"14 childrens' hands upraised..."
13th Annual Bridge School Benefit
Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, CA
October 30 + 31, 1999 (part 2)
day two: sunday
Amazingly, I am awake -- and I mean WIDE AWAKE -- before that 9am alarm rings. I am tiptoeing around the room but my compatriots are also already awake. I'm tired, but the adrenaline is still pounding and the fact that the Who are on very early today is *not* helping things. I am more nervous than I was yesterday, for some unknown reason; I have no patience for the semi-Halloween costume a friend thrust on me Thursday night (a red feather boa and a tiara -- I kept saying, "It's just going to get in the way!") We get food and head to Shoreline. Today we've decided that we are parking in the damn lot, thinking the walk would be shorter. Well, it might have been, but the line to get in was absolutely longer. Whatever, let's just GET INSIDE ALREADY.
Once we're through security and in the venue, things are much better for everyone. It probably helps that I am no longer holding tickets for four other people besides myself! (Nothing like playing upgrade until the very very last minute.) We head for the totem pole and there's a nice crowd of folks assembled; today, most people are off the lawn and so don't have to run and stake out their space. Karisa hands out bug antennae - a friend had come up with the idea that all the PJ fans should come dressed as bugs or rats, causing people to scour costume shops all over the West Coast looking for these glittery doodle-bopper things. We don our antennae and take a bunch of cheesy group photos, run over to the Bridge tent and get the set order off of their web site so we can plan our day accordingly. Before we know it, it's time to head to the seats for another great day of music.
The Bridge students wheel out, there's Pegi Young, giving the daily introduction. Apparently it went on longer than it was supposed to (on a day already extended two hours beyond normal stopping time) because Neil finally came out and whispers in her ear while she's talking -- something about 'stop hogging the stage.' Neil finally gets to come out again, and sounds even better than he did yesterday. Emmylou Harris follows -- today's "special guest" -- and I needed her set the same way I needed Lucinda Williams' -- a chance to relax, breathe, settle, focus.
All of which was shot to hell completely as "those guys from Shepherd's Bush" walked back out onstage. It may have been "too early," as Roger complained when he fucked up the words to "Substitute" (prompting Pete to introduce "I Can't Explain" as "another song with difficult lyrics") but this band was absolutely unstoppable today, in wonderful form, sounding even better than they did last night. Pete once again mentions the special atmosphere backstage, how it reminds him of the 60's (and not because of various recreational drugs), and how great the vibes were; Emmylou Harris had said something earlier about it being a "friendly" atmosphere, and that really sums up the whole feeling that surrounded the weekend. (Or, as someone on the Neil Young mailing list put it, "This was Woodstock '99.")
Then, it's "Behind Blue Eyes," not like I haven't seen them do this song countless times, but today it finally hits me, it's this grand combination of happiness and deja vu and memories and connections, and it was like you turned on a faucet, or something. I was pretty much tearful and hopeless for the rest of the set. I'm singing, I am so there, but they have tapped into something and I have no choice but to let it all out. What it really is, I think, was the release of about six weeks worth of pre-Bridge stress and the total and utter realization of what I am seeing, how long I have waited for it, and how very very important it is to me.
It was also once again the Daltrey and Townshend Comedy Hour, and we are laughing our asses off -- especially at Pete's digs at Sheryl Crow:Pete: "Sheryl Crow has her piano at least six centimeters in front of ours... her wheel goes THERE [pointing]."Hearing Pete mention PJ's name causes me to go irrationally happy and proud, I know it's stupid, I know it's irrational, but it was like the grand seal of approval or something and I just got this silly grin on my face. Yeah! That's OUR band!! When Roger points out, "This is Eddie's chair!" I get the dumb grin times two. What a tumult of conflicting emotions. Yep, sounds like a typical Who show.
Pete: "That, there, that's where the Pearl Jam drumkit's gonna go."
Roger, playing the straight man: "Where am I supposed to be, Pete? I'm not even on here!"
[What he, and Pete, are talking about is the massive amounts of duct-tape markings on the stage for each act. Sheryl Crow's was obviously just marked "CROW"]
Pete: "You can just tread crow...there's crow everywhere!"
Roger: "Who's spot is this?"
Pete: "She spreads herself around all over the place!"
