|A Tribute to Brian Wilson
Label: Eagle Vision
The MusiCares Foundation was established in 1989 to provide musicians with a place to turn in times of financial, personal or medical crisis. If you’ve ever had a drummer crash on your couch for a couple of months because he was “between gigs,” you already know that this is a very serious epidemic.
Okay, sorry, just a little levity there.
In truth, MusiCares is a great organization that does a tremendous amount of worthwhile work for members of the musical community, many of whom are without insurance coverage. The group also annually selects a musician for his contributions to both music and society (i.e., humanitarian work) and declares them to be the MusiCares Person of the Year. In addition to receiving the award from the organization, the Person of the Year gala invariably features a concert where other musicians come and pay tribute by covering that person’s songs, and the evening concludes with the honoree coming out and doing a few numbers of their own.
In 2007, MusiCares selected Don Henley, and the year before they chose James Taylor, but back in 2005, the man who scored the honor was Brian Wilson. There’s no particular explanation as to why it took almost two years for the documentary of the evening to be released onto the home video market -- especially since the James Taylor tribute made it into stores the same year it took place -- but, hey, at least it’s out. While the 77-minute program probably won’t inspire legions of new Beach Boys fans, it also shouldn’t find too many existing fans kicking in their television screens in annoyance.
If there’s one thing you can say for Brian Wilson, it’s that his music has managed to inspire folks from just about every genre of music. The genres, and examples of some performers, include alt-rock (Red Hot Chili Peppers); guitar rock (Richie Sambora, Jeff Beck); R&B (John Legend, Earth Wind & Fire); boy bands (Backstreet Boys); jazz-pop (Jamie Cullum); country (Shelby Lynne); blue-eyed soul (Michael McDonald); and, uh, Canadian (Barenaked Ladies). True, not all of them manage to do anything unique with Wilson’s music (part of the blame comes from most of the artists being forced to work with Wilson’s own backing band) but some of them do manage to make the songs their own. In fact, the first several minutes of the concert provide the evening’s most enjoyable and surprising interpretations.
The show begins with the Red Hot Chili Peppers coming out to perform “I Get Around.” The chorus stays true to the original, but the verse is all about the Peppers, with Flea plucking his bass like he’s playing “Taste the Pain.” Things stay strong as Richie Sambora takes “City Blues,” a song from Wilson’s underwhelming Gettin’ In Over My Head album, and rocks the living shit out of it. He’s followed by Jamie Cullum, whose jazzy piano take on “Sail On Sailor” is aided immeasurably by the additional gospel vocals of Fred Martin and the Levite Camp. Appropriately, Barenaked Ladies sing the first verse and chorus of their “Brian Wilson” before doing a segue into a nice version of the Beach Boys’ mournful “’Til I Die.” And, then, John Legend brings his usual soulfulness to “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times.”
Five for five? That’s a solid track record by anyone’s standards. After this, however, things begin a slow drift downwards.
Although the Backstreet Boys’ take on “When I Grow Up to Be a Man” (boys singing about growing up to be a man? Ho, ho, HO!) is filled with the harmonies you’d expect from them, but none of the lead vocals are all that spectacular. Also, their performance is hard to take seriously when it’s preceded by the laughable announcement that “we’re gonna rock out for you guys right now.” Shelby Lynne seems vague when she first steps onstage, and although she performs an acceptable version of “Surfer Girl,” she ends it in a cringeworthy manner: by telling Brian Wilson that “you da man.” Seeing the late Billy Preston in one of his last performances – backing Michael McDonald on “Don’t Worry Baby” – is poignant, and although your mileage with McDonald may vary, it must be said that his blue-eyed-soul-take on the song is highly enjoyable.
Jeff Beck’s two contributions, “Surf’s Up” and “Surfin’ USA,” are decent, but he’s ultimately little more than a sideman to Wilson’s band on the latter. Given how readily Earth Wind & Fire can inspire an audience to get up and dance with their own material, it’s almost perverse that they chose the slow, languid “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)” as their selection; it’s even worse that it isn’t that spectacular. Lastly, Darlene Love’s rendition of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is pleasant, but it comes across more like really soulful karaoke than anything else.
Wilson’s band performs the instrumental title cut from Pet Sounds before their CEO comes out to thank the crowd and perform “Good Vibrations” and “Fun, Fun, Fun.” As ever, he closes his set – even this short one – with “Love and Mercy.” All in all, it’s a nice enough show, but the festivities would’ve been a bit better if they’d mixed the newer artists in throughout the evening, rather than throwing them all out at the very beginning.
Special Features: There’s a nice backstage featurette explaining the MusiCares organization in greater detail, and also features interviews with the various artists who’ve shown up to pay tribute to Wilson. Aside from a few additional photos from the event, that’s the extent of it.