A true Bridge School veteran, Eddie Vedder decided to fly solo for his 10th appearance at the benefit, but not without some help from his friends. He brought Beck back out for a cover of the Everly Brothers' "Sleepless Nights" and also invited Arcade Fire's Régine Chassagne onstage to help sing "Tonight You Belong to Me" – a traditional American tune which, like "Sleepless Nights," also appears on Vedder's recent album Ukulele Songs.
"I was thinking to start with a Neil Young song," Vedder said at the beginning of his set. "He's got a lot of them." But after mucking the beginning of Young's "Don't Cry No Tears," he temporarily abandoned it, moving onto the Beatles' catalog instead for a sing-along version of "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away."
Certainly Vedder's original material – including a couple proper Pearl Jam songs ("Just Breathe" and "Porch") – received an enthusiastic response, but if crowd reactions serve as democratic votes, Saturday really belonged to Mumford & Sons. Ironically, the British folksters were the first band to actually rock out, despite an earlier Latin-based groove set from Los Invisibles (which featured Carlos Santana and his wife Cindy Blackman Santana).
Frontman Marcus Mumford said, almost bashfully, "This whole evening is a bit of a strange thing for us to wrap our heads around." But he wasn't talking about the benefit – he was talking about the benefactor. Following Young's guest appearance on "Dance, Dance, Dance" (a song they cover on the reg), Mumford invited Arcade Fire's Marika Shaw and Sarah Neufeld onstage to perform fiddle on "Awake My Soul."
"How do you follow Mumford & Sons?" Dave Matthews asked the crowd earnestly. For his fifth Bridge School appearance, Matthews enlisted his longtime acoustic partner, guitar wiz Tim Reynolds, for a set that drew largely from Dave Matthews Band hits, including "Save Me," "Crush" and a genuinely rousing version of "Two Step."
While the night's more poignant moments were almost exclusively connected to the Bridge School cause, Arcade Fire did introduce their political track, "Intervention," by dedicating it to "all those people camped out in front of our hotel, hoping that in some way this country can change, somehow." A peaceful warrior himself, Young would've almost certainly approved of the nod to the Occupy movement, despite the deviated message. Talking of deviations, Arcade Fire seemed nearly uncomfortable performing in an all-acoustic setup. "Sorry if we're playing too loud," frontman Win Butler said, apologetically, after a foot-stomping run through "Wake Up" provided one of the more energetic – and, hence, energizing – moments of the day. Nobody was complaining.
At the conclusion of a busy evening performing his songs with other bands, Young finally emerged solo around midnight for a headlining set that touched upon well-chosen songs from his vast back catalog. Dedicating "Sugar Mountain" to the Bridge School kids, he often played facing the students instead of the audience and frequently sang directly to his son, Ben. "Comes a Time," "Heart of Gold," and "Long May You Run" all took on additional dimensions given the setting and circumstance.
In keeping with tradition at these Bridge School concerts, Young brought out an ensemble for the encore that included most of the artists on the lineup. As promised, they performed the day's second rendition of the Youngbloods' "Get Together."
Dave Matthews summed it up earlier when he said, simply, "This is a good night." Turning to face the students, he nearly whispered, "Thank you to all the kids who inspire us." Many in the audience might care to add, "...and the artists, too."
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