The 15th Annual Bridge School Benefit
Shoreline Ampitheater, Mountain View, CA
October 20, 2001
Saturday was warm and clear and blue and sunny. What a blessing. As usual, the day was opened by Pegi Young introducing us to the Bridge School students and children. One of the things that I have always loved about Bridge is the kids sitting along the back of the stage - unlike a lot of other benefit shows, where you can easily forget where the money you spent on that ticket is going, or artists can start to think that this is another chance to plug their album (well, not at Bridge, Neil doesn't invite anyone like that), they are always there. You can't forget And I think that is the reason that Bridge is always special, no matter who is playing.
Neil came onstage at 3:40 and played "Sugar Mountain" and "Blowin' In The Wind". He's wearing shorts - that's how warm it is. I love having Neil open Bridge. I love having two songs to just sit and collect your thoughts after the rush to get there, get in, see people. You have a reason to sit and breathe and close your eyes and listen.
I'll see Jill Sobule tomorrow. I arrived at the venue with 10 minutes to spare before Neil's set and I have a whole bunch of friends I need to go hug. I did come in at the end of her set (not wanting to miss Ben Harper) and got to see her fairly amusing cover of "Survivor".
Ben Harper. I am not a fanatic, and the albums always seem to have something lacking for me, but I have always loved watching him live. Today Ben comes onstage and spends 3 or 4 minutes, easily, hugging Bridge school kids, and plays a warm, open, incredible set of music. (Which I would have enjoyed a lot more if the people behind me weren't talking the whole time... through Neil, through Ben, through everyone they could talk through. I understand we all go to shows for different reasons... but whisper or go outside during the sets please?)
Billy Idol I only saw bits and pieces of. Same with Tracy Chapman. I did make it back to my seat in time for R.E.M. who I enjoyed a hundred times more than I thought I would. (I talk more about this in my review of Ed and R.E.M. at the Croc, so I won't waste the space now.) I was glad, however, that they didn't go for the sit down unplugged mode. Playing their normal set standing up was the best thing they could have done. I really enjoyed the rearrangements of "Let Me In" (although it caused the "Betterman" syndrome of 'get up and dance to this song that is actually really intense lyrically but because it has a good beat people will not pay attention') and "The One I Love" (which, yes, I spent both days saying, "It's the 'Betterman' of R.E.M.!"). The latter, especially, reminded me of how transformed a song can be - like hearing the original versions of, say, "Dancing In The Dark" or "Born In The U.S.A." And Ken Stringfellow playing on Neil Young's old pipe organ spawned a whole weekend's worth of "Hey, Ken, so what was it like to touch Neil's organ?" jokes. They played well and it was great to see them, and they totally fit into the spirit of the event.
If you came here to read about Dave Matthews, you're at the wrong site. Sorry. I don't get it. Lots of my friends do and I love them anyway.
Tech problems hold up the beginning of PJ's set, and everyone's nerves are on edge. Come ON, we are all collectively thinking. I have spent the morning and afternoon breaking into these spontaneous spurts of jumping up and down: "We are going to see PEARL JAM today!" But of course we want everything to be perfect, we want them to be able to hear themselves, so, that's fine. We'll wait.
And then they're there, one year, it's been a year, it seems like it's been so long but it hasn't really - how did a year pass so fast? Ed Mike Jeff Matt - all with SHORT hair. Stone's hair is long and shaggy. I've seen all of them within the past two or three months at something so none of this is a surprise - okay they're not playing yet, you are going to look at the visuals first. Anyway, they pick up guitars and sit down and -- the perfect opener, the only possible choice, really - "Long Road". And it's like sinking back into a warm bath. The beautiful sound, the music, Ed's voice, the words: "how I wished for so long/ how I wish for you today,". Flashing back to that incredible performance at the Tribute To Heroes. I had honestly hoped that "Long Road" would end up being the Bridge encore jam session, but having it here is just fine to me.
