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Artists step up for a cause

A rock-solid Lucinda Williams anchors 5-hour benefit for women's issues.

November 07, 2002|Steve Appleford | Special to The Times

Great things come from good intentions, which was true enough in the music Tuesday at the Wiltern for a benefit for the Step-Up Women's Network, with a lineup headed by Lucinda Williams and a powerful cast of singer-songwriters.

But the five-hour concert was no dry exercise in philanthropy. It was instead marked by sometimes stripped down but always worthwhile sets by Williams, Joe Henry, Neil Finn, Aimee Mann, John Doe and newcomer Rosey -- or what Finn called "amazing people for a good cause."

That cause includes research into breast cancer, education programs for girls and an end to violence against women.

"It's important for people to get outside of themselves, to realize there's a world out there and we're all connected," Williams said backstage before her set. "Artists have a responsibility, is the way I look at it."

The night also made for a powerful, if unplanned statement on the health of a certain blend of musical depth and grace, represented by soaring melodies and thoughtful, challenging lyrics, ending with a preview of songs from Williams' album-in-progress.

In leather jeans and a black Harley-Davidson T-shirt, Williams led her band through a tough, bristling folk-rock set with a Rolling Stones vibe. There were words of longing and passionate reminiscence on "Those Three Days" and "World Without Tears," before the explosive "Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings," a set-closing rocker that she said was inspired by Paul Westerberg of the Replacements.

For his set, Finn was joined by Jon Brion on toy piano and other diminutive keyboards, adding festive melodies to Finn's already elegant pop. Mann re-created her own moving, hooked-filled rock, as crisp and precise at the Wiltern as on her recordings. Focused and at ease behind the microphone, she performed strong and deeply vulnerable songs from the soundtrack to "Magnolia" and her newest album, "Humpty Dumpty."

Earlier, Henry played the moody, atmospheric songs of his recent, career-defining albums, as a kind of noir Dylan with a jazz fixation. John Doe performed acoustic, almost jazzy takes on songs from his new solo album, "Dim Stars Bright Sky," joined by Grant-Lee Phillips on the song "This Town." And Rosey's short set was both sultry and charismatic, suggesting yet another generation of curious musical minds.

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