LOS ANGELES -- For Everclear singer/guitarist Art Alexakis,
playing a concert benefiting Sweet Relief -- an organization that
helps musicians in need -- was worth a little pain.
Although he was obviously still recovering from recent throat surgery,
Alexakis joined folk singer and Sweet Relief founder Victoria Williams,
singer/songwriter Michelle Shocked and ska-pop band General Public for
a benefit at the Hollywood Athletic Club on Wednesday night.
"I thought it turned out pretty well, considering I just had my throat
sliced open three weeks ago," Alexakis said after his set, during which
he debuted two songs from his forthcoming solo album.
Alexakis -- the leader of Portland, Ore.-bred rock band Everclear --
had had cysts removed from his throat and said he had been worried
that he wouldn't be able to play. "I'm really happy to be here," he
said. "[Sweet Relief] is really cool. It's a good organization, a great
organization ... that does a lot for musicians."
About 600 people attended the show, including 300 who paid extra for a
dinner prior to the concert. The crowd included actors Leonardo
DiCaprio and Sara Gilbert and several record executives.
Williams co-founded the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund in 1993, when she
was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis -- a chronic, degenerative
disease. The fund benefits artists who suffer from serious illness or
disability and have spent at least the last three years pursuing a
musical career; it assists them with living and medical expenses.
Williams' set was a highlight of the evening. Though the show was far
from sold out, the crowd was at its largest and most attentive while
she was onstage. Many audience members who sat on the floor while
Alexakis and Shocked played stood up and moved in closer for Williams.
Switching from banjo to guitar, Williams performed most of her set
seated, with her five-piece band -- a stand-up bassist, guitarist,
keyboardist, drummer and horn player -- positioned around her. The set
included "Let It Be So" (RealAudio excerpt),
from Williams' most recent album, Musings of a Creek Dipper (1998).
Shocked joined Williams for the Latin-textured "Mongoose Over the Snake,"
during which the two women stood to dance and trade vocals behind one
microphone. Earlier in the evening, Williams joined Shocked for a
version of Williams' "Holy Spirit," which Shocked recorded for the
first Sweet Relief benefit album in 1993.
"Fundraising isn't about raising money -- it's about raising community,"
Shocked said after her set, which followed a performance by the gospel
act Gospel Circuit 2000. "Sweet Relief has generated an enormous amount
of good will -- it's pulled together a community that wants to help
To close her performance, Williams sang a moving version of the Louis
Armstrong pop hit "What a Wonderful World," which she recorded for
Loose (1994). As she stood guitar-free to sing the song,
Williams drove its message home, although appearing to be
on the verge of giggles.
"She's so passionate -- so wacky, so beautiful, so delightful,"
marveled attendee Patte James, 37, afterward. "I'm just completely
charmed by her."
Besides performing Everclear tunes, Alexakis debuted "Anabella's Song"
and "Otis Redding," both from Arthur, his solo album due next
Accompanied by a guest keyboardist, Alexakis sat center-stage playing
guitar and singing in a hoarse voice. Everclear drummer Greg Eklund
played percussion for "Strawberry" and "I Will Buy You a New Life."
During the latter, Eklund held his car keys in his mouth and shook his
head for added rhythmic emphasis.
"Anabella's Song," which featured only guitar and keyboard backing, is
a tribute to Alexakis' daughter. It features the lines, "You know I'm
never home/ I'm always miles and miles away/ Think I'm running out of
time/ To say the things I need to say. ... You are my everything/ Ana,
tell me what you want/ Tell me what you need/ Ana, you are never
Alexakis introduced "Otis Redding" -- named after the late soul singer -- as "a song about
the old days." The tune pivoted on the line, "I don't want to be wasted."
To close out the night, General Public got the dwindling crowd dancing
with feel-good ska-pop songs culled from their catalog. They also
performed material associated with the English Beat, the band that
spawned General Public.
"We need to get this dance party going," vocalist Ranking Roger
announced as he took the stage. They succeeded with songs ranging from
the English Beat hit "Mirror in the Bathroom" and the Staple Singers'
"I'll Take You There" -- which General Public covered in 1994.