We hear the intro chords to "Of The Girl" and then Ed stops and addresses the crowd: "It's nice to be here... it's been a year. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. It's great to be with each other, see the kids.. and after all that's happened, glad to see that everyone's safe." And then OTG starts for real and it is just so PERFECT for the acoustic setting. The dynamic and the feel are just made for this stripped-down bare bones presentation. Ed does miss the lyrics a bit, but it's new and improved OTG, Ed with maracas (me thinking Mick Jagger, and I've already said this song is straight out of Exile on Main Street). There's lots of interaction, the guys looking at each other, Ed visually checking in with Mike and with Stone especially.
So, the soundcheck on Friday had sent EVERYONE into a tizzy. We had been playing "guess the Bridge setlist" since the dates were announced, people were voicing, please, PJ, let's break the mold and throw out everything you've done before at Bridge. And with the soundcheck and the start to this set, that's what we thought we were going to be getting. And then we hear the words that I had been joking about with a friend for two weeks, and that I really hoped we weren't going to hear: "This song was written back behind those hills over there," and I look at my friend and I groan and he gives me the "I told you so" look, and it's "Elderly Woman". But the crowd loves this, everyone recognizes it, and now it's the set for everyone, not just the PJ fans. But PJ are playing SO WELL. Even with some mistakes here and there, musically they are well deserving of the pre-Neil slot tonight. And even though they have been saying publicly they only rehearsed for a few days, half the band told various people individually that it had been two weeks. It showed.
"This one was just written by Mike," now there are words I love to hear. It's "Last Soldier" (as we'd learn later), and I'm listening quietly with my eyes closed, trying to hear the words and get the feel. I love the harmonica break. It's country-ish, kind of rolling - sounds like something that Mike had written for the possible Exile-ish solo project he's told a lot of folks about. It's really hard for me to pass judgement on a song the first time I hear it. Or, rather, it's easy if my first reaction is "I LOVE IT" but if I don't know how I feel, I would rather wait and hear it a few times before passing final judgement... which is what I decide to do here.
One chord, my friend calls "Daughter" and I'm noticing how they're alternating one thing for us and one thing for the crowd... but it also looks like Ed is calling audibles to change things around. But there's a great solo from Mike, I love how Ed picks up the maracas during the "shades go down" break to add another layer to the sound, and it's a clean, sharp version, tight and rhythmic. I don't recognize the tag but someone tells me Cat Stevens later, which I somewhat suspected.
Next... "Betterman". Okay, so here's what it's like to be me at this moment:
Caryn 1: OH GOD IT'S PJ. I'M SO FUCKING GLAD TO SEE THEM AND THEY ARE PLAYING SO FUCKING WELL.
Caryn 2: Oh christ. "Betterman". Did we need "Daughter," "Elderly Woman" AND "Betterman"?
But it's Ed's song, he's going to play it forever, and we need to get used to it. And the tags are what set the tone for this song:I trust youAnd my mind goes back to the New Zealand Betterman versions, and some of the 2000 Betterman versions, specifically Boise. So poignant. So heartfelt. So of course it brings me around. Ed turns to Matt and makes eye contact with the rest of the guys to conduct the song to its end.
I love you
I want you
I need you
Don't let me down.....
"This one was written on the drive back from Neil's house... no matter who you are, even if you're an insurance salesman, you're going to walk out a songwriter, just due to the energy.." and it's - holy shit! - "Driftin"! Wow! Fuck! Man! "Driftin"! Someone I knew had interviewed Stone a few weeks back, and asked about "Strangest Tribe," and Stone had said that he'd think about it for Bridge... but man! "Driftin!" It's rocking and lilting and almost a little too fast, but it's great. It totally fits into the set and the vibe and the feeling. If I'd done the setlist, I'd have put "Last Soldier" after OTG and then this after "Last Soldier". Stone on harmonies, too.
But "Crazy Mary" next was a stroke of brilliant sequencing, and this version of "Crazy Mary" was one of the best I have ever seen, even if Ed's voice did seem to have a little trouble sliding into it. Solid, deliberate, Ed's delivery was just ON. Mike wants to stand up - I think I heard someone around me say, "Alright, fuck the seats!" but that might have just been in my head. A great solo, Ed's got the tambourine for added texture, and my notes say "intense as fuck!" And it was.
