Minutes after an uproarious Jerry Seinfeld performance at New York City’s Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night, silence overtook the sold-out crowd. At the request of the evening’s host, George Stephanopoulos, and his guest onstage, meditation teacher Bob Roth, the nearly 3,000 people who’d gathered for the David Lynch Foundation’s benefit concert, Change Begins Within, managed to close their eyes and mostly shut up for three minutes. Only a few cell phones pinged and a handful of people coughed, as those gathered either meditated — the Blue Velvet director’s organization advocates transcendental meditation for stress control — or simply respected the silence.
That short period, however, was the only quiet moment of the evening. In addition to Seinfeld’s comedy, Katy Perry, Sting, Angélique Kidjo, Jim James and classical guitarist Sharon Isbin each performed short, lively sets. And since each of the performers actively practices transcendental meditation, they also spoke to its power.
“I started TMing about five years ago, and it’s changed my life,” Perry, who taught transcendental meditation to her touring crew last year, told the crowd. “It’s changed the way I’ve thought about things and it’s changed my attitude. You know how you have a crappy day and something just doesn’t want to go right? I always excuse myself for 20 minutes and then I’m back.”
The evening began with Seinfeld riffing on what a hassle it is to turn up to something like the concert, even as a performer. Its inherent Seinfeld-iness made it all the more unexpected when he got serious to talk about how he’d been meditating routinely for more than four decades.
“It’s been the greatest companion technique of living that I’ve ever come across, and I’m thrilled to be part of this movement that seems to have really been reinvigorated by Bob [Roth] and David Lynch,” he said. “I would do anything that I could to promote it in the world, because I think it’s the greatest thing as a life tool, as a work tool and just making things make sense.”
After a short, ponderous flamenco interlude by Isbin that followed the meditation break, Kidjo came out, dressed in pink, white and orange, with an orchestra for the evening’s liveliest performance, a lengthy rendition of her stirring 2002 tune “Afrika,” which she turned into a sing-along. “Just because we are talking about meditation doesn’t mean you have to be quiet,” she assured the crowd, which she roused into singing loudly. Midway into the tune, she left the stage and reappeared in front, slowly working her way up the aisles, wiggling her shoulders and high-fiving concertgoers in the expensive seats up front.
Lion-maned My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James, who has been meditating for six years, came out in his finest black Nick Cave-tailored three-piece (with a pink pocket square), bringing the mood back to more somber tones. At the request of music director Rob Mathes, who’d been impressed by his performance at the Lynch tribute concert in Los Angeles earlier this year, he sang his solo tune “State of the Art,” which uses technology as a metaphor for complicated modern living. He played a searing guitar solo toward the end, but the low energy of the song itself slowed down the evening.
Luckily, the walking, singing independent energy source known as Sting was on hand to liven things up. The concertgoers up front in the pricier seats grabbed their cell phones to take photos of the 64-year-old former Police frontman, who ambled into his jazzy solo tune “Englishman in New York” with a swagger that went well with his barely buttoned shirt. The singer arched his body back and belted the 1988 hit as if he’d written it that day, and he sang two more solo numbers with similar aplomb: “Shape of My Heart,” which featured Isbin on acoustic and “Fields of Gold.”
For his final number, “Fragile,” he decided to play guitar himself and recapitulated the evening’s theme. “I’m in a very stressful situation right now,” he said. “I’m about to sit in this chair that Sharon has just vacated and play the guitar. It’s a high level of stress. Luckily, I’ve been meditating for a while.”
The evening’s final performance, an unusual set of re-orchestrated Perry hits, showed the diverse appeal of Lynch’s foundation. Throughout the pop singer’s five-song set, the audience up front remained seated, clapped politely and took the occasional cellphone pic, while the crowd in the balconies cheered loudly.
The singer, who wore a pale pink gown, opened the set with a slightly down-tempo, emotional rendition of “Roar” that ended with her stretching out her arm with a finger raised. The orchestra then struck a haunting balance with a hip-hop drumbeat as they kicked into what became a space-y version of “Teenage Dream.” After telling the crowd about what a gift transcendental meditation had been to her, she sang “Wide Awake” and “Dark Horse,” the latter of which found her striking poses with violinist Margot, who improvised on the tune’s melody for a solo. Perry’s set ended with four pale-pink ballerinas tiptoeing out to a lush, harp-adorned take on “Firework.” With each “oh-oh-oh,” the dancers turned their bodies to the music. By the time Perry took her bows, the audience up front stood for an ovation.
The night ended with words from the foundation’s namesake, David Lynch, who was not present for the concert, since he’s currently filming a new season of Twin Peaks. Nevertheless, he sent in a video of himself on some dusty road, maybe in another dimension. “Transcendental meditation is life-transforming for the good,” he said. “It works if you’re a human being. Every human being has a treasury within, and transcendental meditation gets you there easily and effortlessly and it changes life for the good.” The night’s performers may have proved his point for him.