The Bridge School Concerts (25th Anniversary Edition): Various Artists

Videos by American Songwriter

Various Artists
The Bridge School Concerts [25th Anniversary Edition]
[Rating: 4 stars]

This wildly, yet enjoyably eclectic collection of acoustic performances commemorating Neil Young’s 25th year of hosting the benefit Bridge School concerts covers a lot of musical territory. From Tony Bennett’s stunning performance of “Maybe This Time” to Metallica’s intense take on their “Disposable Heroes,” these 25 songs, spread over two CDs, can’t cover all the highlights of a quarter century (hey, where’s last year’s Buffalo Springfield reunion?), but a triple DVD, available separately, adds some more and 25 additional songs can be downloaded from iTunes.

The usual suspects (CSN, Crazy Horse, Pearl Jam and Dave Matthews) appear but so do a few fresh faces like Band of Horses and Fleet Foxes. Young is also no stranger to quirky artists like Jonathan Richman whose “I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar” lights up the audience. So does Brian Wilson hauling out his 1963 hit “Surfin’ USA” to somewhat surprisingly sprightly results.

Rarities abound since none of these versions have been previously released and some, such as Springsteen adding an extra verse and a different, far more potent arrangement to his “Born in the USA,” are particularly enticing. Acoustic doesn’t mean stripped down either as Sonic Youth and a closing “Won’t Get Fooled Again” from Daltry and Townsend prove. Elton John and Leon Russell even add horns to flesh out an already aggressive track from last year’s duo album.

Neil Young makes only one starring appearance (with Crazy Horse on a raw “Love and Only Love”), but his shadow looms large over the proceedings. He sits in with CSN for “Déjà Vu” and plays a typically fiery lead on R.E.M.’s “Country Feedback,” an impassioned performance that’s worth the price of the set. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke pays him a touching tribute with a stark “After the Gold Rush.”

Few many musicians could call in favors to perform for free from a roster this diverse, which shows the enormous respect Neil Young has rightfully accrued through his four decade (and counting) career. These tunes and the extras noted above only scratch the surface of the treasure trove of musical highlights over the past quarter decade, setting the stage for future volumes that have the potential to be as impressive as this one.

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