by Greg Call
The Bridge School Benefit, last weekend in Mountain View, California, was a series of firsts for me: First Bridge School Benefit, first all-acoustic show, first “festival”-style lineup, and first time bringing my kids (ages 5 and 2) to a rock concert. Though we had to leave before the final acts because of the kids, it was a fantastic experience. Here’s a brief summary of what the show is and what we saw.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â
The Bridge School was started by Neil and Peggy Young about 20 years ago as a result of their frustration in finding educational support for their severely handicapped son, Ben. The concert is their annual fundraiser, and the school kids and families are a central focus of the show. Many of the kids sit right on the stage behind the performers, and their joyful faces are constantly being shown on the jumbotron monitors. I’ve been listening to bootlegs of prior Bridge School shows for years, so I was excited to actually attend this year. The concert was at at a big (20,000 people) outdoor venue in Mountain View (not far from Neil and Peggy’s home). We sat picnic-style onÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â a blanket on the lawn; 70 degrees, not a cloud in sight.
The show began with Pegi Young thanking everybody, giving some background on the school’s and the Benefit’s history, and then introducing a Native American elder to give an invocation of the spirit for the evening. Neil then came on and played a shortÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â solo set: “Flags of Freedom” (off the newish Living With War); “Comes A Time”; and “Long May You Run” (Pegi joined on vocals for the latter two songs). This was worth the price of admission itself. Especially great was having my five-year-old say, “Hey, we know this song!” during “Comes a Time.”
Devendra Banhart came on next, and explained that he had just christened his back up band “The Bridge,” in honor of the school. I’m not very familiar with his music, but he played a series of quiet, haunting folk songs, not all that different from what Neil himself was playing in the mid-1970s.
Next up was Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. They played a characteristically strong set, including a righteously lengthy mandolin solo by Rawlings. “Time (The Revelator)” was the high point for me. Neil came out and traded lead vocals with Welch for one song.
Death Cab For Cutie then took the stage, and, wouldn’t you know it, opened with the only song of theirs I really know: “Title and Registration.” They sounded good, but certainly lost a bit by being acoustic. These guys make Weezer look like T-Rex, but the crowd gave them the most love of any performer up to that point. Must be all those kids that watch the OC.
Appropriately, the sun was down by the time the next performer started: Trent Reznor. I was curious to see how he adapted to an acoustic format. He went with a sort of string quartet, heavy on the cello. He played an intense set, culminating in a great (if predictable) performance of “Hurt.”
OurÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â kids were getting restless after Reznor, so we had to start heading to the food and bathroom area. I did make it back into the venue when the Foo Fighters came out. They led with the wonderful “Everlong” and absolutely killed. Extended solos, loud-quiet dynamics — they really worked the song over. Even after several hours of sitting, several of the schoolchildren on stage were absolutely enthralled by the song. “I wonder if everything could ever feel this real foreverÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¦” They played a few other familiar songs, and even trotted out an hyper-earnest version of the formerly-jokey “Big Me.”
We had to leave at this point, so we missed the heart of the lineup: Brian Wilson (apparently did much of Pet Sounds, and Neil played on “Good Vibrations”), Dave Matthews Band (it kills me that I missed their “Cortez the Killer,” again with Neil) and the Bridge School stalwarts, Pearl Jam. Then, as is traditional, everyone came back on stage for a rousing rendition of “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World.” I was home and the kids in bed by that point in the evening, but I’ll listen to the performances I’ve missed when the recordingsÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â are released on ITMS next month. Hopefully next year’s lineup is just as strong, and my kids have a bit more stamina.