Bridge Benefit XIII (Oct. 30 & 31, 1999)
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A VH1 auction of Front Row Seats (with "VIP Access").
A VH1 auction of Front Row Seats (with "VIP Access").
At 4:00, Glen & I arrive at Shoreline Amphitheater, and following the HyperRust "How To Attend The Bridge Benefit Guide", found free street parking a block from the offramp & hiked over the hill -- kind of a trek but will be very grateful we did this about 10 hours later.
Glen's been telling me about seeing the Who in Vegas last night & that it's the best they've ever been since Keith Moon died. Good, loud, long guitar solos from Pete Townshend & Zak Starkey tearing it up, pulling out 60's chestnuts they've never played live here before... Knowing they will be playing acoustic guitars tonight, I curse myself for not having gone.
I like the Shoreline Amphitheater, immediately can tell the acoustics are superb & the seats comfy & relatively spacious. I hike up the lawn for the first bit, enjoying the sunny day, chatting with neighbors. There does seem to be a different vibe in the air than I'm used to at LA gigs, everybody really friendly & considerate. (Although, I wonder how long the calm lasted up on the lawn once the other 10,000 people showed up, I didn't notice any problems from below).
There's a short intro speech about the Bridge School & their mission, and introductions of all the kids from the school who are seated at the back of the stage. Then Neil Young does his customary brief opening set. I Am A Child, Good To See You, Heart of Gold (the one song of his entire catalog that I always wish he'd skip). His voice sounds a little weak, and none of these are favorite songs of mine, so I don't mind being 1/4 mile away for it.
Lucinda Williams' set is very pretty, Neil & Emmylou Harris joining in on two tunes. The Smashing Pumpkins ain't a band I like too much, but the end of their set is OK. I think the overbearing qualities that bug me about their big rock/ lush orchestrated stuff aren't so present here. I wouldn't pay to see it again, but I wasn't cursing them like I expected to either.
Green Day ain't bad. They're playing all their hits just like you remember them -- just sounds like they forgot to turn the distortion box on. Glen asks, "What's the point of not plugging THEM in?"
And then out comes Brian Wilson and his band, and.... wow. I love Brian Wilson, but I did not have that much hope for him as a live performer based on everything I've heard about his rare appearances during the last decade (shaky intonation, trouble focusing, scared & haunted looking). But here, admittedly looking a little nervous, with a wonderful band behind him that's obviously giving his work more tender loving care than the Beach Boys probably ever did, he was nailing it. In My Room, God Only Knows -- soaring, just the most beautiful sounds imaginable. Do It Again, Help Me Rhonda, Surfin' USA -- who could stand still & not sing along to those? Good Vibrations -- perfect, a mindblow. Looking around at everyone else, wide-eyed, grinning ear to ear, and realizing that Brian hasn't really ever had that kind of live audience before this tour, I got really choked up. Whatever else happens tonight, I have no complaints about life.
Pearl Jam sound good, Ed Vedder's delivery suitably understated. They seem to benefit the most from the acoustic format.
Tom Waits was another act I'd really wanted to see, and he's good. But coming after Brian Wilson, feeling really overjoyed and singing along to a bunch of our favorite songs, Tom feels like a bringdown. Most of the audience around me seem to hate him, including Glen, who walks off to wait in line for something, muttering "what's this guy's problem?" I think he's one of those things that requires you to be in the proper mood to get fully into it, and even as a fan I had difficulty with some of it -- although some of it was truly impressive. Later, discussing this with Odds&Sodser Dave Barling, we agree that he should have been placed earlier in the lineup, to which Glen retorts "yeah, like, before they let anyone in."
Out comes Neil Young's familiar ring of guitars, organ & tack piano from the last 2 solo tours. So, no backup from Pearl Jam or anybody else like I might've hoped, but his set is very good. His voice has improved from the afternoon set a millionfold, fragile & gorgeous as you could hope for. Most of his set consists of songs that are neither objectionable nor huge favorites of mine. At least we got Heart Of Gold outta the way hours ago. I'm grateful for Southern Pacific, which gives us his best instrumental performance of the night -- on banjo no less. Also for Out Of Control, which from what I've heard, appears in an inferior rendering on the new CSNY album. His solo piano version is terrific, my favorite of all the new songs I heard on the spring tour.
Sheryl Crow, like Smashing Pumpkins, isn't someone I'd come as a fan of, but thought was alright. In small doses at least. I wandered off talking to Dave Barling for most of it -- he'd also been to Vegas & confirmed that the Who were at the peak of their powers. Zak's the best drummer they've ever had. Their show had been mind boggling beyond what the thought they were capable of being. Will they plug in tonight??? Aargh I hope so!
Oh boy, so my heart's starting to race now... They wheel out a big drum set, encouraging. That's followed by a large stack of bass amplifiers -- more encouraging. But then out come some acoustic guitars, and all hope of a full blown, Bridge-tradition-defying rock and roll blowout are dashed. Then out they come, and even though John's playing a big hollowbody bass with a hole in the middle, through that big stack he sounds like he always did. Pete's playing acoustic like we've gotten accustomed to but at least he's not supplemented by a boring Rock guitarist playing horrible solos. Rabbit Bundrick's on piano.
