The 23rd Bridge School Benefit, the annual concert organized by Neil Young and his wife, Pegi, to raise money for the Northern California school for kids with severe speech and physical impairments cofounded by the latter, demonstrated how beautifully old can blend with the new this weekend. In addition to long-toothed fans and young ears sitting side by side on a beautiful Indian-summer Sunday in Mountain View at Shoreline Amphitheatre, new groups like Fleet Foxes could be heard mimicking old sounds, newish band Wolfmother showed off an even newer version of itself and the alt-rock vets in No Doubt proved that they’ve been reborn.
Following a pre-show performance by the Dennis Alley Wisdom Dancers, who then joined Young for his first version of “Comes A Time,” Mr. Gwen Stefani, a.k.a. Gavin Rossdale, got the nine-act, seven-and-a-half-hour show on the road with a set that included covers of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” and Prince’s “Sometimes It Snows In April” as well as old Bush hits. Next up was frontman Andrew Stockdale and his reconfigured Wolfmother, which had no trouble keeping its energy level at 11 despite the Bridge School concert’s unofficial rule to go acoustic. Even the students, who sit on the stage during the show, felt the jolt from Australia’s answer to Led Zeppelin, with some of them seen rocking out in their wheelchairs.
Fleet Foxes wunderkind leader Robin Pecknold talked about sitting on the Shoreline lawn with his dad during the 2000 edition of Bridge School, then proceeded to give audience members their own great memories with a heavily harmonized set that included “Your Protector” and “Sun Giant.” The band’s timeless choral-folk sound has been compared to My Morning Jacket, whose Jim James arrived onstage next with his Monsters of Folk supergroup, which also features M. Ward and Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis. Like Fleet Foxes, Monsters of Folk were in their element in the stripped-down setting, playing excellent versions of songs from their self-titled album as well as selections from their respective oeuvres, though unfortunately both bands also just seemed to be hitting their stride when they reached the half-hour mark, which was the limit for every act on the bill.
After Sheryl Crow got the crowd dancing at the end of her set with “Soak Up The Sun,” comedian Adam Sandlerâ€”with a full band, though he knows what he’s doing with the guitarâ€”had everyone laughing with songs like the clever “Listenin’ To The Radio” (“Why can’t I hear Beth callin’ me? / Why can’t I be the one to make Sara smile?”), the hilarious bestiality love song “My Little Chicken” (“If an egg can fit in there / why can’t I?), and, of course, “The Chanukah Song.” He also got as serious as his voice would let him on a series of covers, including a take on “Powderfinger” that featured Young himself.
Despite a couple of flubs, Chris Martin from Coldplay sat behind a piano and knocked out what was arguably the finest 30 minutes of the night. Along with a joke about hiding the balloon boy in his cap and getting violinist Davide Rossi (who did the strings on Coldplay’s latest album) to impersonate a horse with his instrument, Martin delivered excellent versions of “Clocks,” “Lost!” (technically called “Lost?” when performed on solo piano), and, most notably, “Viva La Vida,” which swelled the way it was intended despite only having two instruments backing it up. The reason for the “arguably” caveat is because No Doubt fans wouldn’t be wrong in pointing out that Stefaniâ€”who, following a day of dudes dressed for comfort, looked stunning in her little black dressâ€”and her men (not to mention the string quartet) had the entire place transfixed. “Don’t Speak,” “It’s My Life,” and “Magic’s In The Makeup” sounded great, and when Stefani mingled with the excited students during “Just A Girl,” it looked like everyone was having the best time ever. Stefani confirmed the suspicion at the end of the song by stating, “I can’t believe this is my life,” and later talked about how inspiring the entire weekend had been and how it was good timing since No Doubt is about to write their next record.
Not surprisingly, things died down quite a bit by the time Neil Young closed the show, but he and Pegi plowed through and ended the show where it began, with “Comes A Time,” though this time it got a triumphant, we’re-all-in-this-together boost from most of the day’s participants.