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The 1996 Bridge School Benefit Shows:
Neil Young and Crazy Horse
Pearl Jam
David Bowie
Patti Smith
Cowboy Junkies

saturday, 10/19 | sunday, 10/20

Note: these talk about the whole show, not just PJ. If all you want to read about is PJ, I suggest you skim, or just go read the general notes and setlists in the concert chronology. you have been warned. ;-)

saturday, 10/19

my first bridge school show! read the reviews, watched the videos, listened to the tapes, but this year I'm here! truth be told, however, PJ alone didn't do it; but the enticement of Patti Smith AND David Bowie AND PJ on the same stage... well, I couldn't pass this one up.

at 5:30pm we took our seats. section 204, row U. translated, that means virtual nosebleeds, only a few rows down from the lawn, on the left side of the stage. people in front of us sit down and moan, 'well, we couldn't be much further back,' but we're just happy to be here. at 6, neil's wife pegi walked out and started the show, followed by the man, neil himself, walking out to perform "Natural Beauty" solo. Wow! This was going to be good. Shoreline is very well laid out, video screen above the stage (and two in the back for those stuck on the lawn). Unfortunately, as most of you probably know by now, it was VERY VERY VERY COLD.

Hayden, the Canadian singer-songwriter-folkie type, came out and did a polite half-hour. It was interesting, but not compelling from the cheap seats. He makes some allusion at one point to a 'special guest' and I figured maybe Neil would come out and do one with him, but he doesn't show. Oh well. Cowboy Junkies are slated to be next and Chris is going, "Let's go look for some hot chocolate." I look at the stage and it doesn't look like Cowboy Junkies... only a stool and one microphone stand. I'm thinking, maybe Patti Smith poetry reading? So I say, "no... let's wait a second" and as I do, Neil walks back out and hurriedly goes, "We've got a special guest...let's just bring him out: Pete Townshend" and the entire ampitheatre just erupts in delight and leaps to their feet. I'm hugging Chris going, "I knew it! I knew it!" (On the Neil Young list, someone mentioned the fact that the Who were going to be in San Jose and wouldn't it be nice if Pete showed up? I mean, of course but everyone always talks about special guests that never materialize...)

Pete was in extremely high and jovial spirits, looking great, and did a set of amazing stuff, including many rarities: 'TKAA', 'I'm A Boy' ("This was my answer to Muddy Waters...'I'm a man..." [doing a great Muddy Waters imitation]), 'A Legal Matter' (where did he pull THAT one out of???), 'Let My Love Open The Door', 'Drowned' and 'Behind Blue Eyes'. Mentions how great it is to be here with his friends, 'Neil Young, David Bowie, Patti Smith, Eddie Vedder'. Goes without saying that the set was great, and it boded well for the rest of the evening, or so we thought.

I can't tell you how Cowboy Junkies were because we were trying to get espresso. Trying being the operative word -- the line for hot beverages was longer than any of the beer lines. We make it back to our seats as the lights go down and Patti Smith takes the stage. Now, I love Patti, no matter what she does, but I was fully NOT expecting to be totally blown away by this set. What really got me was during "Ghost Dance", ethereal as it is anyway, that she took her mic stand, turned around, and sang to the Bridge School students who watch the show from a platform along the back of the stage. Just wonderful. She really brought the audience to their feet, probably a big surprise to them as well as Patti.

Bowie was next, clearly trying to match wits with Pete in the jovality department, and the crowd really ate it up. After opening with a stunning "Aladdin Sane", he went into a brief snatch of the Who's "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" (which he covered on his 'Pinups' cover album), stops, and says, 'oops, sorry, that was Pete's... could have been mine, you know!" A wonderful version of "Heroes", dedicated to Neil, Pegi and the Bridge School as well as an unusual version of "Let's Dance" rounded off his set.

We all know who's next, and the buzz in the atmosphere is palpable. I welcome the chance to jump up and down and try to warm up. After what seems a long set-up time compared to the rest of the acts, the lights go down, Pegi comes out and says, "Three years of Bridge School benefits -- Pearl Jam!" The guys walk out and take their places: immediate impressions were that Eddie looked like he had a ponytail and Jack had a really cool jacket on. ;-) The lights are dim, very dim compared to the rest of the acts, and they launch into "Footsteps", a song I'd always wanted to hear live. "I just told Neil I had a stomachache," Eddie sez. Very funny. Before they go into "Sometimes", Eddie addresses the audience, apparently in response to something someone said: "Did you say, 'i love you' or 'fuck you' -- it's never clear'. "Sometimes" followed, beautiful as always. Then, a brief conference and they go into "Betterman". *sigh* Okay, we can give them this. I mean, it's Bridge, they're bound to do some special stuff, right?

A very unusual version of "Corduroy" followed; very subdued arrangement. I kinda liked it, but Chris didn't at all. I don't understand why this song in particular got reworked -- I can understand wanting to rework something as monster as "Jeremy", but "Corduroy" was really just fine as it was, I thought. "Off He Goes" gives us song #2 from "No Code", and then -- it sounds like it, could it be -- "Nothingman", as both Chris and the guy next to me comment that this is only the second time this song's been done live. Eddie really seemed to enjoy singing it, the band seemed to enjoy playing it.

