For a few glorious moments at the 24th annual Tibet House benefit Tuesday night, New York’s Carnegie Hall devolved into a scene straight out of a CBGB fever dream. The band onstage was billed as New Order, but it was really just the group’s guitarist Bernard Sumner with Jay Dee Daugherty of the Patti Smith Group on drums, Iggy Pop on lead vocals, Philip Glass on the piano and a four-piece string section.
This one-time-only punk/new wave/classical supergroup sent the audience into hysterics with Joy Division’s “Transmission,” but when they kicked into “Love Will Tear Us Apart” – with Iggy’s deep baritone sounding eerily like the late Ian Curtis – many in the crowd could no longer take it, storming to the front of the stage and going completely apeshit. The Carnegie Hall ushers, who minutes earlier were diving on anyone that dared to whip out a cellphone, had no chance of stopping it and didn’t even bother to try.
It was the kind of scene only possible at the Tibet House benefit, which has been uniting figures from the worlds of pop and classical music for a quarter century in order to raise awareness and money for the people of Tibet. “Today, the state of Tibet is simply hellish,” said Tibet House co-founder Robert Thurman early on in the evening. “The last and greatest dictatorship on Earth has mistakenly decided that their only way to keep the vast, rich territory of Tibet is to crush the will of the people.”
The show opened with an invocation by the Drepung Gomang Monks before Robert Randolph took the stage with members of the Patti Smith Group for a wild take on “Bo Diddley” on the pedal steel. Matt Berninger, Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner of the National came out next with unannounced guest Sufjan Stevens. Together, they played beautiful, heavily stripped down renditions of “I Need My Girl,” “This Is The Last Time” and “Vanderlyle.” Afterwards, Stevens, pianist Nico Muhly and Bryce Dessner treated the crowd to “Mercury” and “Neptune” from their experimental collaborative project Planetarium.
Philip Glass and violinist Tim Fain brought Carnegie Hall to a hushed silence with highly passionate takes on the classical compositions “Pendulum” and “France” before Tibet folk artist Techung and his band played a three-song set joined by a four-piece string section. They ended with “Snow Lion Of Peace,” a moving tribute to the Dalai Lama.
New Order’s highly anticipated set began with a tribute to Factory Records co-founder Tony Wilson. British performance poet Mike Garry read a poem about the iconic figure who signed Joy Division while Bernard Sumner and a string section played a touching instrumental rendition of “Your Silent Face” from Power, Corruption & Lies. Iggy Pop, wearing an actual sport coat, then joined the group for the deep cut “California Grass” from New Order’s 2012 List Sirens collection.
The energy in the room increased by 500% for “Transmission” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” not relinquishing when Bernard Sumner left the stage and The Patti Smith Group became Iggy’s backing band. “I want to do two songs I recorded when Joy Division first began playing,” Iggy said, before dusting off “Sister Midnight” and “Nightclubbing.”
The tracks, the first two off Pop’s 1977 solo debut The Idiot, had an ominous feel in context. Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis was spinning The Idiot on his record player when he hung himself in 1980. It’s unclear whether or not this was intentional, but it was nice to hear Iggy revisit his solo catalog after a decade of steady road work with The Stooges. Hopefully it’s a harbinger of things to come.
Patti Smith kicked off her mini-set with a hushed, gorgeous rendition of “Perfect Day” as a tribute to Lou Reed, a longtime supporter of the Tibet House who played the annual gig countless times. It being the Chinese Year of the Horse, Smith then read the poem “New Foal” before ripping into a wild, frenetic medley of “Land” and “Gloria” from her landmark 1975 LP Horses. Patti recently turned 67, but her energy and passion remain completely undiminished.
The evening ended, inevitably, with all of the performers coming onstage for “People Have The Power.” This has wrapped up countless benefit concerts over the years, but watching Iggy Pop and Philip Glass share a microphone as they joyously belted out the refrain over and over made it feel it like the very first time.