Neil Young tried.

He did his best to put together an ambitious, and out of the ordinary, lineup for the 26th annual Bridge School Benefit, which began its two-day run at Shoreline Amphitheatre at Mountain View on Saturday.

It's just that most of his wilder selections -- including Guns N' Roses, Jack White and the Flaming Lips -- didn't go over so well on Day One. Even worse, all of those acts came bunched toward the end of the show, which made for a very long night for fans.

Fortunately, the safer bets -- such as k.d. lang, Sarah McLachlan and Neil himself -- were all pretty good. Yet, they weren't good enough to make this one of the more memorable benefits in support of Hillsborough's Bridge School, which assists students with severe physical and communication challenges.

For better or worse, the 2012 benefit -- which, on Saturday, stretched from 4 p.m. until after midnight -- will likely always be remembered as the Guns N' Roses Bridge. The notoriously unpredictable hard-rock band seemed to be topic No. 1 among fans in the weeks leading up to the event. Talk centered around lead singer Axl Rose -- in regard to what he might do or say, or even if he'd show up for the concert.

As it turned out, Rose was pretty much on his best behavior and even took the stage (nearly) on time. Sure, he did use some colorful language and played one questionable track, "Used to Love Her," which contains the chorus, "I used to love her, but I had to kill her." Overall, however, it was a rather mild-mannered outing for him.


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Well, at least we were told it was him. We'll have to take that on faith, since it was really hard for fans to confirm the actual identity of the singer in the big hat, dark sunglasses and strange facial hair. At times, it sounded like some hoarse amateur, from a Guns N' Roses cover band, was leading the charge.

Oh, well, at least we got to hear some acoustic versions of once-great songs -- "Welcome to the Jungle," "Sweet Child O' Mine" and "Paradise City" -- all of which probably made the roughly 18,000 audience members long for the band to plug in.

It was a truly mediocre outing for the rockers, yet it came across as absolutely masterful in comparison to the Flaming Lips set. Talk about a major reality check. The indie-rock band, which arguably ranks as the most overrated act in music history, is accustomed to preaching before the already converted. Lead singer Wayne Coyne could burp and his fans would likely dub it as genius.

The Bridge crowd wasn't having any of that. Listeners first seemed bemused and befuddled, then downright bored, by the band's cheeky, cutesy tunes. Coyne kept pleading with the disinterested crowd to show more energy and make some noise. And his request somewhat worked -- there were times when the applause actually drowned out the crickets.

White, backed by his all-female five-piece band, faced a similar challenge in trying to win over a crowd that appeared unfamiliar with his solo work (which consists of one album, this year's uneven "Blunderbuss"). He'd finally triumph, but the victory required the help of his old White Stripes songbook.

The one wild card that truly worked was Foster the People, the young pop act best known for the smash single "Pumped Up Kicks." Band leader Mark Foster and crew took its highly electronic sound and, with the use of some clever instrumentation and some savvy rearrangements, successfully translated it to the acoustic setting. The one disappointment was that there was no "Kicks," which might have been the right call for the setting, given the song's dark subject matter.

Neil Young, right, performs with his band Crazy Horse at his 26th annual Bridge School benefit concert at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View on
Neil Young, right, performs with his band Crazy Horse at his 26th annual Bridge School benefit concert at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View on Saturday. (John Green/Staff)

The best outing of the day might've come from Gary Clark, Jr., a tremendous blues-rocker from Texas who performed early on the bill. Yet, the concert's ultimate high point, if we are to judge by the crowd's enthusiasm, came courtesy of someone who wasn't even in the original lineup. Fans erupted with joy when Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder took the stage unexpectedly before the Guns N' Roses set to perform two songs. Other fan favorites included McLachlan, lang, Ray LaMontagne and Young, who performed with his Crazy Horse band.

Follow Jim Harrington at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic, www.facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.