They start with Substitute, but Zak's playing only tambourine! Bummer, I had hoped they'd try to rock at least as much as Green Day. Pete & John seem to have trouble holding tight without a strong beat. Can't Explain is good, but again tambourine only. Pete Townshend is playing with confidence, vigor, and real power. John is solid as ever, Roger sounds a tad hoarse but committed.
The set's progressing pretty predictably when they suddenly throw us a Sell Out double shot: Tattoo and Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand. Although both came off as under-rehearsed -- a couple of missed lyrices & muffed changes here & there -- they had good spirit, and I love those songs & never get to hear em live.
Pete's stage banter tonight was hilarious, hopefully Odds&Sods will post a complete transcription of it! After making some remarks about Tom Waits, then qualifying them by saying "I've been a big fan of his for years..." he says, "I can say all these things about Tom Waits for one reason... Tom Waits has left the building! You see it's like when someone dies and you can say whatever you want about him. John Lennon? I fucked him..." Then, after looking towards the kids lined up at the back... "Ooops! Forgot where I was for a minute. I didn't really, that's just an example of the kind of thing you say about people after they're dead..."
A significantly altered Who Are You had a nice long guitar break in the middle, which gave Pete the most room of the night to stretch out and really play. It's not usually one of my favorite live songs but tonight it was a highlight. Won't Get Fooled Again was also significantly rearranged. Then they finished with The Kids Are Alright, another favorite we yanks have never heard live!! Brilliant!
Overall, although they were ragged & sometimes confused about the arrangements, the element of risk made it feel closer to the "real" Who than anything I've been able to see since 1979 when I got into them. (Tried to get tickets to MSG, Capitol Theater & Phila Spectrum but was denied on all counts. Finally saw em in '82 & every time since, with mixed results.) They've been tighter for sure...and that may have been the problem. Based on what I saw I am very optmistic of what they will sound like with amps and drums.
A good ol' We Are The World-style I Shall Be Released with lots of the star performers gathering together was the finale.
Got out of the place quick, hightailed back to the car & onto the 101, didn't hit a lick of traffic. Thanking those who posted the advice on Rust about street parking!! Loved it.
Most firmly imbedded memories:
Help me Rhonda help help me Rhonda,
first off - i walked over by the totem pole during...victoria williams (was that her name), and saw some people sitting on the grass, but didn't want to say anything because i wasn't sure if it was any of you.
this was my first bridge show, and i expected it to be a bunch of bands playing, without really having anything to do with the kids. so i was surprised and touched by how the kids were actually a part of the show. wasn't the halloween parade cute?
i went with one of my friends whose 18th birthday was yesterday. we were walking up to the lawn when we heard a couple chords being strummed and she said, "i wonder who that is." i said, "don't worry, it's probably green day or smashing pumpkins. i bet the who won't come on until tonight." then i recognize substitute. ooops! she starts screaming "oh my god" and running up the steps to the top of the lawn. i swear i thought she was gonna trample someone, pushing people out of the way... anyway - the who rocked!!! i think i was impressed the most with their set. pete townsend kicks ass!!!!!! i was expecting some old guys posing and trying to relive the old days (we saw page and plant last year and that's what i thought the who would be like). wow - are they touring?
billy corgan and james iha: i don't like the smashing pumpkins, but after seeing them, i am definately thinking about buying a cd. disarm was great. They did a U2 song AND a tom waits song! (i think it was "ol' 55" that changed my mind.)
brian wilson: could they have handed him a guitar at least? even roger daltrey had one! brian looked so sad sitting there on his stool! i overheard someone say that he said that performing is just torture for him. he did look like he was having fun though. and he did "god only knows" which is the only beach boys song i like.
pearl jam: i liked ten, but not much since then. i really enjoyed their set though, despite the girl standing behind me screaming "eddie rocks" THE WHOLE TIME!! he has such a beautiful voice and he's so sweet! when he dedicated a song to that girl (was her name miracle?) she was so excited - i wanted to start screaming "eddie rocks!". i kept catching clips of him sitting back there with the kids! eddie does rock.
sheryl crow: i have a lot more respect for her now than i did before. i didn't realize what a talented musician she was.
neil: i had a big smile on my face the whole time. he was amazing, as usual. throughout the rest of the show, i notice talking all around me, but as soon as neil started playing it was silent. it seemed that no one wanted to miss anything of his, and was sitting in silence and rapt attention. while neil was on, i saw a shooting star through the center of the sky and directly between the flags on top of the stage. i could hear people gasping.
neil's acoustic songs seem to have a strange beauty that not many other people can capture and communicate. they seem filled with intense sadness and (at times) regret, yet there's a shadow of happiness behind all of them, just enough to make you smile. dylan, on the other hand, writes beautiful songs that are heartbreaking no matter how optimistic the lyrics and upbeat the tempo. the spanish have a muse-type being called duende who inspires their music and writings, but instills them with sadness and impending destuction and loss. i think that neil's songs have this duende - the lyrics aren't particularly sad, but i get chills when i hear him perform them. cortez the killer was great. The way he repeated "he came dancing across the water..." did anyone happen to tape this?
my only wish is that tom waits would have been there both nights. what time did he perform? i think the darkness has something to do with how the performance is received. he is an amazing performer, but it doesn't seem like many people were converted. maybe they couldn't see him on the screen. he does a hilarious dance that reminds me of a spider.