Unfortunately, this was followed by "Black", at which point I just sat down and gave up. Maybe they were cold, maybe they were still tired, but I dunno, not only was the performance decidedly lacklustre, how they could walk out on a stage on which is traditionally a venue for reworking the old (I mean, an acoustic version of "Let's Dance"? "A Legal Matter" is hardly a huge mega-hit for the Who) and give us the same old same old I just don't understand. Especially with an album that is full of beautiful songs that are dying to be played acoustically (I take that back -- dying to be PLAYED, period.) I heard a group of people on the lawn yell for "Smile" -- I'd love to know where that song is hiding!

This was followed by a song whose popularity I will NEVER understand, "Daughter". The tag tonight was "Song X", from Mirror Ball. "This song was written in those foothills behind you," Eddie says. ("Red Mosquito", says Chris.) "It's also the longest song title we have," Eddie adds, as we go into "Elderly Woman". This was followed, predictably, by "Ledbetter", after a comment from Eddie that "Mike starts this one". Oh well. There's tomorrow night.

Neil and Crazy Horse are next. Neil walks up to the mic and announces, "This set is called, everything you never expected to hear acoustically" as they launch into an incredibly powerful version of "Cinnamon Girl". Wow. I'm still cold, but the fatigue and disappointment over PJ's set are evaporating. This man is clearly the master, this band could teach PJ more than they have so far. They are seamless, flowing, effortlessly putting out a sound so large and so strong you could hardly believe it was an acoustic set. Other highlights were "Cortez the Killer" and "Cowgirl In The Sand", as well as "Campaigner", a song he's almost never done (and I didn't know what it was myself until I looked it up).

The last song was "Helpless" and Neil brought on the rest of the artists to sing backup: "It's only got four words". Bowie walked out first, along with his band; Jeff joined that group shortly thereafter, hanging out with the legendary Lenny Kaye from Patti Smith's band. Eddie came out on the other side of the stage along with some of the other members of Patti's band, hat on head, hanging back. The real star of the jam was Patti, who took the mic for a totally improvised verse or two. Absolutely powerful, and a fitting end to a great evening of music.

You can't get pizza after 11pm in San Jose! What kind of civilized place doesn't offer late night pizza delivery???

sunday, 10/20

This show I'm on my own -- Chris has to go back home to make it to work on Monday. If he had stayed, though, tickets would NOT have been a problem; the box office had 100 level seats on Saturday still (as well as that morning), 200 level seats were like water, and lawn tickets were still available as well. (Tickets for Saturday's show were also easily obtained for $20 -- less than face -- in front of the venue as well. A Bridge veteran from the Neil Young list warned me that this would be the case.) My objective was to 'upgrade', somehow get myself down into the 100 level. The ticket I had was better than our seats from the night before, but still. What the hell. I'm in no hurry and I'm by myself.

2pm arrives and I've found myself a row K ticket, right side of the stage. I was questioning whether or not I had done the right thing (I thought I was dealing with a fan who later turned out to be a scalper) until I reached my seat. Wow. No question here. The view isunbelievable without binoculars, and with binoculars I can see everything. Unfortunately, my excellent seat also put me in the midst of drunk Silicon Valley yuppies and spoiled brats here for PJ who don't give a damn that other people around them MIGHT want to listen to the "opening acts". (I don't care if you don't like Neil, or Patti, or Bowie -- that's your right. Then get the hell out of the ampitheatre if you're not polite enough to shut up during their sets.)

Neil comes out and repeats "Natural Beauty" again. I'm in a daze from being so close. ;-) Hayden wasn't too painful, and won the crowd over during the set with this story: "You know, I have my own microphone, it's important so that you don't get sick, and I take good care of it. Last week, I dropped it into a cup of coffee, so then it smelled like coffee, which was kinda distracting. Then, yesterday, I forgot to take it with me and Pete Townshend used it -- now, I don't know what it smells like, but I don't care."

The rumor du jour, repeated by the radio, was that ALL of the Who were going to show up today. Yeah right. Even I didn't waste any time fantasizing over that one. Instead, we got Billy Idol, wearing a Johnny Cash shirt, who did a few blues tunes and an acoustic "White Wedding". Okay, maybe you had to be there, but it was amusing. ;-) Cowboy Junkies were next; I once again used this time to go outside and take a break before the long haul. I did catch some of their set and it was fine, just not interesting to me.

Patti and her band walk onstage and I am just in heaven, I am so close. I can see the sparkle in her eyes, I can see the grins on the faces of her band. And she is even more compelling than she was on Saturday, if that's possible, going to the back to dance with the Bridge School kids, and just raising energy out of the thin air. "Dancing Barefoot" was added today and it was just magical. I preferred Saturday's version of "About A Boy" for its sheer intensity, but maybe it was just the daylight. However, "People Have The Power" absolutely brought tears to my eyes and I wish to hell all the people who wanted to get up and dance had done so -- you could see that people were just ACHING to do so, present company included. It brought the house down and she got a widely deserved standing ovation from the whole audience.

