12:09 AM EDT, October 25, 2011
3 stars (out of 4)
Neil Young and his wife, Pegi, have been hosting star-studded concerts since the mid-’80s to benefit the Bridge School, a nonprofit organization that educates children with severe speech and physical impairments (their son, Ben, has cerebral palsy). “The Bridge School Benefit Concerts -- 25th Anniversary Edition” (Reprise) culls a quarter-century of highlights in two-CD and three-DVD configurations, presenting a mini-history not just of this charity event but also of the era’s mainstream rock and folk.
A generations-spanning array of artists, from Paul McCartney to Gillian Welch, presents its music in mostly stripped-down settings, with an emphasis on acoustic performances. Intimacy is the goal, though not everything works: sleepy-time Jack Johnson, Dave Matthews with his array of mush-mouthed vocal tics, Metallica in Cossack-dance mode for “Disposable Heroes,” R.E.M. in slow motion during “Country Feedback,” Norah Jones tip-toeing her way through Wilco’s “Jesus, Etc.” (a curious choice since Wilco also performed the song at Bridge School in 2008).
But there are plenty more keeper moments: Bruce Springsteen’s lacerating “Born in the U.S.A.” (trumping the bombastic 1984 original), Willie Nelson flamenco-dancing on the guitar strings along “The Great Divide,” Jonathan Richman bringing some much-needed levity with “I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar,” Nils Lofgren’s stirring take on the Beau Brummels’ 1965 Sly-Stone produced folk-rock hit “Just a Little” (here listed as “Cry Just a Little”); Fleet Foxes’ dazzling harmonies on “Blue Ridge Mountains.” A couple of crooners acquit themselves pretty well, too: Tony Bennett still swinging it on “The Difficult Kind” and Thom Yorke mining “After the Gold Rush” for some Neil Young-like vulnerability, a signature Bridge School moment if there ever was one.
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