Concert Review: 2006 Bridge School Benefit

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. 

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 on 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 short 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.”

Our 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 forever…” 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 recordings are released on ITMS next month. Hopefully next year’s lineup is just as strong, and my kids have a bit more stamina.

Here’s a clip of Reznor’s performance of “Hurt”. 



13 thoughts on “Concert Review: 2006 Bridge School Benefit

  1. That sounds like fun. I always love to hear acoustic versions of rock songs.

    I wonder how much my kids would be able to handle. I was playing some early Who on the home stereo and my almost-5-year-old seemed to like it for about 30 min. or so, after which he said that that was enough Rock n’ Roll and he wanted the Wiggles. He’d probably do OK with acoustic stuff for a couple hours.

    At the risk of outing myself as an ignoramus, I have to ask, in what way do Death Cab make Weezer look like T-Rex?

  2. Eh, maybe that was a lame comparison. I just think of T-Rex as uber-seventies-cool, and Weezer as dorky. Death Cab easily outdorks Weezer.

    As for the kids, we had a bag of toys, books, and food, so it was really just an extended picnic for them.

  3. Man, what a cool concert. Thanks for the write-up, Greg. You officially make me jealous (until I go to the vangaalen/Band of Horses show next month…).

  4. I liked the line, Greg. It has a nice ring to it. I wondered if you were talking in terms of hipness. So I feel cool again, since I almost got it right. I was racking my brain trying to come up with a musical connection between the three. And I totally agree. Death Cab are super dorky: “The glove compartment/ is inacurately named/ and everybody knows it.” They are what the Barenaked Ladies would be if they were totally serious. But I dig Transatlanticism anyway.

  5. Ok, now I’m totally HOMESICK. I know you were at Shoreline, and I grew up about 3 miles from there… saw my first concert there at 16, and have seen Ole Neil more than once there. The Bridge Bennefit is ALWAYS a good show, and one I would be totally comfortable taking my kids to, too.

    Thanks for sharing, and for evoking good memories…

  6. I don’t think Death Cab’s totally serious. If they were they would be, I don’t know, maybe Keane. Death Cab has a lot of wry humor in their songs. My issue with Death Cab is that there are always two or three really great songs on each album, a few decent songs, and a few that do absolutely nothing for me.

  7. Wow, what an awesome show. And what a bummer to miss the last half! Really cool that you brought your kids, though. I probably would’ve tried to do the last half rather than the first. But I’m so jealous about Gillian Welch, I’ve never seen her.

  8. BTD Greg, it’s entirely likely that the humor is there and I just haven’t noticed. They sound so earnest singing about glove compartments. I suppose some of that stuff could be seen as deadpan.

  9. Oh my gosh. i’m totally jealous too. I was going to ask if you were at the Shoreline! I’m homesick. We saw CSN&Y in Concord this summer, but I would have loved to have seen this one. I’m literally dying right now that I didn’t see Neil Young play with Brian Wilson on Good Vibrations. Thanks for this review.

  10. Yep, it was at Shoreline. I just read the Oakland Tribune’s review, and found out that before “Rockin’ in Free World,” Neil came out and did and “Field of Opportunity,” “After the Garden,” and “Harvest Moon.” It was a NINE hour show all in all.

    I also found this clip of Neil and Dave Matthews doing “Cortez the Killer”:

  11. Bridge School is pretty much always awesome. My siblings have been more often than I have, for a while it is a bit of a family pilgrimage. I was at the one in 1998, which included Barenaked Ladies, REM, and Phish who did Freebird acapella.

  12. I love Shoreline – it’s a fantastic venue.

    I’ve never made it to Bridge School, though.

    We usually go to Live 105’s BFD.

    (getting too old for that.)

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