Two days of festivities...

I just returned from seeing R.E.M., Neil Young, Sarah McLachlan, Phish, Jonathan Richman, Barenaked Ladies, The Wallflowers, and The Eels do an all-acoustic show for the second time here at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, CA. It was a great show.

Neil Young started off the day's proceedings with Sugar Mountain and Looking Forward, a new song. The Eels were next and it was a short set; they were okay. Jonathan Richman followed. Richman, a cult icon who has achieved some mainstream recognition for being the wandering minstrel singer in the movie There's Something About Mary was in fine form and entertained the crowd with songs like (no surprise) Something About Mary (one of the few that the crowd apparently recognized) and I Was Dancing In a Lesbian Bar.

The Wallflowers with Jakob Dylan indulged in a couple of covers (Neil Young's Don't Cry Not Tears and David Bowie's Heroes) and songs like Three Marlenas, City, 6th Avenue Heartache, and One Headlight.

The Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan were my favourites at the Bridge School Benefit. The Barenaked Ladies had a non-serious self-effacing high-energy quality to them that translated very well over to the audience and made their time enjoyable, particularly their extended version of If I had a Million Dollars. Sarah McLachlan, one of the contemporary female pop musicians I like, was in fine form. She started off playing solo on the piano, moved to the guitar, then to her full band and invited some of the Barenaked Ladies to join her. Her songs sounded a lot better live than they do on the album, thanks to a lack of over compression, and her renditions of Adia, Ice Cream, and Building a Mystery were extremely moving.

During the second day, McLachlan remarked about not missing opportunities to be with people one is attracted to by taking a moment to say "you're awesome and I really want be with you." While this is all well and good, it assumes that this is what the other person wants to hear, and a vast majority of cases, it is not.

Phish, one of the more unusual bands in the line up, played one of the more unusual sets. The highlight of Phish's set were the acapella renditions of Lynryd Skynyrd's Free Bird (complete with hummed guitar parts, courtesy of guitarist Trey Anastasio) and Nothing Could Be Finer. The band was in great form and on the second day (when they headlined) ably demonstrated why they have such a large cult following.

Not a great live band, R.E.M. put on a lackluster performance. On the first day, where they headlined, this resulted in a large number of people leaving, and on the second, I'd argue the only reason there wasn't a mass exodus was because of the presence of Phish. Michael Stipe, with a "holy man" stripe across his forehead, didn't look very happy being where he was and could've used what a lot of my concert companions (I went with a group of about 20 people and I didn't know most of them), at various levels of inebriation, were on.

R.E.M. played a lot of new tunes from their upcoming album Up, which was a bit of a mistake given their headline status and the fact that most people would be unfamiliar with the music. R.E.M. also have a strong repertoire of music that could truly engage the crowd, but except for Losing my Religion and Man on the Moon, crowd participation was very low. The new songs they played included Daysleeper, At My Most Beautiful, and Suspicion, and other songs in their set included New Test Leper, Electrolite, and Everybody Hurts (on Sunday). Stipe had a problem pulling off the latter song live, as he himself anticipated.

Neil Young made various appearances throughout the concert after his two-song introduction. He played Ambulance Blues and Country Feedback with R.E.M. Seeing Neil Young play After the Gold Rush on pump organ was a terrific experience, as Michael Stipe remarked. With Phish, Young did Helpless and with Phish and Sarah McLachlan, he did I Shall Be Released. Other songs he played included Through Your Hatred Down and Heart of Gold.

One general highlight of the concert was the poignant video of Dylan's Forever Young for the Bridge School Benefit. Hearing an all-acoustic live show was also an extraordinary experience: When bands are forced to play acoustic versions their song writing abilities really are put into focus. Finally, the parking lot jam I had with some of the people in group I went with (three guitars) was a nice punctuation to a fun-filled experience All in all, it was a bargain concert, a great Bay Area tradition, and two awesome entertaining days. Don't miss it next year.

Music ram-blings || Ram Samudrala || || November 17-18, 1998