MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- The second show of this year's all-acoustic
Bridge School Benefit concert could, literally, be divided by night and day.
Daytime brought the somewhat light-hearted antics of mopey pop trio the Eels,
perennially boy-like singer/songwriter Jonathan Richman and Canadian top-40
slapstick popsters the Barenaked Ladies.
As the sun set on a brilliant, sunny California Sunday, though, the mood
turned more introspective, with subdued, unplugged sets from L.A. rockers
the Wallflowers, singer Sarah McLachlan, Athens, Ga., superstars R.E.M., a
surprisingly sedate Phish and the benefit show's co-organizer, folk-rock legend
With the highlight provided by a dramatic, full-bore 40-minute set of
orchestral jangle-rock from R.E.M. -- in only their third performance since the
departure of drummer Bill Berry last fall (they also played at this year's Tibetan Freedom Concert) -- the group (with a little help
from Young) stole the show, despite the vocal majority of Phisheads out to
see their favorite jam band.
R.E.M. -- aided by multi-instrumentalist Ken Stringfellow, late of the Posies,
as well as Minus 5/Tuatara member Scott McCaughey on guitar/piano and bass and
Beck drummer Joey Waronker -- previewed a few songs from their upcoming album,
Up (Oct. 27), during a set that found the trio returning to its
more jangly, folk roots.
Singer Michael Stipe, dressed in a black sweater and pants and sporting glittery
eyeliner and eyeshadow, was in rare form, mesmerizing the 15,000-plus crowd as
he attacked the tricky, moody ballad "Everybody Hurts" (RealAudio excerpt),
apologizing in advance for his having to struggle to hit the high notes.
"Feel free to sing along with me, if I have trouble with some of the high
notes," he told the crowd, which was on its feet for most of the band's
set. Throughout the set, Stipe drifted to the back of the stage to sing to
the recent graduates and current students of the Bridge School for disabled
As the event's guests of honor, the students are traditionally seated with
parents and supervisors behind the stage. From their better-than-frontrow
seats, they clap, sing along and dance to the music, and in some cases
pound out the beats on their wheelchairs.
As with the previous day's show, the highlight of the night came when
R.E.M. invited the newly bearded Young to join them in a version of
"Country Feedback", off their album Out of Time.
Young, bobbing in his trademark dance, injected the moody pop tune with his
classically minimalistic guitar licks, giving it a new life. "It was intense," R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck said of playing with Young.
The day, which followed Saturday's show with the same lineup, started off
with a much different vibe as the Eels took the stage after a two-song
opening set from Young, which included a vintage Young tune, "I Am a Child."
With lead singer E wearing clown makeup, the trio made the most of the
day's all-acoustic ground rules by radically re-interpreting its previous
"Novocain For the Soul" as a flamenco number and switching up its new single,
"Last Stop (This Town)", into an Eastern-flavored jam, complete with a drum jam
The annual benefit for the school co-founded by Young and his wife, Pegi, for
children with severe speech and physical disabilities tends to feature a
This year, one came early as singer/songwriter Pete Droge took the stage with
Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready -- performing
under the stage name Set Change -- for a short three-song interlude .
Joined only by his drummer, Tom Larkins, boyish singer Richman hammed
it up next and showed off his goofy dance-moves for the kids during a spare
rendition of his almost-hit "I Was Dancing in a Lesbian Bar."
After a quick set change, L.A. rock combo the Wallflowers came on and
performed a tight, six-song set of their hits, with gravelly voiced singer Jakob
Dylan sounding more eerily like his famous father, folk-icon Bob Dylan, than
ever. The set ended with Dylan and company performing their rendition of
glam-rock pioneer David Bowie's song "Heroes," which Jakob Dylan introduced by
saying, "I wasn't sure why we were going to play this song, but it kind-of
made sense afterwards."
Following the Barenaked Ladies' loose, quirky set of pop tunes and rap covers
and a moody set of solo piano and guitar tunes from McLachlan, Young took the
stage as night was falling. Young debuted a few new songs during the set, both
of them wistful love ballads, featuring such classic Young lyrics as "Your
love is a piece of dust shining in the sun" and "love's the answer, love's the
The fedora-wearing concert organizer was joined mid-set by the non-Stipe
contingent of R.E.M. for an extended, jammy run-through of Young's song "Ambulance
According to R.E.M. manager Bertis Downs, Young only had to agree to one
thing to get Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck and bassist Mike Mills to play the
Bridge benefit for the first time this year. They wanted to play a song
with him, Downs said. "To play with Neil, and, of course, help the cause."
The group had practiced songs with Young earlier in the week, including the
mournful, nearly 10-minute version of "Country Feedback." Young returned
the favor during R.E.M.'s set on "Feedback," playing a restrained,
western-flavored solo during which Stipe literally squatted at Young's feet
in deference. "Peter and I put a list of about ten fairly obscure Neil Young songs together," said Scott McCaughey, explaining how the band and Young figured out what they would play together. "But there were a hundred songs we could have done. And Peter thought 'Country Feedback' would be perfect for Neil 'cause it's kind of slow and has a Neil Young feel."
Kicking off with an uptempo, spirited version of their biggest hit, "Losing My
Religion," R.E.M. hewed closely to their early reputation in American-inspired
roots-rock, with Stipe striking several dramatic poses during the set. Mixing
in lesser-known material such as "New Test Leper" (from their previous album,
New Adventures in Hi-Fi) with hits such as "Electrolite," the group
previewed a few songs from Up. Among them were the first single,
"Daysleeper" (RealAudio excerpt), as well as the Beach Boys-inspired
orchestral pop song "At My Most Beautiful."
The set ended with a rousing rendition of "Man on the Moon," during which
Stipe shook his butt at the children and danced across the stage mimicking
a young Elvis Presely and making the children laugh. After the set, Stipe
then took a few moments to sign autographs for the group of estatic
Vermont jam-rockers Phish, the clear favorite of many of the hippie-fied
members of the audience, closed the show with a thoughtful set of brand-new
and classic songs.
In addition to a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Loving Cup," the group
performed a sedate cover of Young's obscure "Albuquerque," as well as the new,
intricate song "Guiyute," which featured an almost classical guitar solo from
leader Trey Anastasio, and "Brian and Robert."
The show ended with McLachlan joining Phish for a cover of '70s singer Cat
Stevens' "Sad Lisa" and an all-star jam featuring Young, McLachlan and
Phish performing the Bob Dylan song "I Shall Be Released."