"Blending Pop With Prayer for Tibet"
NY Times Tibet show review
By Jon Pareles
A deep, unwavering "Om" filled Carnegie Hall during the fifth annual benefit for tibet House wheh the audience sang to accompany Yungchen Lhamo's pristine, gliding vocal lines. "This is not a pop song it is a prayer, " she said, at an event where songs outnumbered prayers but were offered in a similar spirit.
The benefit Monday night for the Monlam Prayer Festival, named for a centuries old Tibetan celebration brought together an unlikely company: Beat and punk poets, minimilist and rock composers. They are drawn to Buddhism and to Tibet's resisstance to assimilation by the Chinese, who have occupied it since 1959. The chanting of eight monks from the Drepung Loseling monastery, now based in India, where the Dalai lama is now in exile, opened and closed the concert.
The gathering encourages collaborations. Hence the spectacle of a band with Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins on guitar and john Cale of the Velvet Underground and the composer philip Glass on piano, all playing a basic rock and roll riff while Allen Ginsberg recited his wisecracking omnibus indictment of 1990's, Ballad of the Skeletons."
Mr. Ginsberg was the joker at a mostly somber concert. Contemplating Tibet and Buddhism brought out death haunted lyrics and drone based melodies among the rock musicians, who atuck to quiter material as if wary of showing off.
Mr. Glass and Natalie Merchant unveiled a new song they had written together called "Planctus", based on a 12th Century lament portraying the Virgin Mary at the crucifixtion. Over Mr. Glass's trademark arpeggios, Ms. Merchant sang a modal tune in a voice that moved from dignified mourning to horror. Mr. Corgan sand "Need", a new song about confusion and longing, along with the blues standard "Death Don't Have No Mercy."
Patti Smith sang about a Buddhist nun imprisioned by the Chinese for holding a Free tibet banner. Micheal Stipe of REM performed E-Bow, a rumination on the strangness of fame, with Ms. Smith singing backup; then he was joined by Mr. Corgan and Ms. Merchant as he sand Eddie Vedder's Long Road about a wish for communion or transcendence. Ben Harper sang Bob Marley songs; Mr. Cale sang his own Ship of Fools and without obvious topical connections, Chinese Envoy.
But solemnity only went so far. Nawang Khechong, a tibetan composer, played Celebration, a duet with Yoshi Shimada on drums that called for an American indian flutwe, Tibetan long horn and aboriginal didjeridoo, building up tp huge hoots and a gargantuan beat.
And Ms. Smith, her voice blazing with optimistic convictipon, led the assempbly in her song People Have the Power, which dovetailed into a final, old age chant by the monks.
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