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Brian Fest At The Fonda Theater, Monday March 31st 2015

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Brian and his beach girls

There was so much star power at this Brian Fest at the Fonda theater on Monday night, it was like a mini festival with an entire indie and classic crew showing up to celebrate the man, who showed up himself at the end of the gig. I heard his daughter Carnie Wilson saying to fans waiting for autographs at the exit of the Fonda theater that her father was overwhelmed by joy, and I can understand why… it was a pure and genuine love fest from start to finish. And what’s not to love about the Beach Boys’ harmonies and melodies? Although not everyone can be as grandiose and meretricious as the Flaming Lips, all participants demonstrated their love one way of another…and this love was real, especially because all the benefits of the show went to two charities, Sweet Relief and the Jameson Neighborhood Fund. Was there any highlight during the night? Yes and no, of course everyone was waiting for Wilson’s final apparition, but almost every act was a highlight to my opinion, more or less famous, more or less succeeding at doing justice to Wilson’s brilliant music, but everyone’s heart was at the right place.

Hosted by NYC’s The Cabin Down Below Band, backed up by members of Wilson’s own band, the Beach Boys’ iconic catalog was brushed (in not the right order) by Norah Jones and Gingger Shankar, Heart’s Ann Wilson, The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne and Steve Drozd, Devendra Banhart, Monters of Folk’s M. Ward, Al Jardine, Blondie Chaplin, Boz Scaggs, Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino, Local Natives, Capital Cities’ Sebu Simonian, Wilson Philips, Karen Elson, ex Magnetic Zeros’ Jade Castrinos, Adam Busch and Danny Masterson, Lucius’ Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, Doyle Bramhall II, Punch Brothers, Civil Wars’ Joy Williams, Kesha…. I was trying to take notes although they were all announced in advance, except for Kesha who showed up instead of The Killers’ Brandon Flowers, and they all sang their favorite Beach Boys’ songs, at least this is what I assume. However I realized two things: first, there are a lot of Wilson songs I don’t know, secondly, whatever the style adopted by the performer (and there were many different styles), whatever the age or the sex of the performer, these songs always work!

These ‘best fests’ are always true feel-good moments — they have done in the past a George (Harrison) fest and a Tom Petty fest — and everyone is happy to be there. Joy Williams was delighted to do ‘Wouldn’t it be nice’, Kesha was thrilled to cover ‘California Girls’, Best Coast girl Bethany Cosentino was ecstatic to sing ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ with the help of Beach Boys Al Jardine, while Ann Wilson shone during ‘Warmth of the Sun’ and Wilson Philips were so happy (and nervous) to cover ‘In My Room’….’We love you, Daddy!’ screamed Carnie Wilson. There was very little talking during the whole show, just a lot of singing, and the Wilson Philips girls may have been the only ones doing a little bit of talking.

As expected, the biggest and most eccentric love demonstration was done by the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne who come up on stage with a giant assemblage of golden letter balloons saying ‘We Love You Brian’, and the same sentence written all over his hot pink outfit. With the help of his bandmate Steven Drodz, he covered ‘Good Vibrations’ after throwing the love balloon over the crowd. Earlier in the evening, Wayne had shown a great interest in the Punch Brothers’ cover of ‘Surf’s Up’, even walking in front of me to take a picture, whereas the other eccentric artist of the night, Devandra Banhart, had showed up wearing a carrot costume, accompanied by peas backup singers to cover ‘Vegetables’… How fun was that?

Local Natives announced with humor ‘This is a cover’ before bringing beauty and harmonies to ‘I Get Around’, M. Wards sang ‘You’re So Good to Me’ with a sort of frog in his throat, Norah Jones covered the ‘best song ever written’ and McCartney’s favorite, ‘God Only Knows’ with the help of another Shankar girl (Gingger), and many key-characters of the older generation came up for everyone’s joy. I have to tell you that I was surrounded by Beach Boys’ scholars, who remarkably knew all the names of these people, as well as all the titles of the songs they were playing!

At the end, not too many people took risks or liberty with the songs, they were sung pretty close to the originals, with great respect for the famous harmonies, and this may have been a missed opportunity for many… However, how do you re-invent a Brian Wilson’s song? It is not an easy task to do, some performers already had a hard time to reach the level of subtlety achieved by these eternal classics, so why even trying to revamp a beauty? I have to admit I got almost bored during Jade Castrinos’ rendition of ‘I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times’, Norah Jones and Gingger Shankar’s version of ‘Little Bird’, and during the rendition of ‘Caroline, No’ by the very delicate and very white Karen Olsen.

But there were a few exceptions with M.Ward, Boz Scaggs, Blondie Chaplin and Doyle Bramhall II, who brought the rock out of a few lesser-known (to me) numbers, in a expansive and almost jazzy style.

At the end of the show, a keyboard was brought on stage to welcome Brian, the legend of the night, and he did four more songs, including one of my favorite ever, ‘Surfer Girl’, then ‘Barbara Ann’, ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’, ‘Surfin’ USA’ with the help of almost all the performers who had come back on stage, and were surrounding Brian Wilson with warmth and love… Wilson looked very touched, a bit haggard but really happy, there was mention of his new album ‘No Pier Pressure’, his upcoming tour and the upcoming Brian Wilson movie ‘Love and Mercy’, all of which will undoubtlessly make 2015 the Brian Wilson year! And since I have found the setlist, here it is!

Do It Again – Cabin Down Below Band
Surfin’ Safari – Cabin Down Below Band
Til 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 – Devendra Banhart
Vegetables – Devendra 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 – Ke$ha
Wild Honey – Blondie Chaplin
In My Room – Wilson Phillips
Feel Flows – Doyle Bramhall II
Sail on Sailor – Boz Scaggs
Sloop John B – Al Jardine
Don’t Worry Baby – Bethany Cosentino w/Al Jardine
Help Me Rhonda – Al Jardine and Sebu Simonian
Good Vibrations – The Flaming Lips
Little Bird – Norah Jones and Gingger Shankar
God Only Knows – Norah Jones
Warmth of the Sun – Ann Wilson
Our Prayer – Cabin Down Below Band
Surfer Girl – Brian Wilson with Norah Jones, Boz Scaggs, Everyone
Fun, Fun, Fun – Brian Wilson with Bethany Cosentino, Everyone
Surfin’ USA – Brian Wilson with Sebu Simonian, Joy Williams, Everyone
Barbara Ann – Brian Wilson with Everyone

A few pictures of the show here.

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