If she had any doubts about taking the stage at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night and performing (among other things) a slowed-down, spooked-out trap-pop version of “Teenage Dream,” complete with orchestral strings, Katy Perry likely practiced some of the life-altering relaxation techniques she was there to promote.
No, Perry wasn’t in NYC repping for some cult. This was “Change Begins Within,” a benefit concert for the David Lynch Foundation and its mission of bringing Transcendental Meditation, or TM, to anyone suffering from stress.
The pop superstar topped an eclectic bill that also included Sting, My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James, classical guitar virtuoso Sharon Isbin, powerhouse Afropop ambassador Angelique Kidjo and Howard Stern, who shared his personal TM story in a video interview with Jerry Seinfeld, the night’s first performer.
Lynch, who’s busy filming his eagerly awaited third season of Twin Peaks, also appeared via video, and if the night’s lineup seemed like a cast from one of the director’s wondrously bizarre movies, the show actually flowed quite smoothly.
Nearly everyone made pitches for TM, but there was zero talk of energy audits or celestial beings or anything a skeptic could really scoff at. Stern was a bummed-out college kid who’s now nearly a billionaire. Perry continues to do silly, sexy and empowering like no popster of her generation. Sting rocks skinny jeans at 64. Maybe there’s something to this meditation thing.
After starting the night by detailing his experiences with TM, which began when he “had a little bit of stress” while working in Bill Clinton’s White House, MC George Stephanopoulos passed the mic to Seinfeld, who mused on the ineffectiveness of the U.S. Postal Service and over-effectiveness of smartphones.
“Talking is over!” Seinfeld said. “I feel like a blacksmith up here sometimes.”
Up next was Isbin, whose nimble-fingered, fluid guitar picking definitely felt like the work of a woman centered in the universe. The more expressive Kidjo then kicked things up several dozen notches with “Mama Africa,” a lively groover that had the 55-year-old Benin native dancing up the aisles and urging the audience — loaded with well-heeled donors in fancy eveningwear — to sing along with the celebratory chorus.
“It’s not a religion,” Kidjo said of TM. “It’s not a cult. It’s just good for you.”
James played next, and with some help from the house orchestra, he turned his sparse 2013 solo single “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)” into a lush psych-pop showstopper capped with a wailing guitar solo. From there, an impressively bearded Sting calmed things back down with the jazzy, gentlemanly reggae of “Englishman In New York” and the Spanish-tinged balladry of “Shape of My Heart,” performed with Isbin. He closed with a stroll through “Fields of Gold,” singing with all the richness and ease the tune requires.
That set the stage for Perry, resplendent in a long pink gown with a giant bow on the left shoulder. The singer has been doing TM for about five years, and while she admitted to sometimes straying from the recommended schedule — “Twice a day? I’d have to cut my social media usage in half” — she described meditation as something she always comes back to.
“It has really made me wide awake, and that’s what this next song is about,” Perry said, prefacing her inspirational adult-contemporary fave “Wide Awake.” That led into a lightly banging “Dark Horse” and a grand-finale “Firework” that was understated by Perry standards, despite the quartet of ballerinas.
Finally, there was Lynch, projected on Carnegie’s walls in true Lynchian fashion. Filmed at long range on a highway in some undisclosed Pacific Northwest location, the filmmaker offered inspirational words that only kind of sounded like something the Man from Another Place would say backwards to Special Agent Dale Cooper on Twin Peaks.
“Every human being has a treasury within,” Lynch said.