Neil Young News
I guess we get kind of spoiled living here in Northern California. We are assured of seeing Neil at least once a year and under very special circumstances: The Bridge School Benefit. I always look forward to these concerts with great anticipation. This year was no exception. What a great line up: Neil, Simon & Garfunkel, Melissa Etheridge, Warren Zevon, Bonnie Raitt, Ann & Nancy Wilson and late additions Sammy Hagar and Eddie Van Halen.
The weather was perfect as me and my friends gathered at the Shoreline. The show began at an early six pm with the usual brief speech by Pegi and the accompanying video. She then introduced Neil...who strode out from stage right smiling and waving. He was dressed in Levis, black boots and a gorgeous red wool jacket adorned with an Indian print on the back yoke. Neil picked up a guitar ("Hank" ?) and then played "Sugar Mountain." He then walked over to the now familiar pump organ for "Mother Earth." A solid, if not overwhelming beginning to the show.
Neil left and Martina Navratilova came out to introduce Melissa Etheridge. Melissa is a pretty girl with straight blonde hair. She wore a t-shirt, brown pants and cowboy boots. She was playing a solid-body electric 12-string. I had heard of her before, but did not know a thing about her or her music...but she soon had the capacity crowd of 25,000 roaring to their feet.
It has been my experience in the four Bridge shows that I have been lucky enough to see, that there always seems to be a tangible and clearly defined peak moment in the concert. A moment of musical ecstasy that literally explodes from the staqe and then sweeps through the crowd...reaching even to those poor souls way up on the lawn. Though ostensibly a "night of acoustical music," these songs have been rockers and their performances were able to lift the mood of the entire place.
In 1990's Bridge IV, it was Elvis Costello and his searing "Radio Sweetheart" that blew us away. At Bridge V, it was Nils Lofgren strumming and bashing his guitar on "Just a Little" that captured us. Last year's "moment" was courtesy of Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam who turned in a killer "Alive".
This year it was Melissa Etheridge's turn to ignite the evening. She closed her set with the Joplin standard "Piece of My Heart"...and it was magic. Her smokey voice was perfect for the song and she delivered it with as much sincere passion as I have seen on a stage anywhere. It was awesome. She began the song in the traditional way and then segued into a sometimes funny and poignant monologue about the birth and break up of a relationship...and then closed it with a powerful return to the song that brought us all out of our seats.
I don't think any artist would relish having to follow an act like that. Warren Zevon tried and failed. I am a big fan of Warren's, but was very dissapointed in his brief performance. His choice of material was suspect and his delivery seemed flat. The highlight of his set was the duet with Neil on "Splendid Isolation," but even this was marred by the feedback generated by Neil's guitar. Zevon closed with a real lacklustre "Werewolves of London."
The "heart of Heart," Ann and Nancy Wilson came on next. Color me biased, but I don't care for these two and left my seat. The crowd seemed to enjoy them. The Wilson's were followed by 11th-hour additions, Sammy Hagar and Eddie Van Halen. I watched unenthusiastically as these two plied their trade in the acoustic mode. Hagar always means well...and by appearing he is showing his support for Neil, Pegi and the Bridge School, but I find him boring and tedious. The highlight of their set was watching Valerie Bertinelli watch them.
Bonnie Raitt came out with a bass player and performed a very nice set. A couple of the songs really showed her strength as a blues guitarist. I am sorry, but I am not familiar enough with her work to name the songs she played. Raitt brought out surprize vocalist Graham Nash for an encore tune.
This year's Bridge took a rather unexpected turn at this point. Neil came out again and this turned out to be his set. At all previous Bridges, Neil had closed the show himself...however, this year he came out in the penultimate spot. Now sporting a grey felt hat and his fleece lined moc-boots...Neil was introduced by a graduate of the school using computerized voice loops. Neil went to the Steinway grand and played a totally off-key "Stranger in Paradise". He followed this with "After The Gold Rush" on the old pump organ.
His next song was a very pleasant surprize; a guitar version of "I'll Always Be a Part of You" ("Train of Love" ?). This was only the second time this unreleased song has been performed to my knowledge...the other time being at the Beacon Theater on 14 Feb 92. (Back then Neil had played it on piano).
In my opinion, the giving of the show-closing spot to Simon and Garfunkel was an act of ultimate respect and selflessness on Neil's part. I am very happy to report that their performance more than lived up to its almost reverential treatment. I have always had fond memories and impressions Simon and Garfunkel's music...my parents listened to them....in a way I grew up with them. Much of their music, particularly from the 60s, has achieved nearŠanthem status. On this night they were brilliant. The brief eight song set leaned exclusively on "classics" and was punctuated with many soaring harmonies.
Sometimes accompanied only by Paul's guitar (and others by minimal bass, drums, and woodwind) the pair were able to generate a very full sound. "The Boxer" opended the set and was met with a standing ovation. "Looking for America" followed. A warm "Homeward Bound" and "Mrs' Robinson" lead to a stunning "Scarborough Fair." Next up was the funky "Feelin' Groovy". Paul then left Art in the spotlight for a moving "Bridge Over Troubled Waters."
Paul came back out with a solid body guitar and picked the instantly recognizable opening notes of "Sounds of Silence." Again the crowd roared in recognition and approval. Though the song was great...Eddie Van Halen was the "guest" guitarist and provided an OK solo. This was kind of disappointing in that I hoped Neil would join them from the song as he had at the CHF Benefit in Los Angeles last year.
Neil came back out and asked everybody to join him in a finale of "Rockin' in the Free World" The song was somewhat marred by Sammy Hagar's interpretation of the song, but did feature some nice acoustic vs electric dueling with Neil facing off with Eddie Van Halen. Then it was over and the lights came up.
Any Bridge concert is special. The ones I have seen have each produced a brilliant three to five minutes of time where the artist is able to totally connect to his or her audience. For Bridge VII, it was Melissa Etheridge that supplied the electricity to galvanize the audience. This years' show was very special in that it contained not only one of the peak rock moments in Bridge history...but also one of its most sublime: the set by Simon and Garfunkel.
8 November 1993
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