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Gogol Bordello by Tracy Ketcher

Burning Down the House

Tibet House rocks the Carnegie… along with a little help from some friends

The melting snow and endless grey slush may have made walking anywhere around New York City this past Friday the most unenviable of tasks, but even the monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery were savvy enough to don their weather-proof hiking boots while making the icy trek along 56th Street and 7th Ave to get to Carnegie Hall’s stage door. Up in the 3rd floor’s backstage dressing rooms was a hive of curious musical activity, endless coffee, vegetable wraps and coconut milk and around sixteen languages being spoken at any one given moment.

More akin to some kind of far-out, wicky-wacky airport departure lounge than that of a prestigious show in highbrow uptown Manhattan, it was fitting then that tonight be the annual Tibet House US Benefit Concert - curated by composer and TH vice-president, Philip Glass, now having notched himself up a cool twenty of said events. Not to mention a perfect excuse in which to usher in the Tibetan Iron Tiger New Year with a right old eclectic knees up, of sorts.
Outside, the touts round on 57th and 7th were asking upwards of a couple of hundred bucks per ticket while Central Park soap-box peddlers braved the cold to rant over deaf, well-dressed ears.

Inside, all (soon-to-be) two thousand eight hundred of the packed night’s spectators were taking their plush red velvet places for what would be an evening of many surprises. And for the fancy, somewhat more conservative confines of Carnegie Hall, a first even. Fresh from drying off their boots, adjusting robes and necking a swift iced latte in the wings, the monks took to the stage to make introductions.

Followed by words from Tibet House president, Robert A.F. Thurman – whose actress daughter Uma also sits on the organisation’s board of trustees, it wasn’t long before Bajah & The Dry Eye Crew dropped a heavy dose of Sierra Leone funk, hip hop and even a little “Soul Makossa” for good measure. While sets were more or less kept down to a swift ten minutes, incisive piano work from the likes of Glass and Irish native Pierce Turner ensued before Tensin Kunsel and her Tibetan ensemble added authenticity to the affair. Accordingly, Regina Spektor’s “The Sword And The Pen” dazzled the all-seated applause.

Admittedly, Patti Smith’s “Blakean Year” and “Love Train” achieved expected results and in fine form, but as far as performances went, the night really belonged to Gogol Bordello and Iggy Pop. No question. The former’s new offerings: “Universes Collide” and “Sun Is On My Side’ set an edgier tone that, by “Lela Pala Tute”, had both young and old rush the front of stage and form a mosh-pit not seen in this venue to date. Subsequently, Iggy’s staple “The Passenger” and “I Want To Be Your Dog” almost tore the building’s roof off, with the 61-year old’s stage dive and javelin-style throwing of his mic stand across the stage outshining the show’s final throw-down where all invited guests joined to sing “People Have The Power”.

But then maybe the tried-and-tested punk rock stage theatrics were more poignant to the event and the overall message than most would have cared to consider. Or maybe it was after the show, backstage, when Robert A.F. Thurman came over to your scribe, thanking him in Russian, under the impression that he was a musician, before being told, “Thanks, but sorry…I’m Irish and completely tone deaf.” He simply laughed and replied with a warm embrace, “Irish…Russian…it doesn’t matter. We’re all in this thing together, right?”