Pearl Jam, Wilco, Counting Crows, Willie Nelson and others joined Neil Young and his bandmates in Crosby, Stills & Nash this weekend (Oct. 25-26) outside San Francisco for the 17th annual Bridge School Benefit concerts. The acoustic-driven shows at Shoreline Amphitheatre benefit the Bridge School, which Young and his wife Pegi founded as a learning facility for severely disabled children.
As is custom, Young offered the first music of each day during a short set that featured “Sugar Mountain,” “Mother Earth” and “Comes a Time,” on which he was joined by his wife on vocals and two Native American dancers. Likewise, CSNY ended both shows, inviting all of the other artists on stage for a group rendition of “Teach Your Children.” The group also performed songs from its members’ storied careers, including Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” and Young’s solo cuts “Human Highway” and “Harvest Moon.”
Willie Nelson’s penultimate sets proved a highlight of both days, with the veteran artist performing with accompaniment from harmonica player Mickey Rafael. The artist mixed such tracks as “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Nightlife,” and “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” with favorites like “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” “Crazy” and “On the Road Again” in sets that pleased young and old alike.
Pearl Jam’s Bridge appearances came in the middle of a four-show acoustic benefit tour, and several tunes were dusted off for the occasion. Four of the group’s seven selections on Saturday night were covers, including a stern reading of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War,” a frantic run through Johnny Cash’s “25 Minutes To Go” and the Ramones’ “I Believe in Miracles.” Pearl Jam also unveiled a new ballad, “Man of the Hour,” and closed on Sunday with “The Long Road,” featuring Young on pump organ.
Wilco utilized the shows to pick liberally from its back catalog, including “New Madrid,” from frontman Jeff Tweedy’s prior band, Uncle Tupelo, and “California Stars,” a song recorded with Billy Bragg and featuring Woody Guthrie’s lyrics. The group also offered the new song “Bob Dylan’s Beard” and selections from its latest studio album, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” such as “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” “I am Trying To Break Your Heart” and “War on War.”
Counting Crows offered extended new versions of hits such as “Mr. Jones” and “Rain King,” plus well-received covers of the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” and the Jackson Frank obscurity “Blues Run in the Game.” Crows frontman Adam Duritz joked, “we like acoustic shows because we can render our songs pretty much indecipherable.”
Incubus also got into the covers spirit, replacing the prominent piano melody of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” with an acoustic guitar. The group ran through its roster of rock radio favorites, including “Drive,” “Warning,” “Wish You Were Here” and “Pardon Me.”
The Indigo Girls were right at home in the acoustic setting, harmonizing with ease of “Closer To Fine” and “Galileo” (featuring Crosby on vocals) and rocking out with authority on “Chickenman.” As a request for one of the Bridge School students sitting on a riser at the back of the stage, the duo ran through a few bars of “Old McDonald Had a Farm.”
Dashboard Confessional opened both days, drawing a strong response from the younger contingent of the audience with emotional tales such as “Screaming Infidelities,” “Again I Go Unnoticed” and recent single “Hands Down.”