Neil Young joined some of the biggest names in rock, including Pearl Jam, Brian Wilson and Dave Matthews Band, last night (Oct. 21) at the 20th anniversary benefit for the Bridge School, an educational center for disabled youth he founded with his wife, Pegi. Young also performed two sets during the evening, one solo acoustic and one with a band.
With brilliant sun washing over the sold-out crowd at Shoreline Amphitheatre, he opened the show with “Flags of Freedom,” “Long May You Run” and “Comes a Time,” joined by Pegi on vocals. Eight hours later, he was back on stage with a ramshackle band, unearthing obscure fare like “Field of Opportunity,” “Human Highway” and “Homegrown,” and jamming on “Rockin’ in the Free World” with Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, among others.
Earlier in the day, Young joined Gillian Welch and David Rawlings on their cover of “Country Girl (Medley)” from his 1969 album “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.” He then reappeared playing organ with Brian Wilson during “Good Vibrations” and then hit the stage with Pearl Jam for their first-ever complete band live performance of “Throw Your Hatred Down,” from the acts’ 1995 collaborative album “Mirror Ball.”
Prior to his second set of the night, Young dueled on guitar with Dave Matthews during an epic “Cortez the Killer,” marked by spot-on soloing from violinist Boyd Tinsley.
Other artists gave knowing nods to Young’s legacy. Devendra Banhart, whose band for the day featured folk veteran Bert Jansch, covered David Crosby’s “Traction in the Rain,” while Death Cab For Cutie played Graham Nash’s “Military Madness.” Banhart also yielded a portion of his set for performances of Jansch-penned cuts like “When I Get Home,” first recorded by the latter’s Pentangle.
The evening’s most unusual set came from Nine Inch Nails leader Trent Reznor, playing the first solo gig of his career. Backed by a four-piece string section, including violinist/arranger Martin St. Pierre, Reznor admirably transformed the tortured, programming-heavy music of Nine Inch Nails on tracks like “Piggy,” “The Fragile,” “Right Where It Belongs” and “Hurt,” although their morose sentiments didn’t exactly jibe with the spirit of the day.
Pearl Jam struck a balance between sing-a-long hits (“Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town,” “Daughter,” “Better Man”) and songs perfectly suited to the day’s acoustic approach (“Parachutes,” “Man of the Hour”). The band also covered Tom Waits’ “Picture in a Frame” before closing with “Crazy Mary,” featuring an extended grand piano solo by Boom Gaspar. Vedder injected a bit of off-color humor by playing the traditional drinking song “I Used To Work in Chicago” before “Daughter.”
Winding down an extensive acoustic tour, Foo Fighters had the format down pat on hits like “Everlong,” “My Hero,” “Big Me” and “Times Like These.” Wilson also translated the wall-of-sound of his usual performances into a more stripped-down approach, singing while sitting on a stool as opposed to playing piano. The set sported one hit after another, from “Heroes & Villains” and “God Only Knows” to “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.”
The show reprises today with the same lineup. In related news, iTunes will on Nov. 14 begin selling live performances from past Bridge School performances by more than 70 artists. The only prior document of the event was the 1997 Warner Bros. collection “The Bridge School Concerts Vol. 1.”