When NARAS (the National Academy of Recording Arts And Sciences) selected the legendary Brian Wilson as it's 2005 honoree for MusiCares person of the year (this year they will do the same for Don Henley), they threw an all-star tribute concert in Los Angeles. Gathering everyone from The Red Hot Chili Peppers to Jeff Beck to Earth Wind & Fire to perform some of Wilson's best tunes. That performance is captured on this DVD.
One of NARAS best charitable organizations, MusiCares, provides financial assistance in things like housing and medical care to members of the music industry who otherwise couldn't afford it. On this night, MusiCares and the academy honored Wilson for his own charitable work with such organizations as the Carl Wilson Foundation for Cancer Research and Neil Young's Bridge School.
Considering Wilson's legacy for creating some of the greatest pop music ever made, the cast of characters assembled here at times seems an odd one. To me at least, somebody like Lindsey Buckingham would have provided a more appropriate bridge to Brian Wilson than say, The Chili Peppers. As much as I dig the Chilis, their opening take on "I Get Around" seems both odd and out of place, with forced and uncharacteristically non-funky sounding harmonies.
Fortunately, from there it gets much better with some excellent and truly surprising performances. Possibly the biggest surprise here is the Backstreet Boys, who with their letter perfect harmonizing, manage to positively nail Wilson's "When I Grow Up To Be a Man." Of all of the performances on this DVD, it is this one which, again somewhat surprisingly, comes closest to capturing the spirit of the Beach Boys.
In the flashy guitars department, Richie Sambora provides ample pyrotechnics on "City Blues." But Jeff Beck positively burns the house down when he shreds his way through "Surfin USA," and then has his guitar crying out the vocal parts of "Surfs Up." Micheal McDonald, whose syrupy pop vocalizing I normally don't much care for, does a fine job on "Don't Worry Baby," with help from the late, great Billy Preston on organ. John Legend turns in a fine take on "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times," while Shelby Lynne's "Surfer Girl" falls somewhat surprisingly flat. Earth Wind & Fire's Phillip Bailey displays his trademark falsetto to excellent advantage on "Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)."
But they save the best for last on this DVD. After the obligatory boring speech from the Academy's Neil Portnow, Brian Wilson, accepting his accolades, says "I never was good at speeches so rather we'll play some songs that hopefully make you smile." And with that, Brian Wilson and his great band go into a mini-set of the Smile versions of "Heroes And Villians" and "Good Vibrations," followed by "Fun Fun Fun" where they are joined by most of the musicians heard during the concert. The show then closes with a beautiful, prayer-like take on "Love And Mercy," from Wilson's criminally under-appreciated first solo album.
For a much better appreciation of Brian Wilson in concert — and especially of his incredible band — I'd recommend the concert DVD of Smile. The few songs Wilson does with his band on this DVD offer a tantalizing, if all too brief taste. For a better appreciation of the man's overall genius, I'd recommend the CD of the same name, or better yet just go straight to Pet Sounds.
As tribute CDs go though, this one offers up more than it's fair share of fine moments. With songs like Wilson's, how could you go wrong?