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Pop Reviews : A Spirit Of Renewal At Concert

October 15, 1986|ROBERT HILBURN | Times Pop Music Critic

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — It was Neil Young's benefit and Bruce Springsteen's audience, but it may well have been David Crosby's night.

While the concert lineup also included such stars as Don Henley, Tom Petty and Robin Williams, the 15,000 people at the outdoor Shoreline Amphitheatre here Monday night seemed most eager to see Springsteen in his only advertised concert of the year.

Springsteen T-shirts abounded, and hundreds of fans, it appeared, had traveled considerable distances--mostly from Southern California, but also from as far as Texas and--where else?--the rock star's home state of New Jersey.

"When Bruce gives his only show of the year, you just drop what you're doing and go there," said Tom Portella, 24, of Dallas. "I just told my boss I needed a couple of days off, and here I am."

The concert's proceeds will go toward the establishment of the Bridge School, a pilot educational project for physically handicapped students who are unable to communicate verbally. It was organized by Young and his wife, Peggy, who live on a ranch near this city 35 miles south of San Francisco. Young has two sons with cerebral palsy, Zeke 14, and Ben, 8.

The Springsteen fans got a chance to unleash their patented " Brooooce " cries early in the evening when Springsteen walked on stage with sidekick Nils Lofgren to join Young on a spirited rendition of the latter's "Helpless," a tale of faded innocence.

As Springsteen and Lofgren left the stage after the number, the crowd relaxed in their seats--as if prepared to wait patiently for Springsteen's return near the end of the four-hour, all-acoustic program.

But another buzz began in the audience as Young announced his first reunion with Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and David Crosby since Crosby was paroled in August from a Texas prison, where he was serving a five-year sentence on drug and weapons charges.

"Glad to see us?" Crosby asked the audience as the stage crew scrambled to put microphones in place for the group. "So are we," he added, beaming.

Crosby--overweight but appearing very much in control--seemed nervous at the beginning, shifting back and forth and sticking his hands in his pocket. He also seemed to hold back vocally on Young's delicate "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" and two other numbers.

Midway through "Ohio," Young's song about the shooting of four students during a demonstration at Kent State, Crosby's singing contributed to the song's mounting tension and outrage. "Tell me why," Crosby shouted, "tell me why."

In some ways Crosby's insistent cries for an explanation about the killing transcended the issue involved and seemed to serve as an inner dialogue: a demand to know why there had been such suffering in his own life in recent years.

Caught up in the temper of the moment, the audience gave the musicians--and especially Crosby--a standing ovation as the foursome embraced at the end of the song.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young--though together only briefly at the start of the '70s--are one of the special groups in rock that registered a strong sociological connection with their audience. There was a cleansing idealism and hope in songs like "Teach Your Children" and "Woodstock" that forged a generational consensus.

For many here, there was a comfort in seeing Crosby back on stage again: a sign of regained promise, or at least a renewed sense of community.

Looking back on the concert the following morning, Crosby said, "Everybody has been wonderful. After the show everyone came up, everyone had something good to say. It was an incredible amount of support, which is something that's really important at a time like this."

Asked about his vocal on "Ohio," he replied, "The energy you heard is what I've got now. I really do feel I'm about the best . . . that I've been in years. I'm really looking forward to working with the guys again, and last night was the best possible putting of the toe in the water."

A CSN&Y album and tour are projected for next year.

Brooooce ... Brooooce ... Brooooce .

The shouts from the fans greeted Springsteen as he walked on stage just before midnight, wearing a black T-shirt and jeans and looking even more muscular than on last year's tour.

The question as he stepped to the microphone: Where does he go artistically after the superstar-certifying success of his "Born in the U.S.A." album?

Does he use his popularity and power to focus even more aggressively on the social and economic inequities outlined in the working-class consciousness of the last LP and tour? Or does he move in the next studio album to a less socially concerned rock stance, fearing too much activism may overshadow the other aspects of his art?

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