Last year’s Bridge School Benefit may very well be the best concert I ever attend. Beyond stellar all-around performances by Devendra Banhart, Gillian Welch, Death Cab for Cutie, and Dave Matthews Band (who I’ve never understood beyond their fierce looking fiddler), I experienced things I had been waiting to see/hear my whole life, basically. First and foremost was seeing Trent Reznor- the highlight being The Fragile in an acoustic arrangement 20 feet away from me. Next would be hearing Dave Grohl play Magnolia, a B-side from the Nirvana Lithium single- his first stab at singing. Next would be hearing Black by Pearl Jam. And lastly, singing along to Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys with an entire crowd of Californians.
But, I digress. Expectations sky high, I forked out the dough for practically the same Section 102 Row D smack in the middle seats. You know why? Metallica and Flea.
A few days before the show, the Eddie Vedder, Flea, and Jack Irons set is canceled. Ick. The replacement- the over hyped My Morning Jacket. I say overhyped because I bought their album off of a review that told me this was the next Radiohead. Once again, I have a problem with high expectations…
As I did last year with Trent’s set, I scoured the internets for reviews of the Metallica set Sunday morning. The word on the street was bleak. I was to expect mostly covers- they freakin’ played Garbage’s ‘I’m Only Happy When it Rains’. I like Garbage….but WTF, Metallica? No Fade to Black?
It takes a true concert snob to walk into the Shoreline, proceed to the front of the entire amphitheater, with a schedule of living legends splayed before her, to feel like I was about to be underwhelmed. The only thing that was saving me at this point was the thought that some percentage of my concert was being donated to the Bridge School.
By the first note that little Regina Spektor sang, my worries began to dissipate. Quite a voice on that one. There’s really no way that an album can capture that. I would probably never listen to her on a typical day, but her set left me in awe. Her songs are angelic and playful– the minute they borderline on the dramatic, she drops in some whimsical, childlike twist that is truly unique. She also seems like she might be the nicest person on the planet.
Next was Tegan & Sara. Their set was ok– they had a very peculiar stage dynamic which extended to the entire band. They talked a lot, and went a bit into dangerous territory when they tried to say that they wanted the audience to be as nervous as they are, and that we should think about feeling that our car might be stolen, or something about terror (no ism). Luckily they didn’t mention the wildfires. It was a bit odd. Their age definitely showed in the professionalism of their set.
My Morning Jacket’s set started off with some terrible feedback. Once they got over that, it was apparent that the crowd was ready for some rock after the Lillith Faire-esque beginning. They have some interesting compositions…but they are missing something that I can’t put my finger on. Critical acclaim aside, I don’t find their music to be anything truly spectacular.
John Mayer played a very short set next. The guy has talent– to bad it’s been corrupted by the corporate pop machine. Waiting for the World to Change is very uninspiring to me. He was either nervous or uncomfortable, but the set seemed a bit awkward.
Next was the highlight of the evening. Tom Waits had the entire amphitheater eating out of his hand. Like a musical rendition of a David Lynch film, his performance against the backdrop of the Kronos Quartet was nothing short of amazing. It was performance art: gestures, stomps against a dust covered stage, and that coffee and cigarette soaked voice that is both sandpaper and sweet music to the ears. He told a joke and some eBay stories, and gave the most high energy performance of the evening.
Jerry Lee Lewis, aka The Killer, preformed a hit laden set that got all of the older ladies up doing the twist and the shimmy. Yeah. Roll Over Beethoven, Johnny B. Goode, Shake, Rattle, and Roll, and, of course, Great Balls of Fire were complemented by Neil Young’s accompaniment. I have trouble figuring out how this controversial figure fits in with the Benefit scheme…but it’s not like Metallica and Trent Reznor are squeaky clean. His age didn’t allow him to do the fancy piano tricks that he was known for- though he did knock over the piano bench as he left the stage…but that might have been accidental.
We began to worry when they held the raffle next. Then, it was announced that Neil Young was playing next. Did I misread that Metallica was Saturday only? Did they get pissed about their crappy reviews and poor audience reception the night before? Did Lars piss off the other members? I was writing my letter asking for a partial refund to Ticketmaster in my head…
Our fears were relieved after the set when Young announced that Metallica was out next. The older folk already started to file out. While I was not super hyped for the set, it’s hard not to get excited for Metallica. Though my perception of them is noticeably softer after seeing Some Kind of Monster. The hardcore Metallica fans peppered throughout the 100’s sections were able to move down to fill in those seats of the people who left- so if you paid top dollar to be front row for Metallica…it was kind of unnecessary. Apparently I was the only fan that read the reviews, because the disgruntled shouts began after cover song #2. The first one they played was the most removed from their sound- I Just Want to Celebrate by Rare Earth. Next was Please Don’t Judas Me by Nazareth. Then Veteran of Psychic Wars by Blue Oyster Cult. At this point, Hetfield overheard someone behind me screaming ‘Play some Metallica, are you a cover band?’, to which Hetfield replied ‘Huh? Whatever you said, I agree’. Perhaps this idea was not his? Ulrich was happily mouthing the words to every song as he drummed along….One more cover- Dire Straits ‘Brothers in Arms’ before we finally got what we were hoping for. Bam, bam, bam….Disposable Heroes, All Within My Hands, The Unforgiven, Nothing Else Matters. Kirk Hammit rules. I was on cloud 9, as were all of the fanboys. It still felt short, but Metallica fans are insatiable….and had written off the first part of the set. While many people around these internets are pitching a fit about the set, it still felt very special- and that is what the Bridge School Benefit is all about. However, I couldn’t help but think about my Today-less Smashing Pumpkins show, and how it is generally agreed upon that that was not the best way for SP to gain back fans. Whatevs…I’m still on board for this rumored awesome album that ‘tallica is dropping by the end of the year.
I Just Want To Celebrate (from bret6262)
Please Don’t Judas Me (from xamievilx)
Brothers in Arms (xamievilx)
Disposable Heroes (HRC videographer)
The Unforgiven (HRC videographer)
To my surprise and dismay, there was no finale…leaving the show feeling very un-Bridge like and more like some kind of bizarre Metallica concert. Then, to my dismay, our attempts at getting one of the many Metallica picks left on the mic were cockblocked by some stingy videographer and stagehands. Shame on you for grabbing them all.
So, will the highs and lows of this year’s Bridge prevent me from going next year? Probably not. It’s still one of the most purposeful and interesting music festivals of the year.