Roger: "This is Eddie's chair!"
Pete, bowing out of it gracefully, as usual: "She was great yesterday... everybody was great yesterday..."
"Who Are You" is nothing short of tremendous. Pete starts telling an abbreviated version of the story behind the song and the Who fans in my area are practically reciting it with him (and could probably tell it better, actually, lol). The bridge in which everyone is jamming and soloing is close to ethereal. I watch Alan Rogan, Pete's long-time guitar roadie, pointing small details out to Ed, crouched on the side (where he'd been grinning and laughing and singing along just like the rest of the Who fans there). By the time they got to "Won't Get Fooled Again," they were just ON FIRE; people in the audience were sitting down, and I wanted to turn to them all and say, GET UP, ON YOUR FEET! Show some respect! Being a Who fan is a somewhat complicated, dichotomous affair; the total love-hate relationship -- but by WGFA, I was ready to forgive them everything, every bad commercial I suffered through this year, even that damned Nissan commercial that had me ranting and raving for months and diving for the mute button on the tv remote. When it ended, all I could do is hug the friend who let me 'borrow' one of her second-row-center seats and cry some more.
Up next, poor Billy Corgan -- he even commented, "Thanks a lot for making us go on *after* the Who, on a Sunday afternoon..." Bad placement, I missed them both days for that reason. Brian Wilson is next, and I meant to sit through the whole thing, but -- my thought was, hell, I saw him yesterday, and even if Ed comes on again, I saw THAT yesterday too, and I'd rather spend time with friends I don't get to see every day in a year. That was a mistake, because, dammit, I liked Brian Wilson's set. And I missed Ed and Roger singing into the same microphone for "Surfin' USA," dammit! I definitely liked it a helluva lot more than Green Day's -- who were fine, it just wasn't *that* great. We all took another walk towards the end of their set; Lucinda was next, and then PJ, so let's hit the bathrooms and find people and GET BACK TO YOUR SEATS so you're not running through Shoreline before they come on....
The audience leaps to their feet as PJ take the stage for the second night. The betting pool had big money on EV being the one dressed for the occasion, but no -- instead, there's McCready in a Harlequin mask and Stone wearing something that resembles a turkey. (Or a dinosaur. What difference does it make. It's classic Stone and completely fuckin' hysterical.) A friend with a VIP pass later told us that Stone stole said hat from baby Ray Cameron. Figures!
"Good evening," says Ed. "Actually, go ahead and sit down, make yourselves comfortable, we're just going to play you a few songs..." Everyone dutifully settles back into their seats. Ed continues: "Even before we start I'll say on behalf of all of us, in an already-charmed life, these last few days have been one of the highlights of life on earth, it's really been great....We're gonna try a new song."
Well, we knew they played two new songs at soundcheck, and we got the names of those new songs yesterday, so by process of elimination we know what this one is, and I write down: "Nothing As It Seems". PJ's sets both days struck me as perfectly balanced, balanced between what they know their fans would want to hear and what casual listeners would enjoy, and a balance between light and dark -- "Last Kiss" vs. "Footsteps", and now compare "NAIS" (hey, people started the acronyms on MFC before the weekend was even over) vs. "In Thin Air". I knew this song reminded me very strongly of something else, it's been driving me NUTS for two weeks, and listening to it again while writing this, it finally dawns on me: "Country Feedback" by R.E.M., probably my favorite R.E.M. song ever. I hate comparing these two bands, but there it is, just an impression. I love the Sgt-Pepper-Beatle-ish solo in the middle. Love it. Of the two new songs, this is definitely my favorite, definitely strikes some chords. I write down some lyrics and I wonder, okay, who is this about? Baker? Layne? 9 out of 10 PJ fans surveyed at the totem pole during Bridge advocate McCready as this song's author (just opinion, we don't know), and if so, it would make sense.
Some feedback ensues from Mike. "That's Mike McCready," Ed murmurs. Rabid applause (about time, dammit!) And then, a slightly different, definitely acoustic "Daughter," that goes through all sorts of interesting twists and turns in the bridge, but -- no tag. Probably too much to choose from. Instead, Eddie goes in the direction he did during the 96 tour, using his fist as to create a megaphone type effect on "shades go down," and what I described three years ago as "weird noise shit." I can't find a better description so I'll just use that again. I note that tonight I can actually see Matt Cameron -- last night he was blocked by Ed and I couldn't really watch him play. Ed's gently bopping, Matt's using brushes -- and more importantly, there is actual EYE CONTACT with the audience tonight from the band members, none of this looking at the floor nonsense from last night.
