Brian Fest
Fonda Theatre
March 30, 2015

At this point in his 50-plus-year career, Brian Wilson’s accomplishments need no introduction. His track record is almost second to none, as he’s managed to endure and become more appreciated over time for both his chart-topping hits and his more bizarre, experimental songs.

Following the likes of Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and The Rolling Stones, the Beach Boy is the latest music luminary to be honored with a one-off benefit concert for Sweet Relief Musicians Fund. The event coincides with next week's release of Wilson’s latest solo effort, No Pier Pressure. The record is as known for Wilson’s collaborations with Zooey Deschanel, Sebu Simonian, Nate Ruess and Kacey Musgraves as it is for the ones that didn’t come to fruition with Frank Ocean and Lana Del Rey.

Hosted by the Cabin Down Below Band, the night had a number of highs, lows and surprises that kept the crowd locked in on the stage even as the Jameson flowed (the Irish whiskey sponsored the event). Many of the early performers seemed either intimidated, under-rehearsed, or ill-equipped for their respective songs. The deeper the cut, the more apparently Herculean the task. In the cases of Jade Castrinos, Karen Elson and M. Ward, part of the challenge was simply the lack of backing vocal harmonies that defined The Beach Boys’ sound. While ambitious, the song selection in these cases hindered the performances, which came off as disjointed and nondescript.

Playing two of Wilson’s more obscure songs from his late ‘60s experimental period, Devendra Banhart was as entertaining as he was vocally proficient. Dressed up as a carrot, Banhart and his two pals — dressed, respectively, as peas and a banana — tackled “Meant for You” and “Vegetables.” Their outfits were as memorable as the performance, and loosened up the slightly stiff band and lethargic crowd.

When there were multiple singers — or even an entire band — the results were far superior. Local Natives were the first group to get the crowd singing along with them, even though they played the little known “Let Him Run Wild” before an obvious crowd-pleaser in “I Get Around.” Singer Taylor Rice was comfortable in the Mike Love role and his bandmates glided through the song with ease. Boz Scagg's muscular version of “Sail on Sailor” and Doyle Bramhall II's “Feel Flows” went over as well as Wilson's biggest songs, and proved that much of The Beach Boys' '70s catalog has endured over the years, as well.

Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast, Al Jardine and the Cabin Down Below Band; Credit: Timothy Norris

Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast, Al Jardine and the Cabin Down Below Band; Credit: Timothy Norris

Though he was billed as one of the main acts along with Norah Jones, Brandon Flowers mysteriously didn’t show up. Instead, Kesha, who has made few public appearances since she entered rehab for an eating disorder, was a surprise addition. She delivered a confident, spirited rendition of “California Girls.”

The pop star wasn’t the only female vocalist who shined. Bethany Cosentino trading vocals with longtime Wilson collaborator Al Jardine on “Don’t Worry Baby,” while Wilson Phillips delivered a solemn version of “In My Room.” 

Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips; Credit: Timothy Norris

Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips; Credit: Timothy Norris

Even before Wilson hit the stage for the final four songs, the evening’s participants went out of their way to show their appreciation. A huge gold “We Love You, Brian” balloon made its way to the stage, and subsequently passed around the room like a crowd surfer during the Flaming Lips’ choppy version of the iconic “Good Vibrations.”

As for Wilson, at 72, he embraced the nostalgia of his Beach Boys catalog, giving the musicians a thrill by allowing them share the stage with him for some of his biggest hits, rather than anything from Pier Pressure.

By the time people were dancing to set closer “Barbara Ann,” it became apparent that the notoriously fragile Wilson should have played a bigger role in the night’s proceedings. His presence behind the keyboard propelled the rest of both his touring band and Cabin Down Below Band to nail the songs when he was onstage. It’s understandable that Wilson kept a low profile until the end of the night, but if the Beach Boys maestro had been onstage for more of the show, it would have given the night a fuller, more memorable shape.

Set list:

Do It Again (Cabin Down Below Band)
Surfin Safari (Cabin Down Below Band)
Till I Die (Lucius)
Be True to Your School (Adam Busch & Danny Masterson)
I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times (Jade Castrinos)
Meant For You (Devandra Banhart)
Vegetables (Devandra Banhart)
Surf’s Up (The Punch Brothers)
Wouldn’t It Be Nice (Joy Williams)
You’re So Good to Me (M. Ward)
Don’t Talk Put Your Head on My Shoulder (M. Ward)
Let Him Run Wild (Local Natives)
I Get Around (Local Natives)
Caroline, No (Karen Elson)
California Girls (Kesha)
Wild Honey (Blondie Chaplin)
In My Room (Wilson Phillips)
Feel Flows (Doyle Bramhall II)
Sail on Sailor (Boz Scaggs)
Sloop John B (Al Jardine)
Good Vibrations (Flaming Lips)
Little Bird (Norah Jones & Gingger Shankar)
God Only Knows (Norah Jones)
Warmth of the Sun (Ann Wilson)
Our Prayer (Cabin Down Below Band)
Surfer Girl (Brian Wilson, Norah Jones, Boz Scaggs)
Fun, Fun, Fun (All)
Surfin’ USA (All)
Barbara Ann (All)

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