Bridge School Benefit – Shoreline Amphitheatre (Mountain View, CA)
Neil Young’s annual acoustic Bridge School Benefit is always a wonderful array of Young’s musical friends and colleagues. This year’s concert, the ninth, boasted a lineup as impressive as any previous year, with Bruce Springsteen, The Pretenders, Emmylou Harris with Daniel Lanois, Beck, and Hootie and the Blowfish getting together to help out the Bridge School, a learning environment for children with severe communication limitations.
Neil began acoustically with “Comes A Time”, “Needle and the Damage Done” and “Heart of Gold” before introducing Beck, who, with just his acoustic guitar and big blue eyes, looked like a deer in the headlights of the 20,000 amassed in front of him. He came off pretty good, however, and his harmonica ode to Sonny Terry showed his sincerity.
Next up was Emmylou Harris, accompanied by New Orleans musical maestro Daniel Lanois and bassist Darryl Johnson. Harris kicked her set off with the achingly haunting “Orphan Girl” from her latest Wrecking Ball release. Sounding as dynamic and engaging as ever, Harris has taken a musical detour off the country road, and her work with Lanois is a statement of her artistic creativity and musical growth. Young came out and joined the trio on harmonica and vocals for Lucinda Williams’ “Sweet Old World”. Johnson took a turn at the mic with a riveting take of “You Don’t Miss Your Water”. A spine-tingling version of Lanois’ “The Maker” closed out the set.
To most of the crowd’s surprise, Bruce Springsteen came out next. With just his acoustic guitar, Springsteen debuted songs from his new Ghost of Tom Joad album (which at the time had yet to be released). “Sinaloa Cowboys” demonstrates the effect life in Los Angeles has had on Springsteen, as he puts his soul into the lives of Mexican immigrants and the struggles they ensue.
The set also included reworkings “Adam Raised a Cain” and “Point Blank”, but the highlight of the set was the unveiling of the new album’s title track. Taking a stab at the intolerant right-wing circus that has engulfed many in this country, Bruce spoke of the “white riot going on in Congress and the Senate that’s going to make our country less safe, less equal for all our kids, and the country more divided. So I want to dedicate this to the Gingrich mob.” The stark and troubling “Ghost” takes on just how little has changed in this country, in terms of the help and direction given to those short on their luck. Bruce had the entire crowd captured by this haunting number, which closed out his set. Returning to the stage with Neil Young, the pair launched into “Down By the River.” Bruce came off like a kid in the garage, having a blast playing lead on one of Young’s classics. Sound problems marred the performance, but it was a treat nonetheless.
After sets by the Pretenders and Hootie and the Blowfish, Young and an acoustic Crazy Horse closed the evening with a blistering set that consisted of “Pocahontas”, “Look Out For My Love”, a riveting “Cortez the Killer”, “Powderfinger” and “Tonight’s the Night”. Neil and company were in top form, pulling out all the stops. The finale of “Rockin’ In the Free World” had the entire evening’s ensemble onstage, including Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, who left everyone wondering just where the hell he came from.