Neil Young News
Neil Young threw his 10th benefit concert for the Bridge School this past weekend at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California, and it was a heartfelt success. He invited some of his dearest and nearest muscial pals Hayden, Cowboy Junkies, Patti Smith, David Bowie, Pearl Jam, and Crazy Horse to play for the sold-out crowd ... and for the special children who attend the school, his son Ben among them. The students circled the back of the stage, most in wheelchairs or held in their parents' arms to get a bird's-eye view of the proceedings, but it wasn't until Patti Smith, a mother of two herself, took the stage, that anyone performed to them. She turned her back on the crowd and directed much of her show to the real stars of the night, the children who battle against the various debilitating diseases that bring them to the school.
Young opened the show with an extended version of "Natural Beauty," the last track on his Harvest Moon album, before turning the stage over to Hayden, a young Canadian folksinger. Looking a little dwarfed on the huge stage, the diminutive singer delivered a sensitive and surprisingly robust set. You may remember he was the object of a huge bidding war earlier this year, and until the 11th hour it seemed that Young's Vapor Records would snare him, after he spent the weekend at Young's La Honda, CA, ranch. Outpost Records managed to outmaneuver Young and his manager/partner Elliot Roberts, but all must be forgiven, since Hayden opened the show for Young.
An unannounced Peter Townshend took the stage to a standing ovation. The Who were staging their Quadrophenia extravaganza a mere 30 or so miles down the road, so Townshend, with his manager, Bill Curbishley, in tow, decided to mosey over to the Shoreline and delight the crowd with a half-dozen brisk renditions of some of the Who's best numbers. Looking rawboned but dapper in brown leather, Townshend did solo versions of "The Kids Are Alright," "I'm A Boy," "A Legal Matter," "Let My Love Open The Door," "Behind Blue Eyes," and "Drowned." In between songs, as he hunched over an inlaid Gibson Hummingbird, looking more and more like Ichabod Crane, he regaled the audience with stories of his seven-year-old son, who was accompanying him on these dates. With a twinkle in his eyes and a salute to Neil and Pegi Young, Townshend disappeared as quickly as he materialized to return to the San Jose performance of the Who's less-famous rock opera, never once calling his group by name, instead calling the show something "I'm doing with Daltrey and John Entwistle."
The Patti Smith Group was tremendous, and she herself was a vision. Still waif-thin and wrapped in an oversized blue-jean jacket, she mesmerized the audience with her sinuous swaying and compelling songs. You could see that the Patti Smith myth is again gathering steam the crowd followed her every move and graceful nuance with almost religious reverence Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder among them, watching her sing with unabashed awe.
Photo: UPI/Bettmann Newsphotos Block Box David Bowie was the night's surprise, and many felt he stole the show. Looking like a '60s teddy boy, a foil to Peter Townshend's mod, he lobbed a few old-age jokes at Townshend (all of two years older). After flubbing an intro that sounded suspiciously like the Who's "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere," Bowie dryly commented, "I thought I had Peter Townshend's songbook there for a minute," poking fun at the Who guitarist's use of a songbook. Bowie punctuated his songs with a sly, playful sense of humor a quality that one rarely expects or sees at a Bowie performance and a candid openness, even going so far as to confess that this was his first-ever acoustic gig. "Jean Genie" done acoustically was a revelation, as was "Let's Dance." He also threw in a snippet of a Coasters song and a morose Tom Verlaine tune that fit his oblique personality perfectly.
Photo: Lance Mercer Block Box Pearl Jam took the stage like a military unit, each member knowing his role and executing it perfectly. And in case they didn't they brought along their producer, Brendan O'Brien, to play keyboards. They were badly lit, and without frills or pretense, but that only allowed the music to shine more vividly. They kicked off their set with "Footprints," the B-side of their first hit, "Jeremy," then plunged headlong into "Sometime" from No Code. The crowd didn't come alive until the band began the opening strains of "Better Man," and after that Eddie Vedder had them in the palm of his hand, never so much as when he asked coyly between songs, "Did you say I love you or fuck you?"
Photo: Reuters/Bettmann Block Box Dressed in a brown corduroy jacket and an oversized hat, Neil Young jumped right into "Cinnamon Girl" without any introduction, not that one was needed. He lingered little between numbers, slipping effortlessly into "Cortez The Killer," another one of the standouts of the night. Young is a strange duck, and his stage movements are among the oddest in the business. He moves somewhere between a partnerless waltz and a lumbering shuffle, bobbing and swaying in front of the members of Crazy Horse in an almost ritualistic ceremony. Yet despite his awkwardness on stage, Young has an idiosyncratic dignity that touches everything he does. The night was growing late, with temperatures dropping to record lows, yet only a rare few left the venue. Before the night was over Young performed "Human Highway," "Mr. Soul," "Cowgirl In The Sand," and "The Campaigner," ending the show by bringing all the performers, save Townshend, to sing "Helpless," which was nothing so much as a metaphor for the plight of the children for whom his Bridge shows raise money. It was a memorable evening of sharing, faith, authenticity and stellar performances, and showed the measure of Neil Young, the man and father.
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