It looked good on paper.
Neil Young's 27th annual Bridge School Benefit concerts enticed fans with an eclectic mix of old favorites, popular young acts and other talented artists. Yet, the event far from lived up to its grand promise on Saturday at Shoreline Amphitheatre at Mountain View.
It was an eight-hour acoustic concert that felt much longer, with very few of the expected highlights translating to lasting memories. Indeed, it may have been the least memorable of the roughly two dozen Bridge concerts that I've attended.
That's not as much of a dig as you might think. This is, after all, an event with one of the richest histories in all of popular music, having previously delighted fans with lineups that have included R.E.M., Metallica, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Phish, Paul McCartney and Pearl Jam. A below-average Bridge is still better than most benefit concerts.
Saturday's concert, which started at 5 p.m. and stretched until right around 1 a.m., offered up a share of fine moments. Jack Johnson, Arcade Fire and Jenny Lewis all delivered solid sets. Yet, those performances were far outweighed by the problematic performances from Queens of the Stone Age, Elvis Costello, Diana Krall and others. Hopefully, it was a different story for those attending Day Two of the Bridge on Sunday.
One of the most troubling issues with the Bridge concerts is that there are just too many acts. That means short sets, usually around 20-30 minutes, and accompanying set changes that last nearly as long as the performances. It's a poor use of everybody's time, unless, of course, you dig watching stagehands setting up instruments.
I'd have much preferred more time with Jenny Lewis, the former Rilo Kiley front woman who helped open the Bridge show with a fine set of indie-folk tunes. I could've listened to her croon all night, but she barely had 20 minutes to charm the audience.
Next up was Heart, the recent inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame who certainly possess the firepower and songbook to put on a winning show. Unfortunately, Heart only played two real fan favorites ("Even It Up" and "Crazy on You") during a six-song set that was otherwise populated with obscure cuts and a lukewarm cover of Led Zeppelin's "The Rain Song."
Things improved somewhat with fun., the young pop band that won a boatload of Grammy Awards earlier this year. Its music translated OK in the acoustic format, but every song still sounded like a promo for an upcoming episode of "Glee." Plus, the band had to leave the stage right as it was heating up. The strongest number was the closer, a cover of "You Can't Always Get What You Want" that sounded better than the version the actual Rolling Stones played back in May in Oakland.
I was really looking forward to seeing the amazingly talented jazz vocalist-pianist Diana Krall. Unfortunately, her set turned out to be the most disappointing of the night. She only performed three numbers on her own, then let her husband, Costello, commandeer the rest of the set. Hearing them share vocals on Bob Dylan's "Wallflower" made you understand why Krall and Costello don't share the stage more often. Krall then departed, leaving her husband to deliver his own forgettable outing.
Out of all of Young's guests, Jack Johnson was definitely the crowd favorite. He charmed fans with one nursery rhyme of a pop song after another, while sticking solely to his A-list material.
Then came the hipster-approved portion of the night, as My Morning Jacket, Arcade Fire and Queens of the Stone Age filled the next three slots on the bill. Regardless of the quality of the offering -- and Arcade Fire did deliver the set of the night -- it was still too much new music grouped together. In retrospect, organizers should've mixed it up a bit, and given Heart and Johnson later starts, so that the majority of the crowd didn't have to go so long without hearing a song that it recognized.
The biggest mistake, in terms of scheduling, was allowing Queens of the Stone Age go on after Arcade Fire. Queens is a decent rock band, but in the unplugged arena it sounds a lot like watered-down Chris Isaak. Arcade Fire, on the other hand, was like a lightning storm, electrifying the crowd with songs from the soon-to-be-released "Reflektor" and its other three albums.
The headliners — Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young — took the stage at 12:15 a.m., bringing this most mediocre of Bridge concerts to a close with such offerings as "Just a Song Before I Go" and "Human Highway."
Proceeds from these concerts benefit Hillsborough's Bridge School, a program for the communicative and educational development of children with severe speech and physical impairments.
Follow Jim Harrington at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic, www.facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.