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Published: 2011/11/01
by Brian Robbins

Various Artists
The Bridge School Concerts – 25th Anniversary Edition

Reprise

Of all the charities worth your consideration, The Bridge School is as worthy as any – and more worthy than many. A non-profit organization that educates children with severe speech and physical impairments, The Bridge School has made a difference in many, many young lives over its 25-year history. Neil and Pegi Young have been there since the school’s beginnings – it was the need to find appropriate education for their son Ben and children faced with similar challenges that fueled the Youngs’ quest to help establish a school dedicated to that task. Pegi Young still sits on The Bridge School’s board of directors; and she and Neil have been the organizers behind the annual Bridge School Benefit concerts since 1986.

My point is, donating $15 to The Bridge School would not be a bad thing to do. The fact that you can do it and get a 2-CD collection of wonderful music from the last 25 years’ worth of concerts is a no-brainer, my friend. (A few bucks more will land you a 3-DVD collection, as well.)

The music played at The Bridge School Benefit shows has always been acoustic-based. For some artists, it’s not much of a departure – if any – from their normal performances; for others, it has provided a challenge. The 25th Anniversary Edition offers a mix of both situations, with a mix of results. Don’t get me wrong: there are no bad cuts to be found amongst the 25 tunes offered here. It’s just not as much of a departure from the ordinary Dave Matthews Band setting for them to rip through an acoustic “Too Much” (although hearing the late LeRoi Moore’s saxophone go head-to-head with Boyd Tinsley’s violin is the makings of the song); nor is Jack Johnson’s reading of “Gone” anything that you wouldn’t hear at a JJ show – it’s just plain good and there’s nothing wrong with that. The same for Gillian Welch’s lovely take on “The Way It’ll Be” – and Willie Nelson’s battered ol’ Martin leading the way across “The Great Divide”: no surprises, just great performances. And Thom Yorke sits down at a piano, showing just how much guts he has by taking on Young’s own “After The Gold Rush” – and manages to pull it off with the right mix of hope and despair.

The real gold nuggets here are the re-arrangements of tunes that your rock ‘n’ roll heart knows so well – and will be delighted to find new power in an acoustic setting. Mr. Springsteen leads the way out of the gate with a minor-flavored take on “Born In The U.S.A.” that could have come right off the grooves of Nebraska. Pearl Jam’s “Better Man” has always wanted to have the living shit strummed out of it over a driving bass line and aggressive drums. Nils Lofgren will flatten you with his version of the Beau Brummels’ “Cry Just A Little”. And the Who’s 9-minute-plus tear through “Won’t Get Fooled Again” never lacks for fierce Pete Townshend guitar flailings.

And looky here: Sonic Youth unplugged? Yes, it’s true – and “Rain On Tin” still has plenty of flinch factor, thank you very much. Same for Metallica: with nothing to work with except picks, strings, and fingers Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield pull off some fine guitar dueling.

And how about ol’ Neiler himself? Take your pick: CSNY’s passionate performance of “Deju Vu” features brilliant picking by Young and Stills, while “Love And Only Love” proves that Neil and Crazy Horse still sound like … well … Neil and Crazy Horse as they lurch their way along in beautiful recklessness.

All in all, The Bridge School Concerts – 25th Anniversary Edition is an amazing collection of music – and it should be remembered that every one of the artists involved did what they did for the sake of the kids.

Now it’s your turn.

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