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Crossing The Bridge

Neil_2Some ruminations from the 20th annual Bridge School Benefit concerts, held last weekend at Shoreline Amphitheatre outside San Francisco:

- Question. Is Devendra Banhart a big joke with his hippie outfits, hirsute band and gently sung ditties about himself being cooked and served as breakfast? Or is he actually a genius reinventing folk for a new audience of freaky indie rock kids? Someone offer an answer, because Jaded Insider doesn't have one.

- Question. Could Death Cab For Cutie be the next R.E.M.? J.I. has become a begrudging admirer of Ben Gibbard's band over the years, mainly because we think he is a pretty good storyteller. And there's something about that intro guitar line from "Soul Meets Body" that harks back to "Losing My Religion." There's also something very R.E.M.-ish about Death Cab's seamless transition from indie-label heavyweight to major-label presence with their 2005 album, "Plans." SoundScan on that puppy? 775,000 copies.

- Question. Is there more of a pro in the music biz than Dave Grohl? Chewing his trademark gum, he won over the audience immediately with an acoustic version of "Everlong" and went on to recount an anecdote about playing Bridge School for the first time, while Neil Young and David Crosby were watching from the wings. "Nice job, kid," they told him after he finished, at which point he went back to his trailer and sobbed. In this stripped-down setting, songs like "Times Like These" and "My Hero" came off way cheesy, but somehow Grohl sold them with gusto. Also, nice to see Pat Smear back in the fold, but hard not to think of the similarly named villain Mr. Pap Smear from "The Naked Gun" while watching him strum his guitar.

- Question. Is it not a marvel that Brian Wilson is as good as he is on stage, much less even alive? As J.I.'s second-day showgoing companion pointed out, Wilson now looks like a crossbreed of Muhammad Ali and Martin Sheen. His annunciation is somewhat akin to Bill Murray's Dr. Venkman from "Ghostbusters II" while talking to the Sigourney Weaver character's baby. And he can't even say such lines as "The Beach Boys took this song to No. 1 in 1965" without reading them off a teleprompter. But my goodness, his music is so woven through he fabric of American life that he could've played his set in Moscow and we're sure the crowd would have gone just as bananas as they did in San Fran. Highlights: "Barbara Ann," complete with sax solo (?!), "Good Vibrations" featuring Neil Young on pump organ, "Love & Mercy" and "Fun, Fun, Fun," although he abruptly walked off the stage before it was finished.

- Question. Is there a band that can be as simultaneously good and bad as Dave Matthews Band? While most of us haven't intentionally listened to songs like "Ants Marching" in a decade, damn if that melody didn't get stuck in our head immediately upon its performance. But then they diverged into a wimpy tropical jam during "Warehouse," conjuring a cruise ship commercial. Things were slightly redeemed when they covered "Cortez the Killer" with Neil Young, even if Neil seemed like he was desperate to be rocking an electric instead of an acoustic.

Until next year...

October 25, 2006 | Permalink

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