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Bridge Benefit VIII (October 1 and 2, 1994)

Bridge benefit reviews courtesy of Broken Arrow, the magazine of the Neil Young Appreciation Society. These reviews come from issue 57 (November 1994) and issue 58 (February 1995). Much thanx to Steve Kitchen for transcribing them from hard copy to soft copy to enable presentation here.

(Please see a note about bootleg CDs of shows like this one.)

Concert Review 1 -- by Ted Polkinghorn and Suellen Carlisle

As a veteran of the Bridge series, I approached this year's show with uncertainty; could it live up to the high standards set in previous years, especially those set by last year's show-stoppers Melissa Etheridge (Piece of My Heart) and the Heart sisters (The Battle of Evermore)? The first of this year's two shows was characterised by strong overall sets (especially Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) rather than by single show-stopping songs. Ultimately, it was Neil's excellent set that took the show to a higher level, revealing new dimensions to Crazy Horse in the process.

The show opened with a movie about the Bridge school (which no one could see because it wasn't dark yet), followed by the traditional introduction by Pegi (Neil's wife), and an opening solo performance by Neil. His first song was a fine rendition of Comes a Time. The second and final song of the set was Transformer Man. Stripped down to voice and guitar, this version had an intimacy that made its counterpart on Unplugged sound like major grunge. It was easily the best performance of the song I've heard, and, as it was written for Neil's son Ben, very appropriate for the occasion.

The first two sets, Peter Droge and Mazzy Star, were pleasant but didn't generate much excitement. Mazzy Star, the more memorable of the two, sounded like Edie Brickell on a Cowboy Junkies binge. The people in the next row assured me that her music is great to listen to when you're trying to go to sleep. I enjoyed her set, but she plays the kind of music that you have to be in the right mood to appreciate, sort of a folk Kraftwerk.

Next up were Al Jorgenson and most of the guys from Ministry (who replaced the originally scheduled Ozzy Ozborne) with a set that showed the evening's first signs of real life. Although they used semi-acoustic instrumentation, they had clearly tailored their set to fit the Bridge's acoustic format. Instead of their trademark industrial noise, they played songs by Bob Dylan, Alvin Lee, and the Grateful Dead. Their opening number, Lay, Lady, Lay, was, unfortunately, not well suited to Jorgenson's voice. They generated some excitement with the Dead's Friend of the Devil, but lost momentum when Jorgenson forgot a few verses. The highlight of the set was their closer, Theme From Midnight Cowboy, which featured Jorgenson's warm harmonica playing.

The Indigo Girls followed, delivering the first consistently moving set of the evening. Their harmonies, tight guitar work, and passionate singing reassured the audience that this, too, would be a night to remember. However, the elusive magical jaw-dropping, moment, such as was generated with last year's The Battle of Evermore, was yet to arrive.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers picked up the pace with a confident, crowd pleasing set that focused on recent and brand new material. For many, this was the magic they'd been looking for. Ever the showman, Petty commanded the focus of attention, superbly supported, but never upstaged, by his formidable band, the Heartbreakers. He had a casual, playful air about him, one that gave the impression of a man playing music in his own living room. This was particularly evident when he treated the audience to a new song about being in love with a girl on marijuana. (He joked that it would have to be the B side to his next single because it couldn't be played on the radio.) What followed was a rocking half hour of mostly familiar songs that culminated in Free Falling, to the delight of the singalong crowd.

Maybe it was the section I was in, but it seemed like much of the audience had come to see the next group on the bill, Pearl Jam. Rather than trying to rock out on acoustic guitars, they played a beautiful acoustic set at an uncharacteristically low volume, allowing Eddie Vedder's powerful voice to stand out even more than usual. Unfortunately for anyone who wanted to hear, the screamers in the audience were especially raucous during this set, making the guitar solos almost impossible to hear. (It's kind of pathetic that people who obviously love Pearl Jam dearly come to acoustic shows and scream so loud that neither they, nor anyone else, can hear. Have these people ever considered that since they aren't listening to the music anyway, they could save themselves time and money by getting drunk in their living rooms and screaming at their speakers?)

