In that weirdest of ways, the Bridge School Benefit feels incredibly familiar as I walk down the backstage "road" into the Shoreline Amphitheater. The atmosphere is far, far from that of a typical modern rock ‘n’ roll show, indeed, even one of the security guards has time to tell me a pretty funny joke about bars and apples whilst checking my pass.
This, clearly, is not your typical big venue show.
But goddamn, it still feels so familiar to me. Before I ever get close to Metallica’s dressing room, I have said "hello" and exchanged pleasantries with multiple strangers. There is a stunning lack of pretense and bullshit. It feels good. It feels friendly. It feels, as our favorite drummer likes to say, cozy…
As I have recently been telling people, I was raised by hippies in the late ‘60s. My parents brought me to the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 when I was three, and our living room was often full of my parents' friends drinking wine, smoking some grass and listening to Dylan, Cohen, 10 Years After, Floyd, The Doors, Hendrix, and countless others. It soaked into my subconscious, and today, it hit me like a wonderful velvet hammer that this vibe is like I sub-consciously remember my childhood home. The backstage at Shoreline is teeming with people, and many of the hippy era I’d wager, but these aren’t people ligging or people sniffing around for some superstar sugar-dust aura to be sprinkled on them in a selfie. No one, in fact, has an iPhone out, and sitting here on the backstage patio typing on my laptop, I am conspicuous as one of the only people at the Shoreline who has a screen in front of them. No, the majority of people back here are full-time parents. Parents who deal with daily situations we cannot possibly conceive.
Their kids are all children from the Bridge School for whom this weekend is, and so far as Neil Young is concerned, they are the true stars of the show. Throughout the show, at the back of the stage on a raised platform, kids of the Bridge School will sit in prime position, their parents and caregivers behind them. After his jam with Roger Waters, Young and Waters both go to the back of the stage at the end of the set and talk to all those kids.
It is that kind of day and that kind of vibe, and Neil Young won’t tolerate anything less. If anyone starts swanning or strutting around back here, aside from looking like a complete prick, Neil Young would make sure attitude adjustment is implemented. I heard a story earlier of a Bridge School from years gone by where someone was watching a World Series game on the TV. Neil Young asked what they were doing. He heard they were watching a World Series game. Neil Young asked that the TV be turned off, because this was not a day about anything other than the Bridge School. It’s probably why there are no TVs or monitors on the patio. The Bridge School is about connection, connecting with people, connecting with those less fortunate, connecting with each other through music, and for those musicians to connect perhaps even more than usual with music in its stripped down, barest-bones form. This ain’t the place for a light show and it ain’t the place for effects.
Metallica is but a piece of this moment. They’ve been here twice before, in 1997 and 2007, so everyone knows the vibe and knows the way of this most special of moments. Perhaps in this digital era, where we’re all so enslaved to our screenage and internet access, the delicious analog-ness of the Bridge School in all senses is amplified even more. We have been politely advised not to log-jam the dressing room compound as there is a concern that too many "in-betweeners" could clog up the freedom of the artists to sit and chat with each other; fantastic! And I agree! Would I like to be in close proximity to Roger Waters, hoovering up a gem or two I could store or share? Of course! But this is NOT about THAT, and neither should it be.
I happen to see Neil Young striding away from the stage after his jam with Norah Jones, and it strikes me that he and James have some common spiritual ground. Young is a presence, not necessarily one that tries to be, one that simply is, a stealthy lone wolf carrying that magical artistic cocktail of heart and gruff which allows extreme light to merge with raw darkness. I would say he carries that special "XX" factor which separates the legendary from the great, and for a moment, I got a possible sighting of how James might be when he achieves Neil Young’s vintage.
Metallica perform after Waters, in itself quite a thing when you consider that every single hair on the back of every single neck at Shoreline stood to attention when he played the first few bars of “Wish You Were Here,” but this is destined to be a "bridge" performance of its own and one which marks Metallica as a band who speak to the younger audience but now also with the older audience as certain songs have simply become decades-long mass appeal legends of their own.
Of course, they cannot possibly go in quietly, kicking things off with a raucous version of “Whiskey In A Jar” infused with full rabble resolution, before folding into “When A Blind Man Cries,” the Deep Purple deep cut they covered for the Re-Machined… Purple tribute album, however, they really start to hit stride with “Hero Of The Day” before “Bleeding Me” sees them fully settled in, relaxed and spreading their wings a whole lot wider, the desolation of the vocals taking on a new dimension in the acoustic setting. Throwing a speedy curveball is something Metallica have always enjoyed doing, and I’ll wager that no one in the crowd saw them pulling out The Clash’s “Clampdown” and serving it up all sparky-punky-fresh, James telling the crowd afterward that as soon as he heard it, the riff would not leave his head. Everyone, to a band member, seemed to love playing the tune, and you have to wonder whether this will now become a part of the WorldWired tour.
The beauty of acoustic shows is that they offer the potential for new approaches to modern classics, and I firmly believe that tonight’s reinvention of “Enter Sandman” will do for the song what Johnny Cash did for Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.” This “…Sandman,” this sleekly lit, malevolent, low-slung lounge creature, might just have given a new twist, dimension, life, and identity to one of the more classic pieces of popular American music of the last 25 or so years. It felt dark, so dark, and it felt like something David Lynch or Nick Cave or Cormac McCarthy would’ve been proud to give birth to. It was, and I mean this, sensational in the moment.