At the end of Patti's set, I was watching the left side of the stage through my binoculars, playing "spot-the-pj'er". And I was almost ashamed to be doing it -- I mean, how many times have I seen them? How exciting is it REALLY to see Mikey hovering side-stage? (Okay, so it was neat to see him talking with Poncho from Crazy Horse.) It did pay off because I spotted Bonnie Raitt hovering side stage, who then came out to give us a few songs before Bowie. It was nice, but yeah, you're right, I think we all would have preferred to get one song from the Who. ;-)

Bowie next, not as witty as yesterday but still charming as ever. I wasn't as impressed today until he gave us an unexpected version of "China Girl" and out of nowhere, his version of "White Light/White Heat" by the Velvet Underground, which he used to do back in his Ziggy days! Wow! Another well-deserved standing ovation from the entire crowd.

Stand up and stretch and get ready for PJ time. It's getting darker -- by now they're able to use the video screens. I felt really sorry for the people on the lawn today for that reason -- they couldn't even rely on that. ;-( I spent the changeover time chatting with the people behind me so I can't share that with you -- I turned around when Pegi walked out to announce the band and once again, I'm in a daze from how well I can *see*. I guess it also has something to do with the usual PJ equation: proximity to PJ = endangering ones life. (To the fuckheads who still claim that GA is the only way to go, I say: bite me and grow up.) Some fans over to the left side down front had a large banner reading "PORCH". Fortunately, I can tell you with some certainty that this did not affect the band's decision to play said song, since the version was so incredibly different they had to have rehearsed and planned it well in advance.

So, we open with "Sometimes" and it's clear that tonight things are very different. Energy is high, spirits are good, Eddie's a bit looser. It's followed by "Elderly Woman" and the new version of "Corduroy", then another great version of "Off He Goes" and then "Nothingman" yet again. "Daughter" was made bearable by the "Real Me" tag, followed by that damn song he sang in New York that I don't recognize that I am sure is a cover (anyone out there who recognizes this???). "Footsteps" next, followed by a very different, almost *funk* version of "Porch" that I absolutely adored! The jam wasn't tedious or forced; Eddie played guitar, and it worked! It worked well! No, maybe it's not as intense as the old live version but ya know what? That wasn't working as well any more in my opinion; Chris always commented how it started to seem forced, and I have to agree with him. And the climbing thing, I mean, he's done it. It's over. It'll probably still happen occasionally, but that's how it should be, instead of having to be this mandatory thing.

Eddie did a little more communicating with the audience tonight, a little more in touch with us. He talks about how special it is to be at these shows, and mentions how he was in the audience watching the show earlier, and how great it looks from 'out there'. I was sitting near the VIP section and I tell ya, I kept my eyes open (I've got this amazing Pete Townshend button that I swear I will give to him someday), but knowing Eddie, he was probably up in the lawn section, smoking a bowl with everyone else who was up there...) To close, they gave us a fragile, ethereal, very very special "Around The Bend". (FINALLY!) Thank god, we didn't have to suffer through "Ledbetter" again. Wow. Everyone is impressed, I'm on cloud nine, my neighbors, not PJ fans at all, were also very impressed with this performance, and rightfully so.

Neil is next, same set as last night, still great to hear and see from this distance. "Helpless" is less celebrity studded, PJ have clearly gone to see the Who in San Jose, Patti was gone too. Oh well. Enough for one year.

Went back to the hotel and tried to finish this review. A one day delay -- so shoot me. ;-) As it was, I'm writing this on the flight back on Monday, after my business meetings.

conclusion & random closing thoughts

bridge 1996 was remarkable for the quantity of talent and the power of the individual performances. unfortunately, I have to say that PJ's performance was by far the weakest of the 4 'headliners'. Perhaps it's a matter of maturity; all the other artists have been around for 20+ years and had time and room to grow. One of my seat neighbors Sunday night, a tremendous NY fan, talked about how with Neil, he's 'in it for the long haul'. He also mentioned how in his opinion, PJ have just started out on their musical journey, a conviction I also share. So this album only sold 367,000 copies the first week -- that doesn't mean we don't like it! That doesn't mean we don't want to hear it, or that we have to hear it sandwiched in between songs we're tired of hearing and they're tired of playing!

I'm also tired of this anti-celebrity thing, like the dimmed lighting. every other artist at Bridge went out onstage with lighting that enabled you to SEE them, even from row U. Not PJ. Saturday night, I was trying to watch through the binoculars, and that was impossible -- if you were in the back, the only way to see something was on the video screen, and that's not how it should be. With all due respect, a good chunk of that audience were there to see Neil, or to see all the bands -- *not* just PJ. Also, Eddie coming out and hiding under the hat for the encore was uncalled for, and kinda silly imo.

if i'd gone just to see PJ, I'd have been a little disappointed. As it was, they pulled themselves together and showed us what they are made of Sunday night. However, combined, this was a weekend to remember. ;-)

[Many thanks to Shane and X-107.5 in Las Vegas for the photograph above since I was too stupid to bring a camera!]

Copyright © 1996 Caryn Rose