The last weekend in October is traditionally the time when Neil and Pegi Young bring together their friends and other musicians to raise money for The Bridge School. This year’s Bridge School Benefit featured a bunch of acts we were excited to see. We decided to spend our Saturday evening at Shoreline Ampitheatre and see what treats this year’s concert brought.
We got to our seats just as the Wisdom Dancers took the stage. When we first started attending Bridge School Benefit shows, Dennis Alley was still leading the dancers. Twelve years later, Dennis has passed on and we get treated to an even younger generation of children learning the craft. This year we saw two little girls learning the hoop dance in the background while one of Dennis’ nephews did the proper hoop dance.
The Wisdom Dancers usually lead in to Pegi Young, who took the stage and abruptly turned over the microphone to one of the directors of the Bridge School. Part of the reason behind that is because Pegi was about to perform with her band The Survivors as the opening act of the day. Another is to avoid the awkward introduction of her estranged husband Neil who has filed for divorce.
The introductions of the students took a lot less time than normal and when Ben Young introduced his dad, he was still in the shower backstage.
Neil did his normal couple of songs to start the show and then ran off stage and let the normal master of ceremonies introduce Pegi Young and the Survivors.
The first band we watched was Puss N Boots, a band that includes Norah Jones and two other female singer songwriters going outside their comfort zones. It was a fun set, but Neil Young joining in for a jam during his song “Down By the River” added a bit too much length to the song and the set and pushed the rest of the evening back a bit.
The next act, making their debut at the Bridge School Benefit was one of the acts we were very excited to see. Soundgarden took the Bridge School stage and played through several of their hits. It was slightly odd hearing the normally loud electric guitar sound distilled down to soft acoustic sound. Ben Shephard kept his sunglasses on and didn’t destroy his bass amp post-set, which was different than usual. It was a far different performance than we saw when we last saw Soundgarden earlier this year at the same venue on the same stage. A short set of great songs from a band who are once again going strong after a long hiatus.
Tom Jones was next and it was during his gospel tinged set that I realized that this year’s Bridge School Benefit was likely the darkest in tone we’d ever attended. Lots of songs about death, contemplating suicide, murder, searching but not finding the answer, etc. The lyrical content was very dark. The songs on the other hand were beautiful. Jones still got the traditional bra and panties thrown at him even though he and his band were laid back and soulful.
Up next was Brian Wilson with Al Jardine as a guest. It was cool to see Wilson again. He has some serious fears about performing in public and he seemed a lot more comfortable than he was when we last saw him at the Bridge School Benefit. He even almost smiled a couple of times. Adding a second Beach Boy to the mix made it an even more special treat. I very much enjoyed their set as well.
The standout highlight performance of the night came next as Florence + (missing) The Machine took the stage. Florence Welch killed it on stage and just kept on going. Her set seemed to go a bit longer than anticipated but I’m not sure because we were already running pretty late for the concert. She did all of her band’s hits backed by keyboard, pump organ, guitar and harp – no drums or synths. She likely could have had a similar effect with just her voice. The set was ethereal and she and the band were the first to focus on playing to the kids on stage moreso than the crowd in the audience.
Up next was Pearl Jam. They did a safe standard Bridge School set with a couple of fun covers and then called out a friend to join them for their last song. Chris Cornell joined the band and they played Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike”.
In the end, I was a bit disappointed in Pearl Jam’s set and the awkwardness between the Youngs was apparent throughout the night. The Morton family (Pegi’s family) took the stage at one point and it seems like their involvement with the Bridge School is going to be donation matching in the future. I’m not sure what will happen to the concert series but even with this year’s dark tone and reviews that Sunday was the better night to attend, it still had some magical moments and I was very glad to be there.