, as many of the more than 20 artists who performed reiterated the same basic belief that the systematic elimination of Tibetan culture by the Chinese government must stop. Patti Smith said it, as did Sheryl Crow, Philip Glass and Live frontman Ed Kowalczyk.

The concert's other goal was to acknowledge famed beat poet Allen Ginsberg, who was a mainstay at this annual event until his death last year. On the heels of some Tibetan-monk music, Patti Smith glided onto the stage and began telling a joke: "A hipster goes into a cafe and asks the waitress, 'How's the pie?' She says, 'It's gone.' The delighted hipster replies, 'In that case, I'll have two slices.'" The pie that Smith was joking about was Ginsberg.

To that end, she ranted the poet's 1960 poem "To P.O." while Philip Glass offered sparse and spacy piano noodlings in the background.

Not the best or the worse of the Tibet House Benefits, the concert's first half focused on the men, with the latter half devoted to the women.

Between Glass' modern composition "Metamorphosis," which ran a solid five minutes, and one-time Velvet Undergrounder John Cale's three-song monotone set, the show was slipping into an egghead extravaganza. Cale was best on the song "Cable Hogue," but he was so stiff for most of his performance, he looked as if he'd just had the bolts taken out of his neck.

You could tell from the lineup that the producers of the show were trying to create a program that was intellectually stimulating and a good listen, but the early-evening performances only caught fire once - when Live performed its calm-to-storm version of "Lightning Crashes." It was very powerful, in spite of it being rendered on acoustic guitars.

Kowalczyk proved himself to be a very charismatic performer. In a black suit, his spiky hair dyed crimson, the man was focused, and played knowing he had this one chance to touch a middle-age audience, most of whom didn't know who Live was until then.

Although there were a number of excellent performances like that one, the concert lacked star power. Sure, every performer on the bill has a solid fan base, but even Sheryl Crow, who's been getting plenty of attention lately, wasn't a big enough gun to make this a "star-studded" event.

Still, Crow was in great voice and looked very sexy in her black velvet gown. She was at her best in a duet with Angelique Kidjo for the song "Redemption Day," off her latest disc. The Natalie Merchant/Sheryl Crow duet was vocally fine, but one has to question their selection of a church waltz called "When They Ring the Golden Bells."

Smith concluded the concert with a three-song set. During "Spell," she told the fans that everything is holy - from Moses to cows - and concluded the tune by playing a clarinet solo where she was able to create the bleatings sounds of a goat in [its'] death thro[e]s. On the song "1959," she outlined the meanings of freedom and justice, and for the concert finale, Smith led everyone in a singalong of her tune "People Have The Power," as if to remind us all that the world changes one person at a time.

Copyright © N.Y.P. Holdings, Inc. 1998

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