Finally, Neil and Crazy Horse took the stage. For many of the Pearl Jam screamers, this was a disappointing development. When the band broke into the first song, My Heart, many probably thought it was old-fogey time, and a few people (including the screamer behind me) even fell asleep. Those who stayed awake witnessed the best set of the evening. I had been looking forward to this set, not only because it was an extremely rare acoustic performance by Crazy Horse, but also because Neil's performance last year was very brief. (Ironically, the Bridge shows actually limit the number of full-length acoustic shows Neil plays in the San Francisco area. His last one was the Trans Solo concert in 1983.)

My Heart was followed by Prime of Life, but the music really started smouldering with the third song, Drive By. Neil followed this with a driving version of Sleeps with Angels that made people sit up and pay attention. From there, he sequed into the night's first full-blown rocker, My, My, Hey, Hey, which also turned out to be the first truly transcendental moment of the evening. This song choice was particularly appropriate coming after Sleeps with Angels, serving both as a wake for Kurt Cobain and as an affirmation of the song's message (which Cobain so tragically misinterpreted). During the song's instrumental breaks, Neil did short spurts of lead guitar which probably included more feedback than his acoustic fans are used to. It was also far more than mere reverberation; it evoked the dissonant sound this same band created on the Rust Never Sleeps version of Tonight's the Night. Neil and Crazy Horse played off each other, Neil starting with a dissonant flurry, Crazy Horse joining in, and then everyone pulling back to the basic rhythm.

By the end of My, My, Hey, Hey, the complaints of Pearl Jam doubters had been replaced by the approving roars of both the faithful and recent converts: Neil can really do it! Neil then announced that the next song would be louder, perhaps a response to hecklers left down front, but, instead, broke into the quiet Train of Love. After this came the set's capper, an exquisite Change Your Mind. (Is this a great song or what?) Even those who had never heard the song before were singing along by the third verse. Cutting no corners, Neil and Crazy Horse played a full-length version complete with long, tasteful instrumental passages (again featuring spurts of dissonant soloing). Even the premature applause of those confused people who thought the end of each verse was the end of the song couldn't ruin it.

For the traditional finale, Pearl Jam and the Heartbreakers (I didn't see Petty) joined Neil on stage. But rather than playing his usual closer of recent years, Rockin' In The Free World, Neil led the ensemble in a rousing Piece of Crap. Neil and Eddie Vedder traded verses while the other musicians and an enthusiastic audience chimed in on the chorus. The concert ended with Neil and Pegi waving goodnight from the stage, Neil giving his wife a kiss before they disappeared. Five and a half hours after the show started, the happy crowd wondered out into the night to the sounds of Greensleeves.

On this night of strong performances, it was great to see Neil and Crazy Horse once again distinguish themselves. The sound they create acoustically is different enough from their usual to deserve to be released on CD. An album of Crazy Horse Bridge performances (this is actually their second appearance) would be a worthy addition to any Neil Young collection.

Concert Review 2 - by Dave Sigler

The whole Bridge "experience" this year had a troubled air of hysteria surrounding it; having Pearl Jam on the bill was no doubt the reason. The first problem was the simple act of getting tickets. The ticket agents here in California have now seen fit to institute a lottery system. First in line no longer counts for anything... so I did not even try. I went through the lottery and ended up 40th or so in line. I left without a ticket and was resigned to either not go or patronize a legal scalper. I opted for the latter and had to pay an exorbitant amount for a seat in the 200 section.

The tremendous demand to see Pearl Jam helped bring about the unprecedented addition of a second show on the next day. Again, I was aced out of the lottery... Luckily my comrade in arms, Don Leary was able to have better luck with the "sweepstakes," and got tickets for us.

