"Because every child deserves a great future," declared a banner over the entrance to the Roxy Theater in West Hollywood Monday. It's the slogan of the HELP Group, a local charity devoted to aiding children with a variety of special needs and recipient of the funds raised at this year's Gimme Shelter benefit concert. Industry insiders Gary Sbivac, Jill Sbivac and Joel Amsterdam are the forces behind the annual event, and they enticed Shelby Lynne, the Bangles, Joseph Arthur, Remy Zero and other bands to donate their time, while a sellout crowd of more than 500 fans and record industry types shelled out $30 each for the privilege of seeing them perform in such an intimate setting.
It was very much a low-key mom and pop affair, with seasonal red and green lights bathing the stage and a handmade Gimme Shelter banner outlined in Christmas lights hanging overhead. A local DJ introduced the first act and explained the purpose of the event to a still-filling-up room.
One ineluctable problem with shows featuring multiple artists is that most concert-goers are only familiar with one or two of them and seem determined to chat their way through the sets by the others; that was obvious this night as many in the crowd talked loudly during the opening set by John Eddie, a Jersey kinda guy with a sweet voice and forlorn songs that recalled Chris Isaak, minus the Roy Orbison obsession.
Shannon McNally fared a bit better, and her country-flavored vocals hinted at a CD collection filled with discs by Sheryl Crow, Emmylou Harris and Sam Phillips. McNally, backed by an acoustic ensemble, previewed songs from her upcoming spring release.
With lead singer John Ondrasiks' high, nasal vocals, Five for Fighting called to mind heartland rockers from Dave Matthews to Hootie and the Blowfish. They managed to up the energy level a bit and captured the attention of the room, now nearly filled to capacity.
Joseph Arthur, head freshly shaved, was the first artist of the night to bring some real energy to the proceedings. Head cocked to one side and eyes shut beneath rose-colored shades, Arthur attacked his acoustic guitar with Bob Mould-like ferocity on tunes from both Big City Secrets and Come to Where I'm From, including "In The Sun" and "Mercedes." Many fans near the stage sang along and shouted out requests between numbers.
Electric guitars made their first appearance in the set by Remy Zero, who played a set of generic rock with artsy ambitions, fueled by an enthusiastic drummer. They debuted a new song (possibly titled "I'm Still Here Somehow") which maintained their basic sound while adding punkish energy, closing with "Perfect Memory."
"Dignity, hope and health are the birthright of all children," HELP Group President and CEO Barbara Firestone explained between sets as she thanked the people who had put the show together and the many musicians who performed.
And musicians weren't just on stage -- they were also in the audience, from drummer Jay Bellerose (Paula Cole's band) and singer Donna De Lory (solo artist and backing singer for Madonna for the last dozen years) to singers Leah Andreone and Dylan O'Brien, who co-wrote one of the tunes performed by the Bangles.
A jangly, Byrds-like sound defined the new songs from the Bangles, whose set filled with their trademark lush, four-part harmonies also included "Going Down to Liverpool." "You all are doing a great thing by being here tonight," said guitarist/singer Vicki Peterson, one of the few musicians to address the cause. "You'll help a great many children."
Though some left after the Bangles' set, many had obviously waited through all the others for headliner Shelby Lynne. Striking in gold pants and a black vest, Lynne played several tracks from her latest album, I Am Shelby Lynne. The acoustic setting and lack of drums were an ideal showcase for her supple country-tinged voice, put to good use on "Thought it Would Be Easier" and other tunes. "This is our last show of the year," Lynne said. "I'm getting the hell out of the country -- 'til we have ourselves a president."
The music flowed smoothly throughout the evening, with relatively quick set changes and few technical problems, perhaps because most of the acts performed acoustic sets. That simplicity, though, created problems of its own, as most of the performances were on the low energy side, and there were no surprise guests, no jams with members of other bands.