Members of New York’s enlightened rock set turned out at Irving Plaza Wednesday to honor photographer Danny Clinch, who’s just released When the Iron Bird Flies, a collection of powerful images taken from the past four Tibetan Freedom Concerts. With the walls of the venue decorated with stark shots from the book, musicians took to a makeshift, carpeted stage on the Plaza’s floor, with couches and chairs set up for attendees to make themselves comfortable in the intimate setting. Though the photos and Tibetan Freedom Concerts — meant to bring about awareness of Tibet’s political situation — were the focus of the evening, the moving performances were an equal rival.
Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley accompanied Spanish-speaking singer Christina Rosenvinge in a brief set that kicked off the evening, with little of the former musicians’ predilections towards dissonance and feedback. Instead, Ranaldo and Shelley seemed content to play backing musicians (Ranaldo on keyboards and guitar, Shelley on drums) to the low-voiced singer, whose gentle vocals were so quiet, Clinch had to come out and ask the audience to “keep your conversations about a free Tibet” to a minimum so others could hear her.
Also turning in performances were ex-Shudder to Think frontman Craig Wedren (whose four-song set was virtually a cappella, riding on his near-operatic vocals), Warren Haynes (who covered the Beatles, Hendrix and, fittingly, U2, who had just performed at the venue the night previous) and bassist Leonard Hubbard and vocalist/noisemaker Rahzel from the Roots (who previewed a new genre they called “jazz-hop”).
Though he had canceled earlier interviews in the day since he wasn’t feeling well, Beastie Boy and Tibetan Freedom Concerts organizer Adam Yauch made a brief appearance as well. Despite the recent relaxing of sanctions allowing western rock music into China, Yauch doesn’t think it necessarily means that western ideas will follow shortly. “I’m not sure if China is really opening up to the West,” Yauch said. “I don’t know what affect that will have on the government. The situation in Tibet hasn’t gotten any better as of late. If anything, they’ve cracked down more and the oppression has increased.”
“The main tangible result of the Tibetan Freedom Concerts is that it’s getting more awareness about the situation amongst young people in the U.S. and abroad,” he continued. “It hasn’t had an effect yet, but I think it will. Ultimately, more and more people are finding about the cultural genocide that’s going on there, and the human rights violations, and I think that the more people that know about that, the more change can come about.”