If that was a peak, then it is fair to say that the brave and noble experiment of an acoustic “Hardwired” was decidedly not. When it was rolling, it thundered along like a crazy spaghetti western mixed with some sort of mad flamenco element, but truth be told, it had a bit too much "self-destruct" in the eventual delivery to work properly. My suspicion is we may not hear it in this format again for some time, although tomorrow will provide the answer to that thought. “Seek & Destroy” brought the "Meat-allica" into this acoustic realm yet further, the crowd roaring and yelling when invoked and showing that Metallica had certainly managed to win over the parts of the audience that perhaps weren’t sure at the beginning.
Any lingering doubts that might’ve been loitering in row Y or in the north-east corner of the lawn, were banished once and for all when Neil Young stepped out to jam his own Buffalo Springfield-era classic “Mr. Soul.” There’s something about Metallica and old legends, because watching Young bounce around during the song, huge smile etched on his face, that frame roaring and lurching around like a wonderfully gnarled oak in a hurricane, it was clear that like Lou Reed before him, he was absorbing the power and energy Ulrich, Hetfield, Hammett, and Trujillo carry as a matter of daily oxygen. Young seemed particularly enthralled by Hammett and the leads they were swapping, and he seemed keen to continue jamming the song a little longer than scripted. When he stepped over to share the mic with James, it was fascinating to see an almost "master-student" energy and dynamic from these two massive forces of nature (as they sang lyrics reflecting Young’s unease with the concept of rock stardom), and the thunderous riff was a fitting end to one of Metallica’s more unique and unpredictable performances. As the occasion hopes and prays for, because the Bridge School is unique, from atmosphere to format to execution. Before Metallica had taken the stage, a couple of us had pondered whether anyone would get a louder cheer than Roger Waters for that moment which rose a plethora of neck-hairs, which led us to further ponder whether the Bridge School was Metallica’s "audience." What is blindingly clear is that Metallica has become that rarest of creatures; multi-generational. We always knew the thrashers union had a soft-spot for them, and now we know (unequivocally) that the Woodstock generation does too.
Onto tomorrow we go…
STOP PRESS: NIGHT TWO NEIL YOUNG PIES ROB TRUJILLO IN ELECTRIC BIRTHDAY MOMENT AT BRIDGE SCHOOL SHOCKER!!!!!!
This second Bridge School night is (unsurprisingly) a little more familiar, a little more comfy...
My first thought as I watch Metallica take to the stage and pump some "Whiskey In A Jar" to the thirsty Sunday bridgers is how some of those classic riffs translate into such "western" sounding gunslinging heroes, "For Whom The Bell Tolls" working especially well in that regards. This band could score a great western motion picture with Eastwood and Van Cleef type properties...
The acoustic shoes feel a little more "broken in" tonight, the mood a little "swingier," a tad more easy motion in every song, "Blindman..." delivering more assuredly, "Bleeding..." flowing with a tad more ease.
"Clampdown" again resonates with the audience, which makes sense, The Clash having been a gateway punk drug for many of them, and I will again bet that this becomes an electric fixture on the WorldWired dates to come (we shall see part II)...
That sensational take on "...Sandman" fills the air with smoky gray mystery once again, and in answer to my assumption last night that we might well have seen the last acoustic "Hardwired" ever, well, only an ass makes them right? Because the stubborn and supremely talented bastards not only nail "Hardwired" perfectly, it has new life as some glorious speed-head hell-billy freakout, "amphetamine bluegrass" if you will, and how very very cool it is; a confident and perhaps even defiant 180 from last night. "Nothing..." is obviously born for this format and in that regard it is probably the safest selection of the two days, going over extremely well.
"Neil took his jacket off, he's serious!" laughs James. "Mr. Neil Young - 'ello!" he continues a la Tufnell. The union of "Mr. Soul" pushes a good case for it to be a future 'Tallica cover before Rob gets pied by everyone, with Neil Young gleefully shoving one right in the Trujo boat race, a royal gesture given that he had no idea Metallica was going to pie their bassist at his shindig.
Two great days, two fascinating Metallica sets, and more importantly, a weekend where families and kids who deal with extraordinary challenges daily were recognized as real stars and given a glorious shindig by Neil Young and The Bridge School.
Metallica is proud to support The Bridge School and we invite you to do the same. Click here to donate today.
You can also contribute to The Bridge School by pre-ordering copies of Live Metallica: Bridge School Benefit in Mountain View for both October 22nd and 23rd. All net proceeds from the sales of these shows are donated directly The Bridge School.
The Bridge School is a non-profit organization whose mission is to ensure that individuals with severe speech and physical impairments achieve full participation in their communities through the use of augmentative & alternative means of communication (AAC) and assistive technology (AT) applications and through the development, implementation and dissemination of innovative life-long educational strategies. The Bridge School is an internationally recognized leader in the education of children who use augmentative and alternative communication and has developed unique programs and trained highly skilled professionals in the use of state of the art assistive technology.