About 30 seconds into his opener “The Passenger” at New York’s Carnegie Hall Friday night, Iggy Pop declared, “Aw, fuck this shirt,” tore off his black V-neck sweater and tossed it stage right to a waiting Patti Smith, who caught it and giddily hopped up and down while swinging like she’d just caught a wedding bouquet.
It was a rare moment even for the Tibet House Benefit Concert, an annual event that raises money to preserve the country’s threatened culture. The benefit, now in its 20th year, has hosted unlikely collaborations like Moby and David Bowie performing “Heroes” in 2003 and Ray Davies and Debbie Harry trading verses on “Lola” in 2007. This year marked the 60th anniversary of the 1950 Chinese invasion of Tibet, and the show kicked off with several Tibetan monks performing a haunting chant in front of a large painting of the region’s sprawling Potala Palace.
The setup was sparse: most performers shared the same drums and amps, and the Patti Smith Group acted as house band. Early in the night, composer Phillip Glass introduced Irish singer Pierce Turner, who sat at the grand piano and performed the soaring, Bowie-reminiscent “Yogi with a Broken Heart.” Regina Spektor later played an apocalyptic set including the bone-chilling “Laughing,” which featured gloomy strings. The 30-year-old Bronx singer joked about finally making it to the legendary hall. “I’ve always wanted to play Carnegie Hall,” she said. “And now I have lipstick on my nose.”
Gogol Bordello followed with an acoustic set of revved-up Eastern European punk. Soon, Smith was onstage, looking like a road-tested gypsy. In a baggy white shirt, black vest and work boots, she kicked off with a joyous sing-along of the O’Jays classic “Love Train,” and proclaimed, “Come on everybody! Join hands!” Between songs, someone shouted “Happy birthday.” Smith, who turned 63 more than two months ago, replied, “As the Mad Hatter would say, it’s my un-birthday.”
Smith closed with the epically building “Gloria,” busting out spastic dance moves as the crowd belted the chorus. Afterward, Smith thanked all of the veterans of the cause, then she introduced Pop as “One of our sacred veterans, soon to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
Pop’s three-song set will likely go down in Carnegie Hall history. During “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” he completely defiled the place. He strutted across the stage in tight black jeans, ass crack fully visible, and then dove into the crowd (nobody caught him). As the song later descended into chaos, he smashed his mike stand into the iconic, wood-floored stage repeatedly, trying to make a dent. He gave up and hurled the stand at the grand piano.
At the afterparty, Spektor admitted, “I never thought I’d really get to play. I’m used to listening to things from the nosebleed seats. Just being there on that stage is a mind trip.” Smith’s guitarist Lenny Kaye was still glowing from the special night. “I got to play ‘I Wanna be Your Dog’ with Iggy!” he said. “I’ve been waiting 40 years to play that.” Later, Bordello’s Eugene Hutz added, “It was an atom-smashing experience.”