Bridge School Benefit Recap: Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Band of Horses & More Deliver Uniquely Intimate Sets

 

Devoted attendees of Neil Young’s majestic annual Bridge School Benefit shows are no stranger to incredible lineups and collaborative performances, with a staggering level of talent passing through the Shoreline Ampitheatre in Mountain View, CA each year. Elton John, Queens of The Stone Age, The Who, Nine Inch Nail, Guns n Roses, Bruce Springsteen and so many others have set the path by which future Bridge School acts would walk and/or rock. 

The personal investment both artists and fans feel for the cause is palpable throughout the entire experience, and the energy at Shoreline was consistently rich with heartfelt enthusiasm as a result. Benefiting Hillsborough’s Bridge School, a program for the communicative and educational development of children with severe speech and physical impairments, the shows are more than a great time – they provide a lifeblood influx of funds to help the school continue its efforts.

For all its excellence and performance variety, however, there is only one band who not only embodies the King Kong heart of charitable efforts but the essence of showmanship on a two-day event: Pearl Jam. Regular Bridge School fixtures at a bi-annual pace, the band have played some unforgettable sets over the years, appealing to both casual fans and diehards by dutifully running through songs like the ever-present “Last Kiss” (a favorite of Maricor’s, a Bridge School alum and PJ friend) and showcasing unique covers, new material and more. It was PJ’s ninth Bridge School appearance, and the 13th overall for frontman Eddie Vedder, and no less magical than the previous experiences. 

Far from a singular draw, Pearl Jam were in some high-level company at this year’s benefit show: Soundgarden, Florence and The Machine, Tom Jones, Band of Horses, Norah Jones, Brian Wilson, Neil Young and Pegi Young were also on the bill, and delivered remarkable performances in their own right. But each and every Sunday performance, save for Pearl Jam’s, was a nearly verbatim repeat of their Saturday set – all the way down to the commentary between songs. Florence Welch recounted the exact same story of fitting in at San Francisco’s Haight/Ashbury a little too well, as she and her band delivered an ethereally magnificent set. In truth, the repetition was distracting and took a slight sheen off the performance, seeming a touch insincere.

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Are we splitting hairs? Expecting too much for a band to deliver a different set the following day? Why is Pearl Jam the only band to entirely change their set between days? Band of Horses varied a bit, opening Sunday with a breathtakingly beautiful rendition of “St. Augustine” after Saturday kicked off with a soulful spin on “Is There a Ghost,” and “No One’s Gonna Love You” made more than a few girls in the audience cry. But Neil, Norah, Florence, Pegi and even the strutting, confidence-soaked, panty-raining Tom Jones ran through nearly identical sets between days. To his credit, though, Jones had mojo for days, defying his 74 years with a downright sexy strut and captivating performance.

The eight-hour acoustic show was packed with memorable moments: Neil dropping in to croon on backups for Brian Wilson, grinning like a little kid through Beach Boys songs. Soundgarden killing acoustic versions of “Burden In My Hand,” “Zero Chance” and “Dusty,” among others. Temple of The Dog reuniting for “Hunger Strike”. Florence completely filling the Shoreline Ampitheatre with her stunningly powerful voice, before a gorgeous guesting on “Southern Man” with Neil near the show’s conclusion. But once again, Pearl Jam stood above the rest with two deeply varied sets over the weekend, including a thrilling cover of “Rain” by The Beatles on Saturday, and a brand-new tag at the end of “Black” that delivered a tidal wave of goosebumps:

 

Part of the magic of Bridge School is the kinship of fellow fans, the ebullient energy surrounding the experience and shared moments with dear friends in the crowd who make the pilgrimage every year. Truly, to be among a group of friends in a musically transcendent experience is among the greatest perks of a concert devotee, and the venue, cause and heartfelt energy of the Bridge School benefit is the perfect conduit to such an incredible musical journey. With exploding hearts to Tiffany, Max, Cosmo, Marcia, Rich, Matt, Erika, Lisa, Jazzy, Mark, Brielle, Riley and beyond, thank you for making Bridge an unforgettable family experience. Can’t wait to do it all over again…