In the interest of honesty, full disclosure requires me to confess that I am a big fan of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. I have been since they first appeared on the national music scene with their first songs in the early 1960's. I bought their first album, Surfin' Safari. I wonder what happened to that album? It was inevitable and pretty much required I be a fan. Although I wasn't a California surfer I was close. I grew up on the Florida Atlantic coast in the 60's. I surfed while I was in high school. We had real waves, surf shops and a surf culture.
So, with my biases exposed on with the review. The show honored Brian for his lifetime achievements in the music industry. There were about fifteen minutes of red carpet BS before the real show began. Several singers and groups performed Beach Boy/Wilson songs before Brian himself performed. As you may imagine, some of the performances were good and some artists should have stayed home. Here's my take on each performance -
- The Red Hot Chili Peppers opened the show with I Get Around. It was not pretty and made me wonder if this program was going to be worth my time. They tried some Beach Boys falsetto and harmony and failed at both. The Peppers are an OK group but this genre is not their strength.
- Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi) played City Blues a rather obscure Wilson song that featured Eric Clapton on one recorded version. Not surprising that Richie chose this song. It wasn't bad but his version sounded amazingly like a Bon Jovi song.
- A big bunch of folks then played Sail On Sailor that wasn't too bad but came off more gospel than Beach Boy's. The original is somewhat gospel but not as much as this version. Too many individual voices.
- The Bare Naked Ladies then did Til I Die but added their own musical into/tribute to Brian. It was just fair.
- It gets way better. John Legend sang I Just Wasn't Made For These Times. It was very good and while John doesn't sound (or look) like a Beach Boy, he can hit some pretty high notes. I must disclose that I'm a John Legend fan and like 99% of what he does.
- Then a surprise. The Backstreet Boys sang When I Grow Up To Be A Man. The boys have grown up to be men and they did a good job. They got much of the falsetto and harmony right. I haven't become a BSB fan but they acquitted themselves well.
- Another favorite of mine was up next. Shelby Lynne sang Surfer Girl. I don't know that I've ever heard a girl//woman sing that song. It was interesting and I liked it. Shelby brought a little twang to the song but that's OK. Like John Legend, Shelby doesn't do many songs that I don't like.
- The good stuff kept going when Michael McDonald and the great Billy Preston did Don't Worry Baby. It's one of my favorite Beach Boys songs and Michael did it justice. He didn't try to mimic the Beach Boys, but he has a very soulful voice that fits the song. I thought it was powerful enough that Michael should put it in his show. Billy didn't sing but he did a nice organ solo. Unfortunately Billy is no longer with us.
- Jeff Beck did an instrumental version of Surf's Up and then did a big instrumental break on Surfin' USA that the house band sang on. It was good. Jeff certainly can play guitar.
- Earth Wind & Fire then did Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder). It was OK. Philip Bailey can certainly hit the high notes but the vocals sounded heavily filtered/produced.
- Darlene Love was the last of the guest artists. She sang Wouldn't It Be Nice which is a great Beach Boys song that sounded just like a Darlene Love song. That's not a bad thing but her style is a little different than Brian's.
- We're getting close to the honoree's appearance. The house band for the evening which was actually Brian Wilson's band played a good instrumental intro for Brian.
- In his usual awkward way Brian gave a very brief thank you speech and then got down to performing.
- Brian and his very good band performed Heroes & Villains and Good Vibrations. Heroes is maybe the anchor song of the ill fated album Smile which was mostly written in the late 1960's and was finally published in 2004. It's a long story. Good Vibrations was originally released as a single. It is the Beach Boys greatest hit and a groundbreaking record. It was also supposed to be on Smile. Brian did a pretty good job. His voice is not what it was in 1968 but he can still hit some of the high falsetto notes. His voice is the sound of the Beach Boys and it can still be heard.
- After Good Vibrations, many of the performers came on stage to sing Fun, Fun, Fun. It was good with Brian's band providing the glue.
- The finale was an almost solo by Brian of Love & Mercy. Good stuff by a true music legend.
In general it is sad to see Brian Wilson. He still obviously has musical talents but he is a mess as a member of society. He acts like he has Asperger's or some other form of autism. Based on what I remember and what I've read he was not always this way. He was once a very social guy. I can only assume that the pressures, drugs and mental illness have eaten away parts of his brain. This program was recorded in 2005 and I've seen Brian on TV several times since then especially last year during the Beach Boy 50th Anniversary Tour. He seems almost the same mentally but he has declined physically.
I don't ever expect to see the Beach Boys again live. I've done that probably a dozen times. There are still four original members alive but Mike Love apparently owns the name and has chosen to exclude the other three members. Sad that there has been conflict almost since the day the group began.
All that aside, I'll be listening to Brian Wilson and Beach Boy music until I can't hear it anymore. Thanks Brian - it's been Fun, Fun, Fun.
PS - I encourage you to click on the links I put with the song titles. Some old vintage Beach Boys stuff and some more recent stuff.