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Bridge Benefit V (November 2, 1991)

Bridge benefit reviews courtesy of Broken Arrow, the magazine of the Neil Young Appreciation Society. This review comes from issue 46 (February 1992). Much thanx to Steve Kitchen for transcribing it from hard copy to soft copy to enable presentation here.

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

Concert Review by Dave Sigler

It was a gorgeous night in the Bay Area as the people gathered to hear the fifth incarnation of the Bridge School Benefit. Pegi and the traditional video opened the show .... then Neil first appeared. Appearing in great spirits, Neil was wearing a full-length indian rug overcoat .... beige with a reddish southwestern stripe motif on the back.

Neil's first number of the night was a haunting rendition of Dylan's Forever Young which he played on an old pump-style pipe organ. Nicolette Larson accompanied him vocally. Neil introduced handicapped blues singer, Larry Keegan and sideman Greg LaFond and then left the stage.

Keegan's set was brief and he was followed by legendary bluesman, John Lee Hooker. Ostensibly an acoustic show, Hooker brought his electric guitar with him, Neil introduced him by acknowledging the acoustic nature of the Bridge, but added "he's been playing electric guitar all his life, he's earned the right to do what he wants." Legend or not, Hooker's set was a bust. His speech was very slurred and muffled, I could barely understand a word he said. His guitar playing, what there was of it, was just average in my opinion. He had a second guitarist with him that was doing the lion's share of the riffing. Hooker seemed content to mumble and lazily strum his instrument.

Don Henley was next. Not being a Henley fan at all, I left for refreshment. There are speakers throughout the concession area of the Shoreline, so I was able to hear that his set contained The End Of Innocence, Heart Of The Matter and Best Of My Love among others.

Following Henley was Nils Lofgren .... and Nils was the spark that ignited the rest of the show. He was fantastic. Highlights of his 25-minute set would include his work on Neil's old upright piano. I believe the name of the first tune on the upright was Big Tears Fall, and it was very nice.

Neil had been watching most of the show from behind the curtains on stage right. A roar went up from the crowd as he walked out to join in. The pair played Believe with Nils on the piano and Neil adding harmonica and backing vocals. Last year, Elvis Costello took his guitar and totally rocked the joint with a thundering Radio Sweetheart. It proved to be one of the peaks of the show. Nils did the same thing this year ... only with even more passion. Mixing inspired guitar and a gutsy delivery of the old tune, Just A Little ..... Nils brought the crowd of 10,000+ to their feet as he alternately strummed and pounded his Martin. Killer. The moment was ripe for an encore, but unfortunately none was forthcoming.

Decked out incongruously in a long black frock coat, stovepipe hat and dreadlocks, Tracy Chapman appeared next. The strength of her voice filled the amphitheatre with warm clarity. Her stirring acapella Amazing Grace, dedicated to Bill Graham was a very emotional highlight.

Sonic Youth followed Tracy and proceeded to self destruct. Obviously out of their element in the acoustic mode, Sonic Youth tried to play their muddy, atonal stuff on wooden instruments and it just did not work. Sound troubles further added to the chaos of their set. Bassist Kim Gordon ended up breaking up her guitar and throwing it out into the audience. This I fell was more out of frustration than stretching for effect. This act was met with boos and taunts. To say the Sonic Youth set was a failure on all levels is very understated.

Juxtaposed with the frantic efforts of the New Yorkers ... was the downhouse sweetness of Willie Nelson's well received set. Willie played many of his standards, among them: On The Road Again, Mama Don't Let Your Sons Grow Up To Be Cowboys and Blue Eyes Cryin' In The Rain. I had hoped (and somewhat expected) that Neil would join Willie for a tune or two ... maybe even Are There Any More Real Cowboys. But it was not to be. Neil watched and obviously enjoyed Willie's set, but remained on the sidelines. Willie seemed genuinely moved by the well-deserved reception he got from the audience.

However, as good as these other folks were .... most of us were there to see Neil and his "new" band ... the Stray Gators. The lineup was Ben Keith on dobro and slide; Tim Drummond on bass; Nils sat in at second guitar; Spooner Oldham on keyboards and Kenny Buttrey on drums. Neil played his Martin D45.

The Gators opened their set with a really sweet Long May You Run, that ended rather abruptly amidst a droning noise. Neil was playing wireless and he was getting tremendous feedback through the PA. (He often had the same problem during the 89 solo tours). Stepping back up to the mike, Neil said, "Neil take two", and began the song again uninterrupted. Larry Cragg (?) must have apparently made the necessary adjustments to the transmitters.

Neil continued on with a relatively surprising choice, Birds, and it was gorgeous. Next came the moment I hoped would occur, Neil played two new tunes. The first sounded very similar to Already One, so much so that when he began singing I expected to hear, "What can I do .....". According to Ben Keith, this song will be the title track of the new album, Harvest Moon, which I am told will be the title track of the new album. Next came Hank To Hendrix, a beautiful tune, great lyrics, destined to be a classic Neil acoustic song. As an aside, I have heard from more than one source that the new album is in the can and will be released in March of 1992. A tour is rumoured for next Summer.

Comes A Time came next and was nicely done. Then altogether too soon ... we had reached the last song. Neil called all his friends out to join him on a reprise of Forever Young. Nils, Willie, Nicolette, Tracy and Lee Ranaldo answered the call and it and it was a powerful song .... again.

The night's show was both a benefit for the Bridge School .... and a farewell to promoter and friend, Bill Graham. Traditionally Graham-produced shows ended with Greensleeves coming over the PA as the people filed out into the night. Neil wanted to keep the tradition alive. Saying, "This is for you, Bill", Neil then played a haunting and brilliant instrumental version of that classic song. Willie and Nils adding just a bit of tasty filler as Neil soared with and expanded the song to five or so minutes. The perfect ending to a great show.

Dave Sigler

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