Endurance was the theme of the lucky thirteen, Halloween eve edition of the annual Bridge School concert Saturday night at Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, Calif.| Spanning more than eight and a half hours and nine sets of largely acoustic music -- ten if you count two sets by Neil Young -- the annual fund raiser organized by Young and his wife Pegi benefits a school for children with severe speech and learning disabilities. And it grows more interesting with each passing year.
Opening with warm, solo renditions of "I Am a Child," "Good to See You" and "Heart of Gold," Young promptly called Lucinda Williams to the stage with sidemen John Jackson and Jim Lauderdale. After freewheeling through a few songs and flubbed notes ("Now that the ice is broken...," she laughed), Williams welcomed special guest Emmylou Harris and Young back to the stage for a harmonious "Greenville" and her signature tune, "Sweet Old World."
No strangers to the Bridge concerts, Smashing Pumpkins Billy Corgan, guitarist James Iha and percussionist Jimmy Chamberlain brought covers to the party, including the subdued "Stay (Faraway, So Close)" by U2 and "Ol' 55," a tip of the hat to its composer, Tom Waits, also on the bill.
Fearless trio Green Day (augmented by "Jason -- a friend of ours," on guitar) left the electrics and profanities at home, yet managed to crank the volume for a crowd-assaulting "Longview;" they lowered it for "Good Riddance" and fell somewhere in between for the brand new "Warning."
Legendary former Beach Boy Brian Wilson was in golden form, making dedications throughout his lengthy set. Backed by an eight-piece band (down from his usual ten-person lineup, which includes members of the L.A. power-pop group the Wondermints), the notoriously stage-frightened performer focused to deliver flawless versions of classics from "Surfer Girl" to "Good Vibrations." The sides of the stage were packed with onlookers. He dedicated a new song, "Lay Down Burden," to his deceased brother Carl;" "God Only Knows" went to the Youngs: "This is for Neil, Pegi and their sons Ben and Zeke. This is a beautiful song." It was indeed. Then, Young, Sheryl Crow and Eddie Vedder joined for "Surfin' USA. After thanking "the great Neil Young," Wilson made one final dedication, the shimmering "Love and Mercy," to the children of the Bridge School.
Bridge returnees Pearl Jam (with Matt Cameron from Soundgarden filling in on drums), were on a between-albums oldies jag; they incorporated Arthur Alexander's "Soldier of Love" and J. Frank Wilson's "Last Kiss" into their otherwise somber set, which included "Footsteps" and "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town."
Tom Waits was in unusually gruff voice when he hunched up to his percussive stage riser. He didn't hit his tramp-with-a-heart-of-gold stride with his band till midway through the hopeful "Hold On."
"This is for everyone that might be a little like me -- if you have difficulty getting up on Sunday morning and going to church," he said before "Chocolate Jesus," delivered on megaphone. After knocking around with one-liners at the piano for "Tango Till They're Sore" and "Innocent When You Dream," he checked out with his classic, "Tom Traubert's Blues."
When Pegi Young introduced her "best friend, Neil Young" to the stage, he gave her a kiss then ambled toward his semi-circle arsenal of acoustic guitars. Delivering versions in the spirit of his 1999 acoustic tour, Young seemed swept up by the lovefest spirit and offered a fond "Harvest Moon" as well as the newer "Lookin' Forward" and "Out of Control." The verse to "Long May You Run" (tackled dirge-like on pump organ) rang particularly sweet: "Maybe the Beach Boys have got you now, with those waves singing 'Caroline No'..."
"Y'all are great because you come here to see all these people and every year you get to see me," said Young without a shade of false modesty.
In the anti-climax of the evening, rhinestone-cowgirl-fashioned Sheryl Crow took the stage with her minimalist band. She delivered the hits -- from "Leaving Las Vegas" to "Strong Enough" -- but she could've saved the excessive chat about her love life for a session with her therapist.
The Youngs stood awestruck at the side of the stage to watch the grand finale as the Who provided the night's quotient of rock & roll mayhem. Though formerly the world's loudest rock band (they've nudged the volume down), the three original members -- Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend and John Entwistle -- are still angry enough to make a convincing noise. They roused the crowd to their feet with "Substitute" and "I Can't Explain." Though Townshend's barbed wit may have left some puncture holes -- he introduced "Mary Anne with the Shaky Hands" to a stage full of physically impaired children, he criticized Tom Waits' physical attributes and claimed he'd had sex with John Lennon ("Not really -- oops, I forgot where I was for a minute!") -- all was forgiven with his famous guitar interlude of "Won't Get Fooled Again" and the anthemic "The Kids Are Alright."
By the time Pearl Jam, Billie Joe Armstrong, Sheryl Crow, Emmylou Harris, the Who and Young reassembled onstage for the traditional show closing jam, Young couldn't have picked a more apt song through which to lead his herd: "I Shall Be Released." Nearly eight-and-a-half hours after the all-star revue commenced, it was high time to be freed.
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