"3 Days, Maybe Longer..."
13th Annual Bridge School Benefit
Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, CA
October 30 + 31, 1999
It is one week since Bridge, and I still find myself utterly overwhelmed by the experience, unable to adequately express in words what we experienced last weekend. The magnificent California sunny weather, the Gathering of the Tribes-like PJ Homecoming atmosphere, the singular feeling of being in the presence of true greatness -- all of this brought more than one person, myself included, to tears at least once during the course of the weekend. Every time I have sat down to try to start writing, I start remembering the weekend in my mind and I just don't know where to start.
saturday, day one
I woke up with a solid case of pre-PJ show jitters; you know, you just want to get to the venue RIGHT NOW, you want to be there, you want to know that you are there and that nothing is going to happen to prevent you from getting there. The adrenaline is just pounding. We go for lunch and I can only manage to eat half a sandwich; fine, I'll bring the rest to Shoreline.
A 10-minute drive, and we're there, and we find a parking place that seems too good to be true (and, well, it was), right in front of the entrance to Shoreline. I'm carting two bags worth of crap and a rolled-up blanket down the driveway towards the box office. Damn, it's hot; but I also know perfectly well that as hot as it is right now, it will be proportionately COLD once the sun goes down, and then I will be very happy for all the warm clothes I brought with. We can't walk three feet without running into someone that we know: there's Mike Mabie from the always-excellent Given To Wail, the drop line looks like any 98 tour ticket drop line (PJ fans, of course, having the upper hand here); there's Gooch who I met at the first show of the 1982 Who tour; here are folks from the 5h message board. Before we know it, the gates are open and it's time to go inside and head for the totem pole, ever-popular 'net group meeting place at Bridge (overrun with Neil Young fans and the MFC contingent), and not long afterwards, it's time to hear to our seats for Pegi Young's intro and the first few songs by Neil!
*bounce bounce bounce bounce*
Neil kicks ass. Then again, he's Neil Young, and he always kicks ass, so big surprise there. (I fully realize this is oversimplifying things, but I'll talk about Neil more later.) Lucinda Williams followed, and at this point I just needed some quiet time, sitting in my seat, collecting my thoughts and calming DOWN. Lucinda's set was quiet and thoughtful and just the background I needed; Neil and Emmylou Harris coming out to help out on one song was also way cool. I'm in major adrenaline overload and it's going to be a late night; due to noise overflow from the venue to neighboring Palo Alto, shows at Shoreline generally have to end at 11pm -- but I'd heard that Neil had gotten a contingency to keep playing until midnight, and most folks thought it would go later than that. Me, I just want to make it to PJ's 8pm-ish set. I haven't thought past that. I don't think I could think past that. Just get me to PJ, and I'll manage the rest.
No disrespect intended, but there was no way I was sitting in my seat for the whole show, and so I made the choice to miss Billy Corgan and James Iha's set. (Before you send your flame mail, we all make our choices, and I bet *you* walked out during Tom Waits' set. Different strokes and all that.) Green Day sounded kind of lively from outside, so I got back to my seat in time for the last half of their set. They were peppy and lively and did a great job, had a great attitude, but no, their set did not change my mind about their music.
The Beach Boys being one of the few things my mother and I agree on musically, I was actually looking forward to Brian Wilson's set. If nothing else, after everything that man has been through, it's nice to see him out and about and performing the songs that he, after all, wrote. And ya know what, it WAS fun. Green Day got a few people out of their seats and dancing around; the BSB shows have unfortunately become known for the "I paid $$$$ for these tickets so you will sit down and not block my view" attitude in the audience, but this year, it seemed to not be present, which was a welcome change. People were able to get up and dance without having things thrown at them, as I'd witnessed at the two previous Bridge shows I'd attended. (Although we did have people talking in stereo; the people in front of us finally just left, and the people behind us eventually shut up - why on earth do you go to a concert to TALK through the entire thing??).
So people are really starting to warm up during Brian Wilson's set. I think it was a combination of people being cold, people being tired, and people wanting to get up and move around, combined with a realization that, ya know what, these songs are really damn good. The funniest thing I saw all weekend had to be during "Help Me Rhonda," when a row of 6 obvious PJ-fan fratboy types leapt up and started dancing around and giving the heavy-metal 'devil' sign. And then "Surfin' USA" and -- hey! I recognize that guy on the end! There's Neil and Ed and Sheryl Crow, out there singing backup, and the whole audience is on its feet dancing and cheering. (Hey, how much more appropriate does it get, Ed singing backup on a song about the love of surfing!)
