Nils Lofgren - vocals, guitar, piano; Guest: Neil Young - harmonica on "Believe"
The annual Bridge School Benefit has become a highlight of the Bay Area's concert schedule since in began in 1986. Founded by Pegi Young (married to Neil Young), Jim Forderer, and Marilyn Bozolich, the Bridge School developed educational programs to service the special needs of Bay Area children with severe speech disabilities and physical impairments and has been serving the community for well over two decades now. The annual fundraiser concert has gained support from many of the biggest names in the music industry, with artists performing special acoustic-based sets in the outdoor setting of the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California.
The fifth annual Bridge School Benefit took place on November 2, 1991, and featured performances by Larry Keegan, John Lee Hooker, Don Henley, Nils Lofgren (presented here), Tracy Chapman, Sonic Youth, Willie Nelson, and of course, Neil Young. On this night, Young would perform with a reunited Stray Gators, the musicians who played on his blockbuster Harvest album and would soon be featured again on his forthcoming album, Harvest Moon. It was an emotional time in general for the Bay Area, as the legendary concert promoter Bill Graham had recently been killed in a helicopter accident, and his public memorial service and concert was to be held the following afternoon in Golden Gate Park. (Also available here at Wolfgang's.)
Nils Lofgren was just beginning to reactivate his solo career in 1991, following nearly seven years as a guitar slinger for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. His Silver Lining album, released that same year, would mark Lofgren's return and prove one of strongest, if not most confident albums of his career. Lofgren had been a longtime supporter of the Bridge School, and he and Neil Young had history going back a couple of decades. Still a teenager at the time, Young had recruited Lofgren for the sessions for his acclaimed After the Goldrush album. In typical idiosyncratic fashion, Young had Lofgren play piano, an instrument he never played on any regular basis prior to the sessions. Despite this, Young was on to something, as Lofgren's chordal approach, economy, and restraint became integral to the band dynamic and was a key element of the spontaneous sound Young was after (Listen to "Southern Man" for a prime example).
Following an introduction by Bill Graham Presents' Jerry Pompili, Lofgren begins his set on acoustic guitar with a new song, "Blue Skies." This hopeful number would surface on his Crooked Line album the following year and serves as an appropriate opener with its ruminations on loneliness and the parent/child relationship. Lofgren follows with one of the highlights of his new album, a stripped down read of "Sticks And Stones," displaying the sharply honed songwriting style he had long been known for.
Appropriately enough, Lofgren next takes a seat at Neil Young's upright piano, the very same piano he played on After The Goldrush. Dipping back in his catalogue to the 1985 album, Flip, he performs an emotional version of "Big Tears Fall," which he dedicates to the Young family. Neil had been watching from the wings and next joins Lofgren onstage for a beautiful duet on "Believe," with Lofgren on piano and Young providing harmonica and backing vocals. This performance would later surface as a highlight of the official release, Bridge School Concerts, Volume 1, and Lofgren would finally include it on one of his own albums in 2006, when he released his solo acoustic live album 15 years later.
Not one to leave before "rockin' the joint," Lofgren proceeds to do just that by returning to guitar to close the set. Although incomplete do to a tape change, we join the last song in progress as Lofgren brings nearly the entire Shoreline audience to their feet by alternately strumming and percussively pounding his guitar on a passionate "Just A Little."