Oct. 28--Nearly a decade after making their last appearance together onstage at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young returned late Saturday -- OK, technically very early Sunday -- to headline the first night of Neil Young's 27th annual Bridge School Benefit Concert.
They sounded creakier and looked a little more ragged, and their harmonies weren't always so harmonious. Still, it was a reassuring sight watching them stand shoulder to shoulder as they ambled through old favorites such as "Deja Vu," "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" and Young's "Long May You Run," which felt more self-referential than ever. The four men -- Young, David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash -- represented a breed of rock royalty the all-star concert has at times lacked in recent years.
"What a night of music," said Nash.
By the time the quartet closed out the show with the usual all-hands-on-deck sing-along of "Teach Your Children," the audience -- including students from the Bridge School seated behind the musicians onstage -- had sat through approximately eight hours of music by performers Queens of the Stone Age, Arcade Fire, My Morning Jacket, Jack Johnson, Elvis Costello, Diana Krall, Fun., Heart and Jenny Lewis.
Young and his wife, Pegi, started producing the benefit concerts at Shoreline in 1986, to fund the Bridge School for kids with severe physical and speech impairments. Their son Ben, who has cerebral palsy, was the first student. Over the years, the annual two-day event has drawn an illustrious list of performers -- Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, the Who and many, many others.
The acoustic-only policy has resulted in several memorable performances, but on Saturday it had the unintended effect of dulling nearly every musician on the bill.
Queens of the Stone Age, driven by loose grit and big riffs on record, sounded like a lounge act without the amplifiers and effects pedals (the formal dinner jackets didn't help). The band Fun., best known for its lush pop hits "We Are Young" and "Some Nights," came off like a Boy Scout troop singing around the campfire -- particularly when the New York trio attempted to take on the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want." Arcade Fire, too -- a last-minute addition to the lineup after the Killers dropped out -- seemed a little less magical without its usual dollop of bombast.
So it was little wonder that Jack Johnson, the professional surfer turned singer-songwriter, was the biggest crowd-pleaser of the day. His lilting, gently strummed tunes required very little modification. My Morning Jacket, kind of a Wilco-lite to the uninitiated, also adapted easily, although it always helps to get a leg up from Young, who dropped in for a lovely collaboration on his song "Harvest Moon."
Aidin Vaziri is The San Francisco Chronicle's pop music critic. E-mail: email@example.com Twitter: @MusicSF
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