Everclear Leader Plays For Sweet Relief

Despite ailing throat, singer/guitarist Art Alexakis performed solo set at benefit for musicians' charity.

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

musicians."

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

year.

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

alone."

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.