The idea behind the annual Tibet House Benefit Concert is really quite simple: “You get as many talented people in the room and then you get out of the way!” Or so explained composer Philip Glass as Vampire Weekend prepared to take the stage last night at New York City’s Carnegie Hall for the 19th Annual event, which raises funds to help preserve Tibetan culture
The Ivy League-bred quartet was just one of 11 acts performing; everyone from LA bluesman Keb’ Mo’ and Tibetan folk-singer Techung to Brooklyn’s own afrobeat provocateurs Antibalas and its most beloved indie-rockers, the National, appeared at the event.
The problem facing Glass — the vice president of New York’s Tibet House organization — wasn’t so much ensuring he and his audience stayed out of the artists’ way, as it was maintaining momentum through such a diverse line-up and doing so amid the somewhat stultifying environs of Carnegie Hall. Fortunately, with so many acts informally collaborating on stage, Glass managed to keep things spontaneous and the energy high. Keb’ Mo’ appeared for a duet with Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo, Steve Earle grunted and twirled in front of the Patti Smith Band, and Vampire Weekend played two new songs backed by a jaunty string quartet and half of Antibalas’ rhythm section.
The National may have received the largest applause when they appeared to perform two untitled new tunes (so new, in fact, that singer Matt Berninger had to read his lines from a music stand). But the night really belonged to Smith, a constant figure at these benefit events. With her stringy hair swaying underneath a massive purple knit cap, Smith belted through a scathing rendition of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” before inviting all the performers back on stage to close out the night with her own “People Have the Power.” Finally, folks stood up and danced — assigned seats be damned.
The National backstage with Tibet House co-founder (and Uma’s dad) Robert Thurman
Backstage with Vampire Weekend