We catch our breath, and it's PJ TIME! WOOOOOOOOO! 385 days since their last performance, the only performance of 1999, the last performance before the millenium (okay, okay, this is just some of the hype that we were all throwing about earlier in the weekend) - who cares, very very soon, Pearl Jam are going to be on that stage and we don't know what they're going to do, but they're gonna be there. (My notes say something like, "dammit, pj could have come out and played 'shiny happy people' for all i care"). The crew carry out these awesome, funky stools (which we find out later are from the Three Fish tour; Jean would comment on Sunday when I was ogling them covetously, "they look like they came straight out of Jeff's imagination" and hell she wasn't far off!). I immediately want one. =)
And then - there they are! Ed taking his time to walk around the back platform and greet the Bridge School students. No longer bleached blonde. And it's grown out some. McCready has the spikey blonde thing going again. Everyone else just looks - warm. But it's PEARL JAM! Hysteria reigns supreme. They kick into "Soldier of Love" and it's like settling back into a warm bath. Ed's voice rolling off the stage and over the crowd, damn, this is still the superior cover, and why the hell didn't this become the major hit? (And then, oh, maybe this means we won't get the semi-dreaded "Last Kiss" tonight??)
I never thought I'd be so glad to hear "Wishlist"; by the end of the 98 tour, I was way ready for this to be retired. But time and a break has given this song new life for me, I loved the delicate, extended ending. Mike's eyes are closed, leaning back, singing along to himself; Stone's nodding, not playing yet; I catch Matt Cameron yawning! My notes say, "Okay, they don't seem that excited," and they are looking at the ground, the lights are dim; this is typical PJ Night One Bridge -- although, dammit, I thought we'd be over that by now.
"Here's one...I don't know if you've ever had, like...when the last time you got a new pair of shoes, or a new bike or a new coat.... sometimes when you got something new, you just can't wait to use it. So we're gonna try a couple - at least one new song here. We just can't wait to try them..." HUGE applause, uproarious applause. And here's a new song, which we find out later is called "In Thin Air". Now, keep in mind that I am OVERJOYED to hear new material - but there is a definite drawback to hearing new material for the first time in a live setting. I remember hearing the Yield songs in Oakland and they absolutely made an impression on me, but it was sooo much different hearing them three months later in Maui; in Maui, it was like hearing them for the first time, because then I knew them.
So, this time, with everything I could choose to do, do I try to figure out the words, do I try to figure out what this reminds me of, or do I just stand here and listen and hug this moment, the moment of the FIRST TIME HEARING A PEARL JAM SONG to myself and just feel it? I chose the latter, standing there with a huge grin on my face, alternately closing my eyes and listening and standing there watching the boys, so happy to be seeing Pearl Jam playing live again. Ah, it's a love song. So sweet. I love it. I love Ed's voice on it. I can't wait to hear it on the album. Can't wait to find out more about it.
"Here's a little ditty that was written right over the hills there," Ed gesturing northward -- and I know it's "Elderly Woman" since that was his introduction to that very song back at Bridge in 96. Ed's eyes are closed, still, Stone's looking down - "I just wanna scream, hello" -- and it seems like all Shoreline is doing just that. "My god, it's been so long, never dreamed you'd return" -- augh! I'm a sucker for that line in that song every time I see PJ after a lengthy hiatus, and this time is no different. But I'm just so overwhelmingly happy to see them again that this time, I'm not crying. It's just like coming home.
Now, Ed decides to get chatty: "So, last night a few of us were out at Neil, with Neil - there was a get-together, he had a nice fire going; he pulled me aside and said, I need to talk to you about something, so we walked into the woods, he said, 'I've been meaning to tell you something but it never seemed like the right moment, but this is it' - and he said, 'Ed, I am your father.'"
HUGE applause, much laughter. And I can think of my friends with their PJ/Star Wars theories (okay, fantasies is more like it) and they must be laughing their asses off listening to the cybercast. Ed continues: "And I said, 'Wow, cool.' And I said, 'Can I move down and stay in your house?'...He said 'No'....So we're gonna dedicate this song to Dad and all my new brothers and sisters..."
