REVIEW Lawn crowd sticks it out through rain and mud for McCartney, Young and Bennett at benefit Neva Chonin,
Chronicle Critic at Large Monday, October 25, 2004
Note: Eddie Vedder performing "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" way to go dude, you picked a great song, read on fans.
Forget the celebrities onstage. The real stars of Saturday's 18th annual Bridge School Benefit were the audience members up on the Shoreline Amphitheatre's lawn. Besides holding the venue's most distant seats, they braved a torrent of rain, wet grass and mud and still managed to stay put, their enthusiasm battered but intact, for eight hours. This stoicism did not go unnoticed. Everyone from benefit co-founder Pegi Young to headliner Paul McCartney gave the sold-out show's most ardent fans a respectful tip of the hat. They deserved it. To varying degrees, the music made it worth their while. Bridge School Benefit perennial Eddie Vedder performed a short, but moving, set that included "Soon Forget," "Betterman" and "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away." Los Lonely Boys brought the crowd to its feet with their Latin rhythms, and Sonic Youth sat it back down for an ethereal performance that proved Thurston Moore doesn't need an electric guitar to create beautiful distortion. Ben Harper's repertoire of soul breakdowns and ballads ranged from the soppy "She's Only Happy in the Sun" to the politically charged "People Lead" and the rousing, reggae-infused "With My Own Two Hands." The unusually subdued Red Hot Chili Peppers followed with a string of hits that included "By the Way, " "Other Side" and "Under the Bridge." Still managing to purvey the funk on mostly acoustic instruments, they tossed in a few covers to round out their set: "Lotta Love" ("Neil's version!" quipped singer Anthony Kiedis) and, incredibly, the execrable "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl") by Looking Glass. Had the outdoor Amphitheatre boasted a ceiling, applause for veteran crooner Tony Bennett would have brought it down. Looking dapper in black tie and backed by a slick combo, he inspired slow dancing and multiple ovations as he glided through a repertoire that included "The Best is Yet to Come," "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" and an extended version of "Maybe This Time." Highlights: An unexpected anti-war sentiment ("My personal prayer is that someday someone will find a way for people to stop killing each other," Bennett said by way of introducing "If I Ruled the World") and a duet, brief waltz and chaste kiss with guest Paul McCartney during "The Very Thought of You." After opening the day with a trio of songs ("Sugar Mountain," "Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It" and "Field of Opportunity"), Neil Young returned for a performance that opened with "Pocahontas." Vedder and Young's wife, Pegi, joined in for "Harvest Moon," with Pegi also supplying vocals on "Human Highway" and "Four Strong Winds." Resplendent in his trademark faded flannel shirt, Young chatted with the crowd and threatened to tell run-on anecdotes about his dog before taking up a banjo for "Old King." His 30-minute set also featured run-throughs of "Comes a Time," Buffalo Springfield's "On the Way Home" and the haunting piano number, "Journey Through the Past." Paul McCartney played for 50 minutes, beginning with a string of Beatles songs -- "Drive My Car," "'Til There Was You," "In Spite of All the Danger" and "Blackbird." This set a pattern, with the bulk of his remaining time devoted to compositions by his most famous band, including Fab Four-related anecdotes before "Michelle" ("One of those daft songs [i] used to do in French") and, of course, "Yesterday" (for which he brought out the guitar he used on the Ed Sullivan show). A few non-Beatles songs made it into the mix, including "Here Today," his tribute to the late John Lennon, and a cover of Neil Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," with Young assisting on vocals and guitar. Switching between a bevy of acoustic guitars and his famous bass (for "Get Back" and other upbeat numbers), McCartney finally settled at a piano for his final three numbers. "Let It Be" included a shout out to John Kerry, then led into a bright rendition of "Lady Madonna." Finally, in keeping with tradition, the evening ended with the benefit's other musicians massing onstage for the last number, "Hey Jude." The audience joined on the song's famous "na-na-na-na" coda. Rain-soaked, but still game, the lawn crowd sang the loudest.