Uh-oh, "Wishlist" again. I notice how completely enormous Jeff's acoustic bass is. Instead of "15 million hands upraised," it's "14 childrens' hands upraised," a lovely tribute to the Bridge students. Ed's looking skywards during the "Camaro" line, and I'm guessing he's looking for the moon -- we know how much he loves playing outdoors for that reason. It was out, but hidden by the Shoreline canopy. McCready takes all the solos tonight, and at this point removes the mask and hangs it off his amp.
"Betterman" next, and all the woo girls get all excited and spring up and start dancing around. What-ever. My notes say something like, "Hello, can I please explain to you what this song is about?" It's hopeless, I'm telling you, hopeless. Mike's trying to put his mask back on, and ends up hanging it up again. Ed's voice is awesome: the description I wrote was "dark, chocolaty" and yeah maybe it was because it was Halloween and we *were* eating lots of candy, but it definitely had that sweet, smooth quality. Mike's really into it; Ed looks pleased, he's smiling slightly.
Storytime! Ed: "It's been really touching ... it was incredible to be around all the -- John, Pete and Roger from the Who...and...[Mike plays a tiny bit of the "Pinball Wizard" riff, to great applause] uh... it was interesting, you know, we were sharing stories -- or mostly, listening to theirs... but, Keith Moon kept coming up, and sometimes they'd talk about him as if he was still alive.... life's so fragile and precious, but -- Keith Moon's been in my head all day...and then with Brian Wilson, Keith loved the Beach Boys -- so he would have had a great time, and we're going to dedicate this song to Keith." And it's "Off He Goes". Jean and I look at each other and "awwwwwwwwwww" and I fight back the lump in my throat. Could there have been a more touching, appropriate, genuine and purely heartfelt gesture -- and leave it to Ed to remember that Keith was a huge surf music fan (hell, even Matt Cameron, in the Boom Theory chat earlier this year, mentioned being surprised to learn that fact from the [excellent] Keith Moon bio that came out this year). Leave it to Ed to make all the connections. Nothing goes unnoticed.
"Black" is next, and it's nice to hear, even if Ed manages to fuck up the words -- twice! -- both to our amusement, and his: "I know I taught her... the wrong words" the first time, and an aside "It's been a while..." the second time. During the "kids at play" line, he gestures to the Bridge students, and then turns and sings the rest of the song to them. Matt's drumming is awesome, and equally awesome is the great Michael McCready, polishing off a great, echoey solo.
Ed once again: "This is the fourth year we've done this, and this is really -- going back to the first one, there were some people I met, and they're my friends, at least it feels like it, and there's Alan ... Alan's right there, I don't know if you see Alan -- that's my man! [applause] Love ya, Alan! And all these people are so special, the teachers and the parents, there's one more song we're gonna do, and we're gonna dedicate it to Maricor, who I met for the first time, and she's right back here [more applause... god, I am starting to cry just transcribing this right now!!] - So we're singing this one for you, okay? I think you know it. Alright, this is for Maricor."
And with this, the hearts of the 20,000 people at Shoreline completely melt, as Ed completely turns around, faces Maricor (a Bridge School graduate), and, with tears streaming down his face, sings the whole song directly to her. If you weren't there, it is absolutely impossible to accurately describe the reaction of this young woman as Ed completely focused on her and sang the song she wanted to hear. You know that this is a moment that she, and Ed, will undoubtedly remember for the rest of their lives. *snuffle* You would have to have a heart of stone to not have been touched by that moment, and that gesture. "Thanks a lot! Thanks Pegi, thanks Neil," and they're off, back to talk to the students; Mike is handing out picks, Jeff is shaking hands, I didn't specifically notice what the rest of the guys did, but boy were they the conquering heroes to the students on the back platform -- as well as to everyone in the audience.
