Bridge benefit: No Doubt's Gwen Stefani tears up; Neil Young wraps up
The powerfully emotional backdrop of Neil Young's annual Bridge School Benefit Concerts is evident in the faces of the nonprofit school's disabled students and those of their families, which were flashed on video screens throughout Saturday's 6 1/2-hour show.
On occasion, the performers' feelings burst to the surface as well. Event co-organizer Pegi Young's voice cracked at the outset of the show as she introduced each of the students who watched from a riser on stage behind the performers.
Then during No Doubt's set, singer Gwen Stefani had to reach for a tissue after singing "Simple Kind of Life," the song she wrote shortly before having the first of her two kids with husband Gavin Rossdale, who played his own set earlier in the evening. In that song, she wrestled with conflicting drives of career and motherhood, and looking into the faces of the children for whom the yearly fundraiser was launched back in 1986 -- right about the time No Doubt got started -- Stefani choked up.
"This is very emotional," she said. The acoustic arrangements the band used -- including a string quartet for about half the set -- brought out the sweetness and vulnerability of that song, "Don't Speak" and even the usually feisty "Just a Girl." Apparently big girls do cry.
Young brought things to a close with a strong set, accompanied by Pegi Young, bassist Rick Rosas, pianist Spooner Oldham, lap-steel and dobro player Ben Keith and drummer Karl Himmel. Just before midnight, he offered a solo reading of "I Am a Child," the Buffalo Springfield song he wrote in his early 20s that has taken on added richness and levels of resonance with each passing decade.
With the Bridge School students looking on, the line "You can't conceive of the pleasure in my smile" also gained an extra measure of potency. "I gave to you, now you give to me" became less a plea as in the original than practically a demand to acknowledge the responsibility inherent in parenthood.
The remarkable thing about this year's heavy emphasis on freshman and sophomore bands such as Fleet Foxes, Monsters of Folk and Wolfmother was Young's tacit passing of the torch of stewardship he has nurtured over the course of his long, distinguished career.
The all-star encore finale performance was "Comes a Time" -- sort of Neil's version of the "a time for everything" passage in Ecclesiastes that Pete Seeger long ago transformed into "Turn! Turn! Turn!" The performance spoke to the genuine sense of community Neil and wife Pegi have created in their efforts to provide help where it's needed.
It's not that Neil is planning to ride off into the sunset anytime soon. But he seems to be taking the requisite steps so that, when he does, he can feel secure in knowing that the work he's begun will continue on.
-- Randy Lewis
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Photo: Randi Lynn Beach / For The Times