It's the now semi-traditional Bridge "Footsteps," augmented by dark, haunting harmonica solos from Ed and an equally evocative solo from McCready; my notes say "hollowy, sparse, spacey". Very much creating a mood. Some more harp from Ed closes the song.
And then, dammit, yeah, "Last Kiss," we just cannot escape this song for the rest of our known lives so we might as well get used to it. People sitting down just LEAP out of their seats and start dancing around and high-fiving each other, singing along really loudly. (And I think, okay are you listening to the words here?) But hey, what the hell, it's making people happy, with a seven-song setlist I really think they straddled both worlds, successfully keeping the people who came there to see them happy and the people who wouldn't know a new song if it hit them over the head happy. Tough job, but I think they did it.
"Before we go, I just want to point out some special people behind us...one is Matt Cameron, who's playing drums tonight, appreciate it, thank you Matt...and of course all the children of the Bridge School...there's a lot of light coming from the back of the stage tonight." And with that comment, the whole band turns and applauds the students on the platform at the back of the stage.
George brings out the stand-up bass, so I dutifully write down "Daughter" and start thinking, hmmm, what will the tag be, so much to choose from! -- only for 'Cready to crack open a blistering version of the "Yellow Ledbetter" intro instead, which, I'm happy to hear. This song absolutely creates a sense of unity and makes people happy, which was totally appropriate in this setting.
And they're off, Ed reminding us that Tom Waits is next. All the PJ fans in my immediate area turn to each other and comments on a variation of, "I know that was the band I came to see, but didn't that seem awfully short??!" Yeah, it did, and I haven't taken the time even now to measure it, chalking it up to just that inexhaustible thirst for live PJ. I really want to go out and find everyone and talk about what we just saw, and the new song, and everything, but Tom Waits is next, so all I can do is stay put.
I love Tom Waits. I never thought I'd see him live, and now I've seen him three times within a year and a half. He played Seattle the week before Bridge, and I have never been so entranced, or seen such a major representation of the members of every single Seattle band in an audience before, have rarely seen an audience so incredibly rabid. I am not expecting the same magic here -- it's not a Waits crowd, there's no chance for him to create the kind of context and texture that is integral to his music, and, well, dammit, he's acoustic. But, "Innocent When You Dream" is nothing short of wonderful, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself yet again.
So now I know the Bridge School movie is next, and I am cold and I want tea, so I go find a friend and we go from one side of Shoreline to the other in search of the shortest espresso stand line. I finally give up and settle on a Pepsi, and get in THAT line, only to hear, "Ladies and gentlemen, my husband, Neil Young!" and have to majorly SPRINT down stairs to get back to my seat. Oh well, so much for timing.
Now, I saw Neil's acoustic show earlier this year, back in March, so I more or less knew what to expect. Which, I guess unsurprisingly, did not change my reaction to the music. When I saw him last spring, I wrote afterwards how I spent the first three songs in shock: "it was so pure, so clean, so crystalline, so unadulterated" -- and I go through the same tumult of emotions watching him now. That this is Art on the highest level. That this man is full of undeniable greatness. Jean probably said it better, she doesn't cry for PJ, she cries for Neil. (Whereas I lost it later... we'll get there.) And I can totally understand why. There is something so intricate, so moving in his music, that just cannot fail to connect with you. Ah, I loved it.
Over way too soon, and now it's time to run out, thank god, the Sheryl Crow set. I had promised countless folks, "if you don't find me before/during the show, I will be in the bar during Sheryl Crow's set," and dontcha know it is closed! And, at this point, I want hot tea, at this point I'll settle for hot WATER -- I'm wearing 4 layers, a scarf, gloves and a hat (and it was not nearly as cold in the pavilion at I am told it was on the lawn). I end up once again settling for, well, root beer (figuring the upcoming adrenaline rush will get me through the Who, and I don't need the caffeine from anything else keeping me up). We run into a bunch of other PJ fans seeking refuge from the Crow and I dance around to try to keep warm, "The Who are next, the Who are next!" At this point, I know that PJ's set wasn't short, it's just that we were dying to see them -- because Sheryl Crow's set seems unbelievably, agonizingly LONG. I head back to my seat during the last song and think about adding another layer, I am cold and tired, It is WAY late, and I really don't think I knew what was going to hit me next. Really. I mean, okay, yeah, I knew... but you never really know.
