San Jose Mercury News 1997
By Brad Kava
(Thanks to Ben for sending this to us)

At a yearly concert known for its surprise guests and unusual pairings, Saturdady's Bridge Benefit at Shoreline Ampitheatre will go down in the record books as the strangest.

During the last set, normally reserved for host Neil Youg, the packed audience saw a duet by the most unlikely pair of acoustic musicians: Marylin Manson and Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins.

In perfect nasal harmony, they sang "Eye", Corgan;s song on the "Lost Highway" soundtrack and Manson's gruesome hit, "Beautiful People" (along with guitarist Twiggy Ramirez).

You had only look at the children behind the stage, the ones this show benefits, to see how shock registers. When Manson stood by them as Corgan and the Pumpkins played a few more songs, their eyes were transfixed on the lanky man with a woman's name in his silver pantsuit, gobbed-on eye shadow, brown fur coat and crumpled cowboy hat.

But hey, you want surprises, you certainly got them during this almost eight hours of music that ended shortly before midnight, way past Shoreline's usual 11pm curfew.

Its been rumored that Young had been looking for a huge headliner this year, say Paul McCartney. But what he got was better, a solid bill from start to finish, featuring Dave Matthews, Alanis Morrisette, Blues Traveller, Metallica and Lou Reed, where practically every performer could have sold out a show on his or her own.

The musical highlights were carefully balanced with unlikely moments. But the believe-it-or-nots are probably what people are talking about today, such as the set by the masters of speed metal, Metallica, as they switched to nylon strings.

On the band's latest album "Load", you could detect some reverence for country and softer sounds, but its old die hard metal crowd must have been going nuts during a 45 minute set that featured a long version of Lynard Skynard's "Tuesday's Gone" on which they were joined by Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell (almost 20 years to the Oct. 20 plane crash that killed Skynard found Ronnie Van Zandt).

They opened with a new song, "My Eyes", off the soon to be released "Reload" that featured a hurdy gurdy player, a riff that sounded like Young's "Mr. Soul" and was more like something from Led Zeppelin than the band's 1983 speed metal debut, "Kill em All".

They softened some classics, however,- "Fade to Black" and "The 4 Horsemen"- to the point where James Hetfield said his audience shouldn't be able to recognize them.

There were plenty of clunkers during their set and throughout the night, as warm string hit cold air and bent out of tune. But seeing the band experiment on (Diamond Head's) "Helpless", "Poor Twisted Me", "Nothing Else Matters" and a punk cover of the Misfit's "The Last Caress" with John Popper on harmonica, was worth the occasional miscue.

Smashing Pumpkins, who played an unexpectedly somber show closer, changed the emphasis on hits, as they did on last year's tour.

On "Bullet with Butterfly Wings", the lyrics were loud, but the "Rat in a Cage" chorus was soft. "XYU", a feedback-laden song from "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" was still powerful on Corgan's 12-string.

"1979" was dreamy and the entire show ended with "Muzzle", almost overlooked on "Mellon Collie", but very powerful live.

Dave Matthews and Blues Traveler, playing with complete bands and an understanding of how to get a full sound from acoustic instruments, were more musical and got bigger responses from the crowd.

In fact, Matthews was the first performer to get the audience to its feet, some six hours into the show. He ran through songs from 1996's brilliant album "Crash", including "Lie in Our Graves", "Two Step", "#41", "Too Much," "Crash Into Me" and "Tripping Billies".

He solved the problem of reaching the back rows by cranking up the bass and drums (as did most of the other acts.) Violinist Boyd Tinsley and Leroi Moore on horns added depth to the mix that made you forget this was supposed to be acoustic and not a standard Matthews set.

John Popper's Princeton band, Blues Traveller, jammed on "Runaround" and "Yours" and Popper than showed up to play harp with almost every other performer.

Lou Reed could win for most underratted set. The pioneer of low fi music, he ran through solo and Velvet Underground material, painting a picture as dark as Metallica's. "The Kids", off 1973's brooding classic, "Berlin", is about a junkie mother who neglects her children, pretty much the opposite of the Bridge School theme.

He pulled out "Perfect Day", "Vicious", (with Willie Nelson's harmonica player, Mickey Raphael), "Sweet Jane" and "Pale Blue Eyes" before adding two new songs from a Broadway play he is working on.

The night's weakest set was by Morrissette, who did half a dozen new songs along with "All I Really Want", off her 15-million selling debut. Played acoustically, the new songs lacked the Glen Ballard pop hooks of "Jagged Little Pill", but they still had her frustration and rage.

With even less subtlety than Manson, Morissette yelled through every song, with no shades or colors, just a continous wail, even through her closing Beatle's cover, "Norweigian Wood"

Almost lost was Neil Young, who last year made his Craxy Horse sound electric following Pearl Jam. This year he did two sets, one opening the show with his Stills/Young band, "Long May You Run" and Ian and Sylvia's "Four Strong Winds".

He later came back solo for some new songs, "Buffalo Springfield Again" and "Slow Poke" and oldies "After the Goldrush" and "This Note's for You".

He introduced that song, which was MTV's video of the year for 1988, after it was initiallly banned because of commercial references, by saying it was a "dumb song" he wrote a while ago. He was joined by both harmonica players for a bluesy version.

Young told the audience he was "blown away" and couldn't believe the support of the Bay Area audience over the years.

But there was no reason for surprise. Give people their money's worth and they will be glad to give you their money.

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