MOUNTAIN VIEW - At every Bridge School benefit concert, the kids from
the Bridge School have the best seats in the house, right behind the band
at the back of the stage.There's this one boy who's been there just about
every year. Saturday night at the Shoreline Amphitheatre he was wearing a
white shirt and thick framed glasses. It's doubtful that he enjoys the
shows any more than the other children, but he seems to have more mobility
than most. Watching him laugh and cheer and clap with such unbridled
enthusiasm to acts as diverse as Lou Reed, Metallica and Blues Traveler is
what makes the Bridge Concerts the special events that they are.
The Bridge School helps children with severe physical and speech
impairments learn to communicate. With their smiles and bobbing heads, the
children at Saturday's 11th annual concert, led by the boy in the white
shirt, clearly communicated their enjoyment of the show.
As usual, host Neil Young, who has a son in the school, assembled an
eclectic group of bands on this year's bill - all of whom donated their
efforts to raise money for the school. Watching the groups perform in an
almost entirely acoustic format is one of the treats, especially when a
band as electric as Metallica comes out with acoustic guitars and pounds
out a terrific set, as they did Saturday night. Good music prevailed
whether it was plugged in or not, even if cheering Metallica doing Lynyrd
Skynyrd's "Tuesday's Gone" is a bit unsettling.
Fans came from throughout the Bay Area to see their favorite groups and
support the Bridge School.
"I came to see Metallica," Jamie Level, 21, of Oakland. "I want to see
what they're like without all of that sound - see if they could pull it
off. Actually, I know they can because they are such great musicians."
Level's friend Ray Badger added, "I also feel great about this being a
benefit. If I'm going to drop $60 for a couple of tickets, it's nice to
know it's for a good cause."
As has become traditional, Young himself informally opened the show,
walking out with his guitar to sing "Long May You Run." A great song about
an old car that Young once had and lost, it also contains one of those
obscure reference errors that nobody cares about but can win a barroom bet
on sometimes. Young sings about the possibility that the Beach Boys may
have his car now, chasing waves and singing "Caroline," naturally. But
"Caroline, No" was the only single Beach Boy Brian Wilson ever released as
a solo artist - that fact and $2.70 will get you a double latte.
Since Young performed that song originally with Stephen Stills, Young can
blame him for that little oversight.
Saturday's show featured plenty of highlights, but it was Blues Traveler's
massive John Popper who perhaps best captured the spirit of the day.
Performing an excellent set that featured a killer rendition of
"Carolina Blues," Popper spent the better part of the band's last number
playing straight to the kids, turning his back to the packed house. Not
that anyone minded. The smiles were incandescent as the children took in
Popper's inspired harmonica riffs. As he finished his set, Popper shook
hands with the wheelchair-bound youngsters and passed out harmonicas to
each. That's how lifelong allegiances are formed.
Even the notoriously aloof New Yorker Lou Reed was into the moment,
smiling often as he led his band through a folksy set that recalled his
earliest days as a Long Island minstrel. Reed reworked several of his
tunes enough that the band members needed sheet music in front of them to
follow the new arrangements.
The effect proved worthwhile as he treated the house to tunes such as
"Vicious" and an enchanting "Pale Blue Eyes," one of his most beautiful
numbers. As happens often, however, it was Reed's "Sweet Jane" that proved
to be his finest moment, and one of the best of the long evening, which
spanned more than seven hours of music. As perfect acoustically as it is
electrically, "Sweet Jane," for all of its musical simplicity and lyrical
complexity, remains an ageless masterpiece.
Alanis Morissette, Smashing Pumpkins, the Dave Matthews Band and Young
himself also performed, as they will again Sunday in a second show
beginning at 2 p.m.