Neil Young News
Bridge Benefit VIII
Shoreline Amphitheater/Mtn. View, CA
1 & 2 October 1994
The whole Bridge "experience" this year had a troubled air of hysteria surrounding it; having Pearl Jam on the bill was no doubt the reason. The first problem was the simple act of getting tickets. The ticket agents here in California have now seen fit to institute a lottery system. First in line no longer counts for anything...so I did not even try. I went through the lottery and ended up 40th or so in line. I left without a ticket and was resigned to either not go or patronize a legal scalper. I opted for the latter and had to pay an exorbitant amount for a seat in the 200 section.
The tremendous demand to see Pearl Jam helped bring about the unprecedented addition of a second show on the next day. Again, I was aced out of the lottery...luckily my comrade in arms, Don Leary was able to have better luck with the "sweepstakes," and got tickets for us.
The show itself was a real mixed bag. Neil came out greeted by a tremendous roar from the more than 20,000 in attendance. Neil played "Comes a Time" and then a very delicate "Transformer Man." A great beginning. Peter Droge followed Neil and was OK. Next up was the alternative act Mazzy Star. Aurally ingested heroin. Jesus and Mary Chain Unplugged. Get the idea ?
Following Mazzy's dim star was the metal band Ministry. They seemed to value tatoos over musical ability and came across as the sound track to a bad science fiction film. (Where are Tom Servo and Crow when you need them ?) They opened with Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay." Also included in their set was "Friend of the Devil" which actually sounded pretty good. They closed with the instrumental theme from "Midnight Cowboy." They were met with polite (perhaps bewildered) applause.
The Indigo Girls put on a spirited and thoroughly enjoyable set. Their playing was flawless as were their gorgeous harmonies. They were very well received by the crowd, especially when they closed with their hit "Closer to Fine."
Tom Petty and his long time collaborators, the Heartbreakers were super. Among the songs in the 45-minute set were "Kings Highway," "I Won't Back Down," and a terrific "Mary Jane's Last Dance." Petty also included three new songs presumably off his upcoming album. One of these was a hilarious bit of rhyming madness about women he has loved and their penchant for various intoxicants. "Through Ecstasy, crystal meth and glue, I never found a drug that compares to you..." was the chorus. TP quipped at Saturday's show that the song was the "B" side on his next single. "Can't be the 'A' side apparently," he said sarcastically. The Heartbreakers closed out with a blistering "Running Down a Dream." Mike Campbell again proving he is rock'n'roll's most underrated guitarist.
Pearl Jam followed Petty. I did not watch them on Saturday and on Sunday I knew I had not missed anything. I found them boring and repetitious. Every song sounded the same. They played 40 minutes on Saturday and barely 30 on Sunday. I honestly don't see the attraction.
Neil and Crazy Horse closed the evening out and were fantastic. Not only were they in top form, but the choice of songs was very surprising. Neil opened on the old trusty upright with "My Heart." Very pretty. The band launched into a sparkling "Prime of Life." A heart wrenching "Drive By" followed. The boys dug the groove a lot deeper on a thundering "Sleeps With Angels." I feel this came across as better than the album version. Neil then put an exclamation point on the song's theme by following with a passionate "Hey Hey, My My." Given what we have read in the media about these songs and Neil's feelings about them, it was astonishing to see him trot them out.
"Train of Love" was well done. Neil said afterward, "I'm really very happy... I just write these songs you know...but I still have time to change my mind." It was the perfect segue/introduction to the highlight of the entire weekend.
"Change Your Mind" was a smoldering, cosmic jam . The band seemed to be playing for themselves...oblivious to the crowd. Grouped in a small cluster in front of Ralph's kit, they crouched lower and lower as they explored the song...each one in perfect sync with the other. As has been the case in many previous Bridge shows, Neil and his guitars were plagued by feedback problems. When the howling began, Neil violently struck the Martin with the heel of his palm.
After this had happened a few times, Neil decided (?) not to fight it any more and motioned offstage to his left to David Briggs. Briggs came out and pushed this huge black speaker box toward Neil. This seemed to increase the feedback...but now Neil was in control of the beast. He began to use his body as a modulating shield as he played the guitar...coaxing, using, mastering the howl. At one point it was as if Old Black had sprung to life as Neil produced this distorted and tortured chord/riff...he stomped the ground demanding even more electricity from the wood. It was amazing. Then like plunging into a quiet pool after shooting a wild rivers' whitewater...there was calm and the Horse was right back with him...right on the melody. I can't do it justice. The song lasted at least 20 awe inspiring minutes.
"Change Your Mind" left us breathless as Neil invited his friends on stage for the "big finale" of "Piece of Crap."
Sunday's show saw Neil opening with "All Along the Watchtower" and "Needle and the Damage Done." The full set with Crazy Horse was identical except that "Change Your Mind" did not get the same treatment. Still majestic...but much more sedate.
13 October 1994
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