Article 1995-10-28 Mountain View, CA

Springsteen, Neil Young - born to be sensational

MOUNTAIN VIEW - In a very special evening of music stretching across more than five hours, Neil Young's Bridge School benefit concert at the Shoreline Amphitheatre Saturday night provided highlight after artistic highlight.

With the usual array of eclectic talent, from the sublime - Emmylou Harris with Daniel Lanois - to the surreal - Beck - to the just plain sensational - Bruce Springsteen and Young himself - the bridge concert has become one of the most anticipated concerts of the season.

The ninth annual concert, like its predecessors, was held to benefit the Bridge School for children with severe speech and physical impairments by ensuring that each child's ability to reach their potential is maximized by creating a school environment with those goals at the forefront. All of the artists and crews donate their time to this worthy cause and performances are given against the moving backdrop of many of the school's students watching from wheelchairs from a platform at the rear of the stage.

Opening the show was MTV darling Beck, the strangely appealing waifish youngster with the spaced out blue eyes and the wonderful gift for storytelling. He seemed a little lost in the all-acoustic realm, without his tape loops and high energy stage antics, but he was able to show himself as an accomplished songwriter with a lot to say.

The Pretenders and Hootie and the Blowfish also performed on the bill, both to extremely warm crowd reactions. The Pretenders set was exceptional, as Chrissie Hynde and her band were joined by a string quartet for several of their songs, in keeping with the acoustic format for the evening. Their renditions of "Brass in Pocket" and Young's "The Needle and the Damage Done" - which Hynde sent out in memory of the late Shannon Hoon, whose band, Blind Melon, was to appear at this year's show before Hoon's tragic death - were particularly moving.

The Hooties turned in their usual pleasant set of pleasant music in a manner so mellow that if they got any more mellow they'd all be stacked up in Duggan's mortuary. Whatever the Blowfish phenomenon is about, it clearly has captured the hearts of America as their album, "Cracked Rear View," continues to sell at a mind-boggling pace. Go figure.

But the evening's real highlight came with Springsteen's inspired performance. Taking the stage in the middle of the bill, just after the Lanois, Harris country-Cajun set - it sounds like a new salad dressing but is awfully easy on the ears - Springsteen was mesmerizing. No other performer can hold an audience at such rapt attention as he merely tunes his guitar. When he sings his songs, which take so well to acoustic stylings, the entire place was listening intently.

Springsteen, performing for the first time in the Bay Area in several years, performed seven songs, including two from his upcoming new album, "The Ghost of Tom Joad," to be released in late November. Beginning with "Seeds," Springsteen then did a marvelous reworking of "Adam Raised a Cain" before going into his first new song,

"Sinaloa Cowboys" a tale of two Mexican brothers and what befalls them as they try for a better life in the north. Springsteen then did a version of "Point Blank" that was stunning in its stark clarity, followed that with the humorous "Hard Army Life," went into "This Hard Land" from his greatest hits album and finished with the moving title track to his new record, which he dedicated to the "the Gingrich Mob" in Washington, D.C. He was called back for an encore, joining Young for a riveting duet on "Down By the River," after the evening's host joked that "Bruce says he doesn't have any more songs so we're gonna do one of mine."

If Springsteen's set was the performance of the night, Young's offerings weren't far behind. The Bard of Woodside opened the show with three beautiful numbers, "Comes a Time," his own "Needle and the Damage Done" and "Heart of Gold," a song he performs only on special occasions these days. Then, to close the show, he was joined by his long-time back-up band, Crazy Horse, for exceptional versions of "Pocahontas," "Look Out for My Love," "Cortez the Killer," "Powderfinger," "Tonight's the Night" and a group rendition of "Keep on Rockin' in the Free World" that brought Bruce, the Blowfish and even Aerosmith's Steven Tyler out of the wings to join in on the choruses.

Young has reached a point in his career where he can shape his songs - even songs he may have performed hundreds of times - to whatever mood he may be in in a given moment, playing with the phrasings, altering the guitar lines, using his incredible power as a musician to transcend the song's normal boundaries and reach right into the soul of the songs.

When he is joined by someone like Springsteen, who possesses equal power, the results are nothing short of remarkable. It would be wonderful to see these great talents - both of whom were nominated last year for Academy Awards for their work on the "Streets of Philadelphia" soundtrack - join together on an extended project. They both seemed to be enjoying themselves enough Saturday night to make this seem not as far-fetched as it might seem at first consideration.

By Craig Marine via The San Francisco Examiner.