The show itself was a real mixed bag. Neil came out greeted by a tremendous roar from the more than 20,000 in attendance. Neil played Comes a Time and then a very delicate Transformer Man. A great beginning. Peter Droge followed Neil and was okay. Next up was the alternative act Mazzy Star. Aurally ingested heroin. Jesus and Mary Chain Unplugged. Get the idea ?

Following Mazzy's dim star was the metal band Ministry. They seemed to value tattoos over musical ability and came across as the sound track to a bad science fiction film. (Where are Tom Servo and Crow when you need them ?) They opened with Dylan's Lay Lady Lay. Also included in their set was Friend Of The Devil which actually sounded pretty good. They closed with the instrumental theme from Midnight Cowboy. They were met with polite (perhaps bewildered) applause.

The Indigo Girls put on a spirited and thoroughly enjoyable set. Their playing was flawless as were their gorgeous harmonies. They were very well received by the crowd, especially when they closed with their hit Closer to Fine.

Tom Petty and his long time collaborators, the Heartbreakers were super. Among the songs in the 45-minute set were Kings Highway, I Won't Back Down, and a terrific Mary Jane's Last Dance. Petty also included three new songs presumably off his upcoming album. One of these was a hilarious bit of rhyming madness about women he has loved and their penchant for various intoxicants. "Through Ecstasy, crystal meth and glue, I never found a drug that compares to you..." was the chorus. Petty quipped at Saturday's show that the song was the "B" side on his next single. "Can't be the 'A' side apparently," he said sarcastically. The Heartbreakers closed out with a blistering Running Down a Dream. Mike Campbell again proving he is rock'n'roll's most underrated guitarist.

Pearl Jam followed Petty. I did not watch them on Saturday and on Sunday I knew I had not missed anything. I found them boring and repetitious. Every song sounded the same. They played 40 minutes on Saturday and barely 30 on Sunday. I honestly don't see the attraction.

Neil and Crazy Horse closed the evening out and were fantastic. Not only were they in top form, but the choice of songs was very surprising. Neil opened on the old trusty upright with My Heart. Very pretty. The band launched into a sparkling Prime of Life. A heart wrenching Drive By followed. The boys dug the groove a lot deeper on a thundering Sleeps With Angels. I feel this came across as better than the album version. Neil then put an exclamation point on the song's theme by following with a passionate Hey Hey, My My. Given what we have read in the media about these songs and Neil's feelings about them, it was astonishing to see him trot them out.

Train of Love was well done. Neil said afterward, "I'm really very happy... I just write these songs you know... but I still have time to change my mind." It was the perfect segue/introduction to the highlight of the entire week-end. Change Your Mind was a smoldering, cosmic jam . The band seemed to be playing for themselves . . . oblivious to the crowd. Grouped in a small cluster in front of Ralph's kit, they crouched lower and lower as they explored the song, each one in perfect sync with the other. As has been the case in many previous Bridge shows, Neil and his guitars were plagued by feedback problems. When the howling began, Neil violently struck the Martin with the heel of his palm.

After this had happened a few times, Neil decided (?) not to fight it any more and motioned offstage to his left to David Briggs. Briggs came out and pushed this huge black speaker box toward Neil. This seemed to increase the feedback... but now Neil was in control of the beast. He began to use his body as a modulating shield as he played the guitar, coaxing, using, mastering the howl. At one point it was as if Old Black had sprung to life as Neil produced this distorted and tortured chord/riff... he stomped the ground demanding even more electricity from the wood. lt was amazing. Then like plunging into a quiet pool after shooting a wild rivers' whitewater, there was calm and the Horse was right back with him... right on the melody. I can't do it justice. The song lasted at least 20 awe inspiring minutes.

Change Your Mind left us breathless as Neil invited his friends on stage for the "big finale" of Piece of Crap.

Sunday's show saw Neil opening with All Along the Watchtower and The Needle and the Damage Done. The full set with Crazy Horse was identical except that Change Your Mind did not get the same treatment. Still majestic, but much more sedate.

Dave Sigler

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