We were never so happy that Sheryl Crow was next, as we made our exodus to the totem pole (where there was a small horde of PJ fans), dodging the people fleeing the lawn and going home (well, it had already been a long day, can't really blame them). There was much glee, and happiness, and silliness that took place, as well as the infamous Backpack Discussion (which is probably best not repeated here). Sheryl finally finishes (and boy, her set seemed even longer than it did last night, and it sure seemed colder than it did last night, and it was *earlier*), and we can safely head back in for one more round with Neil.
Neil was in one helluva great, chatty, happy mood! It felt more intimate in a 20,000 seat venue than it did when I saw him in March in a venue maybe 1/4 that size. A friend later commented, "It was like being in his living room," and he was right: it was that personal, that relaxed. (All that was missing was a comfy chair and slippers!) God, he was funny. "'Cortez'!" someone in the audience yells. "'Cortez The Killer'? Okay, after the hymn," and sure enough, he played "Cortez"! "Old King" wrapped up just about every version of that story Neil'd told during his solo tour. Someone else shouts out for "Homegrown," and we got a 20 minute two part singalong, with the best part being Neil saying, "... after all these great acts and here I am out here by myself with this stupid banjo song ... so you better get down ... you better help me out!" If you left early Sunday night, I'm really sorry, because this was a special, singular performance.
One more encore -- "this is all who's left," says Neil -- Ed back out on "I Shall Be Released," the rest of PJ are nowhere to be seen, we knew the Who left early (rumor had it, Pete wanted to take his son trick-or-treating), but at this point, it's all just extra, we couldn't ask for anything more. Everyone waves goodbye, "Greensleeves" comes on the PA, and yep, it's over. Time to go home.
The last trek to the totem pole to gather everyone up for the trip back to the hotel becomes the biggest PJ Homecoming gathering of the weekend, as people you knew were there, but couldn't find (or were on the lawn, or were busy taping and therefore not going to leave their seats) show up. We are all there, talking and laughing and hugging and trading addresses, until the Shoreline smurfs come to chase us out -- and even then, once the horde moved outside the main gate, people were STILL lingering (and probably woulda stayed there for another few hours - then again, what would it have hurt with the traffic the way it was?) We straggle back to the car, head out the back entrance, manage to find our way back to Palo Alto and engage in a fruitless search for food on a Sunday night, still wrapped in our little Bridge bubbles and not quite willing to break out of it yet.
People started leaving at 5:30am the next morning (ouch). I didn't have a flight back until 3, damn me for leaving my arrangements too late. I do some reading and some thinking and some writing, but I am just too overwhelmed by it all, still digesting, and not wanting it to end. It wasn't until the plane touched down in Seattle that I said to myself, "Well, it's *really* over now," and tried not to think about that for the rest of the night, lest I become *completely* useless.
I suppose I should have some kind of profound closing thoughts here, but I don't know what more I can say that I haven't already. While these shows have been documented and recorded and videotaped and cybercast and photographed, what those recordings can't convey to you is the feeling that surrounded the whole weekend. The atmosphere backstage (as related by stories told by the various artists) spilled over into the audience, and vice versa. I am now a three-time Bridge veteran, and I have seen some great artists (I never thought I'd beat the 96 lineup, for example) -- but this weekend was nothing short of perfect.
I guess Ed said it best: "In an already-charmed life, these last few days have been one of the highlights of life on earth."
See you all next time!!
technical comment: As everyone keeps asking, "I thought Bridge was ALL ACOUSTIC?" Well, yes, it is. A technical musician-type source told us, "They worked past using amps by using pedals and going direct. For anyone who cares -- Mike used a Univibe, Tube Screamer and Delay -- Stone with a Tube Screamer and one of those old purple Ibanez delays, first time I've seen him use one of these. Stone hardly used his pedals though, and Mike, well we all heard how good he sounded..."
Special thanks to: Karen, true Bridge "source of all happiness"; Florence, for the gift of the gods on Sunday; angelramblings, 5h spiritual advisor; KathyD, for her continual love, support and good humor; Cathy, Chris and Mari: "ask, I'm an ear" and boy were you all; Sam - you're the best, thank you AGAIN; Sneaky Bastard Audio, for their continued patronage; Lookout Mama, I still owe you a beer; and very very special thanks to He Who Shall Remain Nameless, for assistance above and beyond the call of duty.
return to part 1
Copyright © 1999 Caryn Rose