Sunday, October 28, 2007

REVIEW: Neil Young's Bridge School Concert: Neil, Metallica and Tom Waits give some strong sets

Neil Young
didn't headline his own show and there were no special guests, despite the rumors that Bruce Springsteen would show (that a local newspaper devoted tons of space to). There wasn't even the usual campfire jam on the end on some classic Young tune.

But there were still some great surprises Saturday night in an outdoor show at Shoreline Ampitheatre that lasted 7.5 hours.

Jerry Lee Lewis and Metallica closed the show at 12:30 a.m., after Young's earlier set. Also featured were Tom Waits, John Mayer, My Morning Jacket, Tegan & Sara and Regina Spektor.

Young played a set that drew largely from his new disc, "Chrome Dreams II," released this week, and was a throwback to the long jamming days of 1971 songs like "Down by the River." He, drummer Ralph Molina, guitarist Ben Keith, bassist Rick Rosas and guitarist Anthony Crawford tore the place up for almost a quarter of an hour on "Hidden Path," a wonderful return to the old jamming days.

"I'm not doing any songs you know, probably," Neil said, by way of apology. At least he threw in "Oh, Lonesome Me," the Don Gibson cover from 1970's "After the Goldrush." But the set was one of the best by Young in years, because the new material was melodic and tight.

Tom Waits....what can you say? Looking like a dark Fantasia cartoon character come to life he sang from "Hello Dalai," a religious-one-man musical, backed by the cellos and violins of the Kronos Quartet and a bass player. He performed it first in 2003 at a New York Avery Fisher hall show for the Dalai Lama.

Laced with cynicism and despair, and sung with his carnival barker voice, the songs included "God's Away on Business," "Cold, Cold Ground," "Way Down in a Hole," and "The Part you Throw Away." It was a tour de force for the Bridge, an artist using an acoustic forum before 20,000 people to really try something adventurous.

His face lit up in red like a devil, it was one of the the most artistic moments in 21 years of Bridge School benefit concerts. In his past Bridge appearance in 1999 the classic rock audience waiting for the Who, Sheryl Crow and Pearl Jam, streamed out. This time, they were rapt, and gave a standing ovation. Metallica's James Hetfield introduced Waits as one of his favorite performers and lyricists.

Metallica headlined the show with a set of mostly unexpected cover songs. James Hetfield has never sung better, with surprising resonance and passion on the likes of Rare Earth's "I Just Want to Celebrate," Nazareth's "Please Don't Judas Me," Garbage's "I'm Only Happy when it Rains," Dire Straits' "Brothers in Arms" and Bob Seger's "Turn the Page."

Who knew Hetfield knew Dire Straits or Garbage, let alone could bring out real emotion for them? Maybe it was Metallica's time off that had his voice so fresh, or the fact that he didn't have to scream for an acoustic set. Metallica has stayed fresh by continually challenging its audience, and this set was another winner.

"Bridge School Shocker: Metallica was acoustic and funky," Hetfield said, writing his own headline for the audience, after the Rare Earth cover.

They also threw in some Metallica songs fans really wanted: "Disposable Heroes," "All Within My Hands" and show closer "Nothing Else Matters," before Pegi and Neil Young thanked the audience and left.

John Mayer, backed by David Ryan Harris and Robbie Macintosh, did a predictable, but lovely set, including "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room," "Waiting for the World to Change," "Gravity" and Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'"

Jerry Lee Lewis, the 72-year-old killer, did the set that most pleased the children behind him, with showstoppers "Great Balls of Fire" and "Roll Over Beethoven." Lee looked more fragile than he did at the show two years ago, never wrestling the piano or playing with his feet. Neil Young sat offstage playing air piano and dancing and hugged Jerry Lee when he got off.

My Morning Jacket were interesting, if a bit slow on a long day of music. "Golden" and "Gideon" were almost like homages to Young, with Jim James's voice paralleling Young's airy registers.

Tegan and Sara's set included their wonderful hit "Walking with the Ghost." Newcomer Regina Spektor's schtick is using scat sounds instead of words, something that may catch on big as the generations grow less literate. Seriously, her singing was strong and true in a less angry Alanis Morissette vein.

Young opened the show on acoustic guitar with his standard, "Sugar Mountain," and the new "Beautiful Bluebird."

Overall: if you hit the last four sets, you got your money's worth.


(PIC: tom waits,

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