Which was the exact right feeling to bring into the next song: "Gimme Some Truth". It's amazing how fucking fierce this song is acoustically, I love how they let Ed start and then the guys come in, it's just so big and solid and high-powered. He hits the "Georgy Porgy" line this time - wasn't everyone on the edge of their seats waiting to see if he'd get it? I know we were. This was just MINDBLOWING, mindblowing how they stood in John Lennon's shoes and did it justice 1000%.
Ed introduces a special guest for the next song (and my companion had noted the extra mic on the stage early on, driving me nuts wondering who and what this was going to be for), and on comes Ben Harper for what we'd all hoped for this weekend at least once: "Indifference". I remember watching Ben sing this with PJ at MSG II in 98 and to see the difference between then and now is wonderful and rewarding, and the clear friendship between the two men is also moving to see. There are people who do not like Ben's performance or his delivery and I just don't get it. It's not Ed, but Ed's performance is not the same as it was when it was first written either. I think Ben's contribution to the song is true to the spirit of it, and the interplay adds to the song's depth. I just stood still and closed my eyes halfway and floated away on this song. A thing of beauty.
And then Ed's talking about how it's been great to see everyone, Neil and Pegi, and a great shoutout to the Bridge kids, and a tribute to Maricor, the student to whom Ed dedicated "Last Kiss" at the second night of Bridge 99... and another dedication and another version of "Last Kiss". Coming right after "Indifference," and the mood and vibe created by that incredible performance, it created what a friend who is a DJ calls a "train wreck". Not the performance of "Last Kiss," but rather the segue of the two songs, the drastic and sudden shift in moods. But it is so moving that PJ have this relationship with the kids they see every other year, and during the performance I was thinking about Ed's words in the Ten Club newsletter regarding the Teenage Cancer Trust, and his involvement with those kids, and the dichotomy between the two. And wishing fervently Maricor had another favorite song. =)
And that's it. Waves, smiles, greetings to the Bridge kids as they left, night one is over, and it was this wonderful balance of OH MY GOD with, well, oh my god. Other friends said they choked, and while I see that and agree with it somewhat, I can't totally dismiss a set that has "Long Road," "Of The Girl," "Last Soldier," "Driftin'" and that version of "Indifference".... but I am still hoping that they leave the hits behind tomorrow.
Neil's set was incredible. I was just overwhelmed by how much he said by not saying a word... just through his choice of songs in the setlist. The one comment he made was before "Mother Earth," when he said that nowadays, everything means something else. And "Mideast Vacation" was audacious and brave and perfect. The encore jam, however, was a little odd and funny and anticlimactic. Neil starts to play "Imagine," but he's not singing, and Pegi and Astrid (Neil's sister, the other woman singing backup if you were still there at that point) come out with cue cards with the lyrics on them, and the lyrics are also being shown on the big screens.
So I'm standing there thinking, okay, is this supposed to be a statement? He's not going to sing, but he's going to show the words to the song... oh, no, we're supposed to sing, I realize (as does the rest of the audience), as the other artists from the day start to walk onstage... Ed showing up on the other side of the stage after the song is about 3/4 over. He was sitting a few rows in front of us in the audience, and when the song started, suddenly got up and started making his way out of the row as fast as he could... but it's still quite a distance to get backstage and on the stage. Billy Idol decides that it's appropriate to do the fist/sneer thing and grabs his crotch (prompting a friend to say afterwards, "My ass has more class than Billy Idol does." I didn't realize how much I would agree with that statement until I got to see his whole set the next day.) Ben Harper and Dave Matthews looked like they were going to have an orgy, falling all over each other hugging. And was it just me or did Ed neatly sidestep that impending bearhug from Dave Matthews? (Probably just me. Postcards only please, usual address.)
Everyone waves and says goodbye to the Bridge students and day one of Bridge 2001 comes to a somewhat anticlimactic end. Well, at least tomorrow we'll know what we're supposed to do!
Editor's note: The photos are not necessarily from the same night as the review. However, they are so superior to anything we've seen and we're so thrilled to have them, there's no point in using anything else to illustrate these reviews. We hope you agree. Many thanks to Steven Dorian Miner for contributing these to 5h.
Review © 2001 Caryn Rose
Photos © 2001 Stephen Dorian Miner