Pearl Jam Politicize, Incubus Harmonize, Willie Satisfies At Bridge School Benefit

CSNY-led event also features Wilco, Dashboard Confessional, Indigo

MOUNTAIN VIEW, California — Neil Young’s 17th annual
Bridge School benefit celebrated the best of human possibility on
Saturday with homespun rock philanthropy, but as it coincided with a
day of national protests against the U.S. occupation of Iraq, political
discontent simmered beneath the event’s finest moments.

The two-day, all-acoustic concert at the Shoreline Amphitheater raised
funds for the Bridge School — which prepares students with severe
physical or speech impediments for mainstream education — and
offered music for every age and calling, from Dashboard Confessional
and Incubus to the Indigo Girls and Willie Nelson. (The lineup returned
for a second show on Sunday afternoon.)

The tone of Saturday’s show was subdued — as reflective as it was
celebratory.

With the school’s students and their families seated onstage behind
him, Neil Young opened the evening with “Sugar Mountain.” Joined by
Willie Nelson’s harmonica player, Mickey Rafael, he played pump organ
for the eco-hymnal “Mother Earth (Natural Anthem).” The song’s somber
plaint and call to action set the mood for many of the night’s most
potent performances.

“Oh Mother Earth/ With your fields of green/ Once more laid down by the
hungry hand/ How long can you give and not receive/ And feed this world
ruled by greed,” Young sang. “Oh, freedom land/ Can you let this go/
Down to the streets/ Where the numbers grow?”

Dashboard Confessional took the stage next, strumming and drumming
through angsty tunes such as “Screaming Infidelities.” Singer Chris
Carrabba started the upbeat love ode “Hands Down” with a whisper while
drummer Mike Marsh chattered on the cymbals.

Wilco eased the crowd into a country vibe. Frontman Jeff Tweedy
introduced a new song, “Company in My Back,” which opened with the
guitars picking a ringing melody over a laid-back groove. The band
stomped through Woody Guthrie’s “Christ for President,” with Tweedy
calling for “the Carpenter” to replace “the money-changers” in the
White House.

“Every year we waste enough/ To feed the ones who starve/ We build our
civilization up/ And we shoot it down with wars/ But with the Carpenter
on the seat/ Way up in the capitol town/ The U.S.A. be on the way/
Prosperity bound.”

With black dreadlocks piled high atop his head, a meaty-looking Adam
Duritz led Counting Crows through the brooding “Rain King” and “All My
Love (Richard Manuel Is Dead),” before dedicating a dirge-slow take on
the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” to the Dead themselves.

Indigo Girls Amy Ray and Emily Saliers got their 1989 hit “Closer to
Fine” out of the way early, switching from guitars to banjo and
mandolin for the old-timey folk “Get Out the Map.” But they hit their
stride on the angry, political call-to-arms “Go.” Saliers strummed
fast, while Ray pulled a cutting rock riff, singing, “So feed the fire
and fan the flame/ I know the kids can stand the rain/ I know the kids
are still upsetters/ ‘Cause rock is cool but the struggle is better.”

For many veteran Bridge-goers, the night’s biggest surprise was a
strong performance by Incubus. Stripped down to unplugged chops (though
still with a DJ), the band’s sound was fresh and nuanced.

Afroed guitarist Mike Einziger, ex-Roots bassist Ben Kenney, and
drummer José Pasillas laid down a spare, easy groove on “Drive,”
while DJ Kilmore scratched deep behind them. Another tune, freshly
penned, bubbled with syncopated bass and guitar runs. Singer Brandon
Boyd crooned powerfully, with Einziger and Kenney adding backing
vocals.

But the crowd didn’t really get going until Pearl Jam showed up.

Frontman Eddie Vedder, who drew fire six months ago (at the height of
the Iraq war) by stomping a George W. Bush mask onstage, wasted no time
in launching into Bob Dylan’s bilious “Masters of War.”

“Like Judas of old/ You lie and deceive/ A world war can be won/ You
want me to believe … You hide in your mansion/ As young people’s
blood/ Flows out of their bodies/ And is buried in the mud.”

The crowd greeted Pearl Jam by rising to its feet through the rest of
the high-energy set, which included a new tune, “Man of the Hour,” and
covers of the Ramones’ “Believe in Miracles” and Shel Silverstein’s “25
Minutes to Go,” which was recorded by Johnny Cash. Vedder dedicated
Wayne Cochran’s “Last Kiss” to an ebullient Bridge school alumna, now a
third-year student at the University of California, who was seated
onstage.

Country legend Willie Nelson took the stage in a black T-shirt and
cowboy hat, his beat-up old guitar hanging from his trademark red,
white and blue strap, singing his classics “On the Road Again” and
“Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” But the lonesome
sound of Nelson’s unique country-jazz picking style with Mickey
Rafael’s mournful harmonica was better suited to the slow stuff, like
the regretful “Night Life” and the lovesick ballad “Crazy.” On the
darkly pretty “The Great Divide,” Nelson sang each line, answering
himself with Spanish-style fingerpicking and parlor jazz chordage.

In the closing spot, the four horsemen of folk rock, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, warmed up as they worked through “Helplessly Hoping,” Young’s “Harvest Moon,” and “Our House.” They hit it on “Déjà Vu,” with Stephen Stills, Young, and Graham Nash picking while David Crosby scatted the intro. After the first vocal parts, the band dropped into an instrumental scrum, with Stills soloing, then Young, then Nash on harmonica.

CSNY’s political contribution was Buffalo Springfield’s Vietnam War-era protest anthem “For What It’s Worth.” Stills strummed the song as a gospel blues, underscored by his heavy vocal growl.

Most of the musicians returned for the grand finale, “Teach Your Children,” which came way too soon — CSNY could have played for another hour. But most fans were satisfied.

“You see stuff here you don’t see anywhere else,” said Chuck Roeder, 46, who drove down from Reno, Nevada, for his sixth Bridge Concert. “I never leave here feelin’ bad.”

For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.