Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit Concert
October 25, 2009
Check out our Bridge School slideshow by Christopher Victorio here.
Better Than: watching AC/DC play at Marine World.
Combine a huge rock' n roll show with a school benefit and you're bound to attract a crowd of hip parents. It felt like family day at Neil Young's annual Bridge School Benefit concert at the Shoreline Amphitheater yesterday, with all of the tiny rocker tots running around. Even Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale's kids could be spotted scampering about the crowd in their chic kid-wear.
It was the perfect family-friendly set-up: parents didn't have to put their kiddies to bed too late since the show started at 2 p.m. and ended before 10 p.m. Plus, between sets, parents could peruse the vendors outside the theater area with beer in hand, while their kids ran around in the sunshine (the kiddies only occasionally pressed their noses against the glass of the "jewelry" booths to get a better look at the smoking paraphernalia).
It was a stellar weather day for an outdoor show, as was mentioned by nearly every performer who stepped up to the mic -- of course, they also weren't forced to sit in the scorching sun of the lawn section.
Former Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale was the first all-acoustic performer after a welcome from Young. Crowds had only filled in the shady sections of the giant theater by the time he took to the stage. Even though Rossdale has had some solo pseudo-hits since the band broke up, the crowd cheered loudest for old Bush tunes like "Glycerine."
Next came retro-rockers Wolfmother, who managed to energize the crowd despite being the the kind of band that thrives in an electric setting where people can stand up and truly rock out.
The Fleet Foxes, who followed Wolfmother, played a set that begged for a more intimate setting -- one more coffeehouse-esque--to accommodate their mellow folk harmonies. Front man Robin Pecknold spoke to the crowd as though everyone was sitting around a campfire together. He mentioned that many years ago he had sat on that very same Shoreline lawn and watched Beck and Tom Petty at the 2000 Bridge School Benefit.
The Monsters of Folk supergroup, which includes Mike Mogis and Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes plus Jim James of My Morning Jacket, took to the stage next. The new band has yet to have a hit on Guitar Hero, so crowd members weren't able to stand up and sing along like they did when Sheryl Crow hit them with "Soak Up the Sun" in the following set. Monsters of Folk may have gained some new fans from their show yesterday, but Crow's quick set, which included a mix of favorites and lesser-known songs, definitely got folks more warmed-up for the very recognizable acts headlining the show.
The big stars included Adam Sandler. Although the comedian and actor was a familiar face, few knew what to expect from his set. Turns out he wasn't quite sure either: "I don't know what I'm doing here," he said after stepping on stage. Although watching a half-hour of Sandler doing karaoke would have been entertaining, it was great to see him move quickly from a cover of the Doors' "Break on Through" into his original songs. He definitely has enough material for an album, including everyone's favorite Hanukkah song ("Mel Gibson ... NOT A JEW!"), and "Lunch Lady Land" ("Sloppy Joe, Sloppy Sloppy Joe!"). Sandler capped his set by inviting Neil Young on stage for what turned out to be Young's only duet of the day.
Chris Martin had a hard act to follow--especially since it was just him and a piano up there for most of the set (he was later joined by a violinist). But Martin appeared happy to play solo, and bounced enthusiastically at the piano while playing a range of Coldplay songs - some of which, such as the dramatic "Clocks," deserved a bigger sound than they got with such measly backups. We definitely got a little worried when he led a sing-along of "Earth Angel" for his final number - but the familiar tune, combined with the forced audience participation, worked out surprisingly well.
A good portion of the crowd had come to see the next band, No Doubt, which became clear after No Doubt left the stage and practically the entire place cleared out. Gwen Stefani looked stunning, as usual, her bleach blond hair shining like a beacon as she sang hit after hit and cat-walked around stage in an itty-bitty dress and six-inch heels (these must have been her acoustic set heels -- we're pretty sure that any attempt to skank dance in those things would have landed her in the hospital).
Only the die-hard Young fans stuck around for his set, the final act of the night. But they were rewarded with an impressive show by a performer who proved he can still rock in the free world like no other. Although Young veered away from the song everyone in the crowd was shouting out for him to play ("Old Man"), he has a big enough repertoire of hits to please nearly every fan out there. From "Daddy Went Walkin" to "Harvest Moon" to "Down by the River," Young had fans out of their seats and stomping out the tunes in unison.
The odd mix-mash of stars who showed for the grand finale -- Gwen Stefani in her stilettos on one end of the stage, Monsters of Folk in their beanies on the other, and Sandler giving high-fives to all of the Bridge School kids in between -- was a little awkward looking, but it ultimately fulfilled its purpose of cracking smiles on the faces of fans who stuck around until the end.
Personal Bias: It must be hard to please everyone at these benefit shows - Young has been criticized for including too many lesser-known bands at the beginning of this year's show (whereas in previous years he has been criticized for only picking bands off of Billboard's top five). This show-goer found it refreshing to see that he gave some up-and-coming rockers a go at appealing to a wider fan base this year.
By the way: Any eight-hour benefit show is going to test the patience of even the most devout concert-goer--especially a show with one stage, which doesn't require much moving around. The Bridge School Students, who were lined up at the back of the stage for the entire cpncert, definitely win the endurance prize of the day (the people who sat on the lawn for half the day in the scorching sun get second place).