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Pop Music Review

Rock for Choice Show Is Generous to a Fault

April 09, 2001|MARC WEINGARTEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Let's face it: Benefits can be a major drag. What with running times that can exceed most televised award shows and the inevitable speeches about fighting the good fight, it's hard to stifle the occasional yawn.

Friday night's benefit for the abortion-rights organization Rock for Choice ran a whopping five hours, which, depending on your take, was either proper recompense for the steep ticket price (proceeds went to the national "Save Roe" campaign) or just plain overkill. Turns out it was a little of both.

The lineup was strictly female, and the inclusion of Lilith Fair vets Paula Cole, Melissa Etheridge and Sarah McLachlan made the night a kind of abridged version of that women's rock festival. And yet, despite the presence of anti-abortion protesters outside the Hollywood Palladium, little reference was made to the issues supported by Rock for Choice.

Sing-alongs may have taken precedence over issues, but a subtext of female self-affirmation occasionally rose to the surface. Cole, who was a cyclonic force on stage, was a champion of trod-upon housewives and beleaguered welfare mothers. Her 1997 hit "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?" was a powerful battle cry of defiance and fortitude, and her rendition of Dolly Parton's "Jolene" turned the song's desperate plea into a veiled threat.

McLachlan, who has been writing songs for her next album, offered no such cathartic moments in what was her first live performance in more than a year.

Walking on stage with a lyric sheet, McLachlan appeared a bit tentative at first but soon settled into a solo piano run-through of some of her biggest hits, as well as a new song that provided a tip-off to her loyalists to expect some new forlorn ballads just like the old ones.

The recently reunited Bangles had no cobwebs to brush off their back catalog. The band's most popular '80s tunes--including "Manic Monday" and "Hero Takes a Fall"--were buffed to a high sheen by the quartet's lush harmonies and chiming guitars. The band's sole new song promises that the group's future will entail more than just nostalgia package tours.

Show-closer Etheridge sang about the grace that comes from surviving the wreckage of failed relationships and then coming out on the other side. Her protagonists never settle for half-measures, in love or in life, and that all-or-nothing urgency resonated with this audience, which was standing for the hour-plus set.

Unfortunately, Etheridge's ferocity led to some over-the-top histrionics, but it mattered little to an audience that came prepared to lend its voice to a cause they care passionately about.

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