The crowd at Carnegie Hall doesn’t usually get more diverse than it did Tuesday night, where a benefit concert for Tibet House assembled bros, lady bros, bridge and tunneler parents, and people like a fellow named Trigger, who wore a faux tiger fur jacket and one of those conical rice field hats.
“Actually I got it in Vietnam,” he told us, explaining that he hadn’t worn it especially for the evening. “I’ve sort of incorporated it into my personal style—though I have studied under His Holiness.” He was there to support his friends Iggy Pop and Patti Smith, who would soon take the stage and have often played his bar, Continental, at Third Avenue and St. Marks.
Having parked his massive wheel chair in the front row the artist Chuck Close said he was also there to support a friend, Philip Glass, who’d organized the evening. He offered his thoughts on the latest Whitney Biennial.
“I don’t think it was very good,” he said. “Ordinary, predictable, slacker, sophomoric. Everyone wants to show you how much they don’t care.” Particularly egregious, he said was the fact that the white artist Joe Scanlan, whose black character Donelle Woolford was featured in the show, had received a wall text “when there was no similar wall text for work by actual black artists.” Had he heard a reason for this? “They’re fucking idiots,” he sighed, in explanation.
The show started with some low chanting by robed monks (“I know a monk,” said a guy at the gala afterward. “You wanna talk to him? Lemme introduce you to him. Oh wait you know what? I can’t. I think he left. Maybe he’s schmoozing.”), which led, more smoothly than you might expect, to the pedal steel guitar stylings of Robert Randolph. Then came The National and Sufjan Stevens, after which The National’s Bryce Dessner and Mr. Stevens were joined by Nico Muhly to play a few songs from their side project “about the solar system.”
“Come serve me, strange waters,” moaned Mr. Stevens in a song about Mercury.
“We don’t have to stay if you don’t want to,” a man seated nearby told his wife during the song.
But it would have been a bad idea to leave! Mr. Glass joined the stage next, and never seemed to move as the piano danced to his layered contributions. He stayed on stage for many of the following acts, which included Iggy Pop and New Order doing both “Transmission” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and, later, Patti Smith doing “Horses,” our having recently entered the Tibetan Year of the Wood Horse.
During his own set, Mr. Pop offered a few of his own songs and a vocal interpretation of a song from Mr. Glass’ Mishima, which is, Mr. Pop said, “about a guy who decided to disembowel himself in public.”
“Spill your guts right here,” he sang to the full band and the stoic Mr. Glass at the piano. He vamped to indicate that he meant on the stage. “Beeeee aaaaaa man.”
“I thought he nailed it!” Mr. Glass said at the gala afterward. “He did it all on his own!”
For the gala, the former bank Gotham Hall had been decorated with Tibetan prayer flags, which worked for the mix of Eastern and Western values on display. “This is topaz,” said a woman behind the Transom in the drink line, possibly showing off some jewelry. A backward glance revealed that she’d actually just introduced a socialite-looking hippie (hippie-looking socialite?), who apparently uses that jewel as her moniker.
Mr. Glass’s performances earned particularly high marks from those at the after-party.
“His soul is really vibrant inside but it’s a very monotone outside,” said the musician Adam Green, of Mr. Glass’s reserved play style, which was particularly notable when next to the emotive Mr. Muhly, at the keyboard (“I’m way more anxious than he is!” Mr. Muhly, who used to work for Mr. Glass, said.) He was there with his friend Dustin Yellin, who tried to describe Mr. Green’s own performing style, which can apparently go either way.
“His soul fluctuates, it undulates,” Mr. Yellin said.
“I’ve been there,” he added, of Tibet. “I drove there from Katmandu. I feel the way everyone feels about it. All we can hope is that people will change their minds more and more, and that those people will be free.” Did he do anything particularly spiritual there? “Man, every day that I don’t die is a spiritual day.”
Soon Arden Wohl and Tibet House President Robert Thurman auctioned a guitar that all the performers had signed for $7,000. This went to a new board member named John Miller. (“Do you play?” we asked. “What’s that?” he said. “Uh, guitar?” “No.”)
“Whatever you can do to push along good causes, we jump to do it,” The National’s lead singer Matt Berninger said. Would he ever consider writing a pro-Tibet song?
“Er, I don’t think we would,” he said. “I can only write about drinking, girls and being depressed. Which, I’m not depressed, but that’s what I like to write about. Maybe we can find some crossover!”
Soon enough it was time to go. Over at his table, Mr. Glass pulled on a puffy winter jacket, a toque and a pair of fingerless gloves with heavy metal-style bones painted on them. Was he biking home?
“No, no,” he said, then held up the gloves for inspection. “You get them on Eighth Street. Eight bucks!”