12 fucking 30 at night, all of a sudden I look up and THERE THEY ARE, and we LEAP to our feet -- holy mother, it's Roger! And John! And PETE! And god, even Rabbit is there on keyboards! It's them! IT'S THE WHO!!! IT'S THE WHO! AUGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGGH! It was like running into your best friend from grade school who you haven't seen in 15 years, you look at them and you're in disbelief and they look so great and you are so happy to see them, you just want to run up and hug them and look in their eyes and say, 'I am so happy to see you! You look great! I missed you so much!' I have not seen these three men onstage together since the "First Farewell Tour" in 1982. The music these men make has been part of my life for well over half of it; they were my first love and despite everything, despite it all, they are still my biggest and best and truest love and the music does not lie or betray you, ever. Jean cries during Neil, I cry tears of laughter and joy and remembrance and exhilaration looking at these people onstage and listening to the opening chords of "Substitute". I know these songs so well, I don't have to think, it's an automatic reaction. They could drag any obscure song out and I would know it, instantly (which is exactly what happened with "Mary Anne With The Shakey Hands").
[Please note incredible restraint in only posting one photo. The rest are at WhoNews.]
The stage is PACKED. The artists are spilling over onto the stage almost. There's Neil and Pegi and his manager, Elliot Roberts, everyone rocking out. There's Stone, practically ON the stage, singing along. There are the guys from Green Day a little further off in the wings, singing and dancing along (their estimation in my mind went up about 10 notches, having seen that). I thought the audience response was rabid for PJ? This was total and utter PANDEMONIUM. But I don't have time to look around very much, because I am RIGHT THERE and there is Roger, and there is Pete, and there is John, and they are smiling and singing and the music is just so unbelievably good to hear.
But, god, it was WEIRD, this acoustic thing! I mean, this is the Who! This is the band who are in the Guinness Book of World Records as the Loudest Band In The World. There were a few times I was just waiting to rock out....but instead of this great roar - well, it was still a roar, but a much smaller roar. Kinda hard to get used to. But fun, very very fun!
And it was classic Who. They yell at their soundman. Roger plays the dumb blonde. Pete makes an inappropriate comment while going off on a tangent while trying to explain something fairly important. John stands there shaking his head. Yeah, this is a Who concert, not a fucking tea party! Okay, so Roger's voice went out a bit, they couldn't hear themselves, it was late, they were tired -- but if you did not get on your feet and cheer and sing along during "Won't Get Fooled Again" Saturday night then I feel sorry for you, because I don't know what else could possibly move you then.
We all figured they were going to skip the traditional last-song-jam-session-everyone-onstage deal, what with the late hour... but no sooner did the Who leave the stage as they start wheeling out more equipment (including Cameron's drumkit) and there is everyone, onstage and laughing and happy, singing Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released." Ed alternates the verses with Neil. I don't know WHERE to look first, there's Mike and John Entwistle and Jeff hiding behind them; there's Ed singing with Neil; look to the other side, there's Roger and Stone! Lord have mercy, this is just too much, and it's a good thing it's the end of the show, because honestly, I don't think I, or anyone else, could have taken any more at this point.
We stagger back to the hotel, 10 minutes away; I am vowing in the car, "I am not updating the web site, it can wait, everyone heard the cybercast" but am so completely wound up I sit there and do it anyway while waiting for the much-needed Tylenol PM to kick in. My cohorts are going on and on and on about how well Roger Daltrey looks in a pair of jeans and how can I not notice. I good-naturedly point out that 1) thank you, I noticed 20 years ago, and 2) I have had this exact same conversation 20 years ago and 15 years ago many, many times since then, and this is not a new revelation to me, suggest they go rent "McVicar," and point out I am trying to focus on PEARL JAM, not Roger's butt, so could I have a little quiet before I overwrite the file AGAIN and have to recreate the whole Concert Chronology listing from scratch again?
My god. We get to do this TOMORROW, all over again. ("Yeah! We get to see Roger's butt!") There's never a pillow within arm's reach when you need one.....
on to Sunday!
Copyright © 1999 Caryn Rose