Yesterday was the annual Bridge School Benefit concert down in Mountain View, the concert started by Neil Young almost thirty years ago to help raise money for The Bridge School. It’s always a Bay Area live music fan’s dream, and this year’s lineup was no exception to the other 20+ years of sterling lineups. With names we love like Arcade Fire, Jenny Lewis, My Morning Jacket, Elvis Costello and Neil Young joined by the likes of fun., Diana Krall, Heart, and Queens of the Stone Age, I knew I was in for a huge treat as a first-time Bridge School concert attendee.
We arrived in the middle of the show introductions by Pegi Young, which begins the concert each year. In her speech, she runs down the accomplishments that the Bridge School has achieved recently and any challenges that lie ahead, and she lays the foundation for the show by thanking everyone who has donated and spends a few minutes encouraging us to continue to donate as the show goes on. She also introduces many of the students that attend The Bridge School as they are given a spot on the stage to allow them to see the music and to allow the audience to see the faces behind the school, reminding everyone where their donation money is going. It’s a strong message and I think it really shows everyone that “we’re all in this together” vibe. Huge applause all around when she said it was time to start the show.
Neil Young then began the show on his acoustic with “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “Heart of Gold” and “Comes a Time” (where he asked Pegi to help him sing the chorus). He gave a hearty welcome, and even joked that the people watching on the internet were getting a free ride before launching into “Heart of Gold”. After closing off his mini-set with Pegi and his Native American pals that had blessed the stage before the show officially began, Neil introduced “Jennifer Lewis” as the next act up and Jenny Lewis and band came out to get the show started. I’m not hugely familiar with the catalog, but the set was a beautiful start to the day and I’m glad I didn’t miss a note of it.
During the brief intermissions I stopped by the Mens room and got the pleasure of standing next to a guy that was beyond psyched he was going to hear the song “Barracuda” live; Heart was the next set on the lineup and it got me pretty stoked to hear the song, too. Or at least I was stoked at even having the chance to hear a song like that live, because I’m definitely not the type that would buy a ticket to see their show on its own. And while we had to trade our hopes for “Barracuda” in as an exchange for getting “Crazy On You” to end their set, they also played “The Rain Song” by Led Zeppelin and a few of their other originals. It was a good nostalgia set and a good billing to put them earlier in the day.
Up after Heart was the one act I had the most hesitation seeing on the lineup when it was announced; when you think of Neil Young’s influence on new music, I’m not sure anyone would have said that the band fun. seemed like a logical choice to add to the bill. But they delivered a respectable set for the slot they were given, and they even joked that his dad was most proud of his accomplishment for getting on the Bridge School bill even after the impressive two years the band has had on the success of their breakout LP, Some Nights. “We Are Young” got a huge response (obvi), but I was most impressed by their set-closing cover of the Rolling Stones classic “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. Definitely got a good reaction in the crowd and a fitting cover for the slightly-more-mature-than-a-normal-concert audience.
Diana Krall‘s set was up next, and it seemed like a proper slot for her sultry jazz stylings. I couldn’t place exactly where in my memory her musical sensibilities were, but the second she mentioned “her husband Elvis Costello” I remembered a bit more about her style. She did a few songs before he came out and together they did two tracks, one from Costello’s catalog (“Sulphur to Sugarcane”) and one from Bob Dylan’s catalog (“Wallflower”), which just transitioned nicely into the Elvis set with no switchover time needed (nicely done there, btw).
I loved the Elvis Costello set immensely. His delivery on “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” was just stunning, and obviously he looked as cool as he ever does. Seeing “Alison” at the end of his set was great, and I thought that was going to close it out before he mentioned a story about meeting someone backstage after a show they played in Manchester and how that man turned out to be Graham Nash of The Hollies. He welcomed Nash out to the stage and they did an old song, “King Midas in Reverse”, a great moment of music and a great segue between acts once again.
Jack Johnson was up after Elvis and it was a great nostalgia set of the Johnson hits that made him huge years back. “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing” was fun to see live and I coudn’t believe he actually busted out the one track I wanted to hear, “Banana Pancakes” a very sentimental jam for me. Zach Gill of ALO plays keys in Johnson’s band and he stole the show on more than one occasion. He dedicated his accordian solo to the folks way back on the lawn and really got the whole place rocking along at one point. To finish their set they welcome Neil Young to the stage for a cover of “Out on the Weekend.” Johnson seemed in awe of the experience and he respected the room by delivering a good set; not too mellow either, which was good.
My Morning Jacket was up next and a major part of the music I really needed to see while I was there, and not surprisingly Jim and team delivered a solid set. Easily a highlight of the day was when they welcomed out Neil Young for “Harvest Moon” following James’ story of watching Saturday Night Live with his mother and thinking how beautiful that song was. It was fantastic front to back, but it’s easy for me to say that as an MMJ fan. There really wasn’t any doubt that they’d kill it.
And a quick break on my end while the stagehands set up the most instruments on stage so far that day meant that Arcade Fire was up next — what a great back-to-back billing that would be — and Win Butler began the set solo with “The Suburbs” on piano while the band made their way to the stage slowly as the song played (ala Stop Making Sense). They played “Reflektor” next before playing “Awful Sound” and “Normal Person”, all three tracks that you’ll want to hear many more times once the band’s new album drops this Tuesday. Then, surprisingly, they debuted a new song with Neil Young after Win told the story of how he dreamt that they were sound-checking and playing some mysterious new song, so he woke up, wrote down the lyrics and it was “a Neil Young song.” Definitely an interesting moment. They closed off the set with “Wake Up” which felt triumphant and a fitting closer; I really hope I get a chance to see them on their upcoming tour if/when they ever gets fully announced.
Queens of the Stone Age was another band I was bit “unsure” about before entering Shoreline yesterday, but in hindsight they were a great addition to the lineup and they brought an interesting mix to the whole affair. I probably would have moved them earlier in the day if I had my druthers about it, but they hardly disappointed and closed their set with the one hit most people knew them for “Go With the Flow”.
Final set of the day was saved for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and it still floors me that we are all lucky enough as music fans to see a lineup like this in any format, let along it’s original. I need to call my mom today and relay to her what I was able to see to close out the night, which at this point had gotten quite chilly and made for a perfect cold background to the warm harmonies coming from the stage. “Long May You Run” just left me speechless. It was a beautiful set and we all stayed until the final notes were played with everyone on stage for “Teach the Children” to close the show.
Rather remarkably, the entire webcast from yesterday is now available online — all eight hours of it.
— BridgeBenefitConcert (@bridgeconcert) October 27, 2013
If you tune in to see some of the awesome stuff I saw yesterday, make sure you stop by The Bridge School’s website and drop them some bucks if you enjoyed what you saw. This is the type of concert I’ll be making every effort to return to year after year regardless of who’s actually on the bill; it’s just that type of event and can’t-miss-stuff if you’re a music dork. Ignore everything this ass-hat said about why it disappointed him, because frankly none of that matters whatsoever. This isn’t about making everyone happy, it’s about artists delivering their time and effort to support a cause that Neil Young stood up for a long time ago, and it’s about highlighting why all of that is a beautiful thing. Go experience this for yourself sometime and see why people go back year after year to support this great cause. See you next year!
The Bridge School Benefit Concert continues today beginning at 2pm at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, CA.