By Brian Ives
New York City’s Carnegie Hall is an unlikely stage for a concert that amounted to a ’70s/’80 alternative rock /post-punk lineup. Yet that’s just what went down at last night’s 24th annual Tibet House Benefit concert. The show, benefitting Tibet House US — a non-profit that promotes and preserves Tibetan culture — featured plenty of great musical performances, but the best was surely saved for last.
Towards the end of the night, New Order founder Bernard Sumner took the stage with newer additions Phil Cunningham and Tom Chapman (but not co-founders Stephen Morris or Gillian Gilbert, and certainly not estranged member Peter Hook), joined by poet Mike Garry for a piece called “Saint Anthony,” an ode to post-punk impresario Tony Wilson, the co-founder of Factory Records (the label New Order and Joy Division were signed to) and manager of legendary Manchester music club the Hacienda.
That set the stage for what came next.
Iggy Pop, a towering influence on punk rock and post-punk took the stage for “Californian Grass” from New Order’s 2013 album Lost Sirens, an interesting if not obvious choice. After that, things got surreal as the band launched into Joy Divison’s “Transmission.” If you’re of a certain age, or if you obsess over the music from Trainspotting, your mind has been blown by the previous sentence. So, go ahead and skip to the next paragraph. For those of you still with us, here’s the deal: New Order rose from the ashes of Joy Division, whose singer Ian Curtis, committed suicide in 1980. Curtis, like everyone in the British punk and post-punk scene, was a huge Iggy fan (and indeed, was said to have listened to Iggy’s 1977 album The Idiot right before his death). So, Iggy singing Curtis’ lyrics, with Curtis’ Joy Divison bandmate? Big, big deal.
This was blowing fans’ minds in real time, and many of them rushed the stage, which, apparently, is an uncommon occurrence at Carnegie, and put the ushers into a bit of a panic, trying to get everyone to return to their seats (at the beginning of the show, they were attempting to get the audience to follow the venue’s “turn off your cellphone” rule to little avail). So, when Iggy and New Order then launched into Joy Divison’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” let’s just say that they didn’t make any new friends among Carnegie Hall’s staff. But they did give fans a moment they’ll not soon forget.
After that, the New Order members were replaced by the members of Patti Smith‘s backing band. “Here’s a song I did when Joy Division was still around,” he said, going into “Sister Midnight” a song he co-wrote with David Bowie from The Idiot, and then went into another song from that album, “Nightclubbing.”
From there, Patti Smith took the stage accompanied only by a piano player to cover yet another punk rock icon, Lou Reed (an artist who had played the Tibet House benefit several times in the past), to sing his classic ballad “Perfect Day.” She followed that with a spoken word piece “New Foal,” which appropriately went into “Horses” from her classic 1975 debut album of the same name, and that segued into her raucous version of “Gloria” (also from Horses). The show ended, as all benefits should, with Patti’s “People Have The Power,” joined by the rest of the artists.
Some of those artists included the National’s Matt Berninger, Aaron and Bryce Dressner performing “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” with Nico Muhly on piano – he did the orchestration on the studio version – for the first time. They also played “I Need My Girl” and “This Is The Last Time” assisted by Sufjan Stevens.
Robert Randolph (Photo by Maria Ives)
Robert Randolph (also backed by Patti Smith’s band) kicked off the show with a heavy dose of blues-rock with Bo Diddley’s “Bo Diddley” and Don Nix’s “Going Down.” Other performers included Phillip Glass (the show’s musical director, and co-host with Tibet House president Robert Thurman [Uma’s dad!]), classical violinist Tim Fain (whose playing is heard in the film 12 Years a Slave), the Tibetan singer/songwriter Techung, and Sufjan Stevens’ classical music project Planetarium, who songs are all about, well, the solar system. Great performances all (depending on your tastes), but it was the legends who provided the most memorable moments (and hopefully, some clever promoter is figuring out a way to get Iggy on tour with New Order).
Learn more about Tibet House US at their website.