The Pied Piper of Rock - Neil Young gathers stellar Bridge cast

Neil Young drew a remarkable intersection of lines at his ninth annual Bridge concert Saturday at the Shoreline Amphitheatre.

In the course of the five-hour concert, Emmylou Harris sang songs from the album of her career, Bruce Springsteen previewed his stark new Woody Guthrie- esque ballads from an upcoming album, and Hootie and the Blowfish took time off from recording their follow-up to the breakthrough album of the year to road test a couple of new songs in the acoustic configuration that is the order of the day. The annual show raises funds for the Bridge School, a school for children with severe communication handicaps.

A dark ghost haunted the occasion. Shannon Hoon, whose band Blind Melon was scheduled to appear on the bill, died last week in New Orleans of an apparent drug overdose (see related story on page D2). The death almost certainly was on Young's mind when he sang his "The Needle and the Damage Done" to open the concert.

But when Chrissie Hynde, appearing with an acoustic edition of her Pretenders augmented by a four-man string section, reprised the song later that evening, she drew the connection more specifically. "This is for Shannon Hoon," she said. "He was supposed to be here tonight, but he won't be here at all anymore."

Hynde proved to be one of the evening's big hits. Her crystalline version of "2000 Miles" drew a standing ovation. She sang her seven-song set with uncommon confidence and poise, even abandoning her guitar and arching her voice into "Kid," backed solely by the string quartet and a folk guitar.

If the strings represented an artistic departure for Hynde, Harris has started an entirely new career with the music she made with Daniel Lanois, producer of her spectacular new album, "Wrecking Ball" (Young wrote the title song). She has all but abandoned the Appalachian country stylings that have been her bread and butter for more than 20 years in favor of this delicate, deeply personal synthesis of gospel, folk, soul and Lanois' own peculiar brand of musical voodoo.

With bassist-drummer Darryl Johnson, the trio sampled some of the gems from "Wrecking Ball," the fastest-selling new album of Harris' career, but halfway through they segued into a melange of soul and gospel songs in which Harris and Johnson shared lead vocals. Genre boundaries dissolved as the three raised their voices in pure song, Lanois tacking the melodies to the floor with his arcane guitar playing.

Springsteen gave the audience a preview of the acoustic tour he plans for sometime in the coming months in support of "Ghost of Tom Joad," his folky solo album due to be released in two weeks. The title song made a sharp punctuation to the six songs he performed.

"There's a white riot going on in Congress," he said, "that's going to make our country less safe for our kids, more divided. So I want to send this out to the Gingrich mob."

The song finds a drifter looking among the homeless encampments for the spirit of the John Steinbeck hero and, ultimately, finding him. Springsteen has fashioned a gut-wrenching reminder of just how far this country has drifted from ideals it once held close.

He reworked such songs as "Point Blank" and "This Hard Land" into his Guthrie-esque presentation. "Sinaloa Cowboys," another song from the new album, is a modern ballad of Mexican cowboys and the lost American dream. He tossed off a verse of "I Don't Want Any More of This Army Life" — the verse about the baseball game between the bedbugs and the roaches — in tribute to the World Series.

Hootie and the Blowfish vocalist Darius Rucker displayed becoming modesty, describing his reaction when he first saw the band's name on the concert program. "It was like one of those 'Sesame Street' things,'' he said. "You know, which one of these don't belong here?" But then, this band has a lot to be modest about.

In an acoustic setting, the band's carefully crafted lite pop lost a lot of impact, but the crowd responded enthusiastically to songs from its runaway best-selling album (6 million and still selling). The band also performed a highway ballad from country songsmiths Foster and Lloyd and a typical mid-tempo Hootie ballad headed for a new album under production in Marin County.

But, of course, leave it to Neil Young to provide the consistent underpinning and eventual catharsis for his own show. After his three-song opening set, Young wandered out unannounced to add, as he did on the recording, harmonica and harmonies to Emmylou Harris' "Sweet Old World." He dragged Springsteen back for an encore — "Bruce says he doesn't have any more songs, so we'll do one of mine" — launching into a folk-style version of Young's "Down by the River," Springsteen strumming guitar and pitching in on the choruses.

Young and his longtime collaborators, Crazy Horse, returned for five songs at the end of the night, ranging from the whimsical "Pocahontas" to a chilling "Cortez the Killer" with Young giving his acoustic guitar the kind of tortured string-bending he would an electric guitar. For the finale, he started "Rockin' in the Free World" as Springsteen grabbed a guitar and joined the band, while a gaggle of background vocalists gathered around microphones — including Harris, Hynde and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, wherever he came from.

By Joel Selvin via The San Francisco Chronicle.
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