by John M. Borack
Let’s see how many Beach Boys clichés we can cram into one paragraph to describe the Wild Honey Foundation’s wonderful (there’s one) “Beach Boys 1967 – 1977” benefit show at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, California on February 13. Well, a little bird told me there were plenty of good vibrations and smiles to go around as a bevy of special guest vocalists helped celebrate the news and add some music to your day by performing nearly 40 tunes (the bulk of which were deep cuts) backed by their friends, the Wild Honey Orchestra. The special evening was filled with massive doses of endless harmony, with the singers and the supremely talented band keepin’ the summer alive for three solid hours.
Okay, all done with the clichés. Glad that’s over.
The buzz had been building about this show (which benefitted the Autism Think Tank and The Children’s Music Fund) for quite some time, and there were equal amounts of anticipation and good feeling in the air as the show began. The harmonic splendor was apparent right off the bat, as 11 singers meshed voices quite beautifully on the accappella “Our Prayer,” which was performed as a tribute to Wild Honey Orchestra musician Timothy Bryson, who died tragically earlier this year. Although the emotionally-charged performance was wordless, it spoke volumes.
From there it was one highlight after another: a spine-tingling version of “Heroes and Villains” with Al Jardine out in front and in fine voice; young, California-based singer/songwriter Nick Guzman putting across “I Can Hear Music” with a voice so sweet and pure that Carl Wilson would have been proud; Bangle Debbi Peterson and power pop hero John Wicks (of the Records) duetting on “Breakaway” (co-written by the much-maligned Murry Wilson); and Susan Cowsill belting out a spectacular “Sail On Sailor” (which she dedicated to Bryson), easily one of the pinnacles of the evening.
But wait – there’s more! There was special surprise guest Carnie Wilson sharing vocals with current Brian Wilson Band sideman Nelson Bragg (a great singer/songwriter in his own right) on a joyous take of “Friends,” and returning to partner with Pugwash front man Thomas Walsh on Carl Wilson’s “Feel Flows” from the Surf’s Up record. (If you haven’t heard Pugwash’s latest pop gem, Play This Intimately [As If Among Friends], do yourself a favor and snap it up.) The heavyset Walsh also elicited one of the bigger laughs of the evening when he announced, “I think I’m the only one rockin’ the Brian [Wilson] look circa 1976 tonight.”
Chris Price – who also did a bang up job serving as the evening’s vocal director – offered up a gorgeous, romantic take of the Dennis Wilson/Mike Love co-write “Only With You.” Speaking of romantic, Jellyfish founder Roger Manning dedicated his lush reading of “Til I Die” to his significant other on this Valentine’s Day eve, telling the audience, “I found her wedding ring today.” Sweet.
Throughout the evening the Wild Honey Orchestra provided impeccable backing for the guest vocalists, with generally no less than 10-15 musicians onstage to help flesh out the complicated arrangements, along with strings and horns. (And lest anyone thinks these songs aren’t complicated, try banging out “A Day in the Life of a Tree” or “Hold On Dear Brother” sometime. Not easy.)
In addition to Al Jardine taking the lead on three tunes and Carnie Wilson’s two songs, there were a handful of other Beach Boys family and friends taking part, lending an air of authenticity - and their talents - to the proceedings: David Marks, who played on the Boys’ first four albums; Matt Jardine (son of Al); Carl B. Wilson (the late Dennis Wilson’s son); Darian Sahanaja, Nick Walusko, Nelson Bragg, Probyn Gregory and Scott Bennett from Brian Wilson’s current band; former Beach Boys touring band members Bobby Figueroa and Randell Kirsch; Wilson Phillips guitarist/producer/songwriter Rob Bonfiglio; Beach Boys lyricist Stephen Kalinich; and longtime Beach Boys associate – and member of Dino, Desi and Billy – Billy Hinsche.
Another transcendent moment was Brett Harris and Skylar Gudasz’s magical, exceptionally sung Surf’s Up, which found them wrapping their beautiful voices around the fragile, moving melody. And even relatively “lesser” tunes such as “Country Air,” “Wake the World” and “Wonderful” took on an added depth this night, thanks to spotless arrangements, well-rehearsed and faithful instrumentation, and those pristine harmonies. Kudos to Anna Waronker and Petra Haden, Beach Boys devotee Jason Brewer (from the Explorers Club), and the never-fail-to-please Muffs (with some assistance on harpsichord from Darian Sahanaja) for tackling these numbers. Sahanaja also provided one of the more thrilling two-and-a-half-minutes of the show with an absolutely electric version of the top 20 hit “Darlin’,” which energized the already excited audience even further. Another one of the more well-known tunes that was tackled was Dennis Wilson’s tender “Forever,” sung with just the proper amount of emotion and restraint by Billy Hinsche.
Also worthy of special mention are Syd Straw’s “Thoughts of You” (from Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue record), which was at once quirky, dramatic and emotional; a powerful reading of the Bruce Johnston-penned “Disney Girls” by Brit songstress Rumer; Steve Wynn and Mike Mills’ “Let Us Go On this Way” (“the Beach Boys by way of CBGB’s,” said Wynn); Al Jardine’s “Honkin’ Down the Highway” (“It’s so Brian [Wilson] and so off the wall,” Al laughingly explained) and Micky Dolenz absolutely KILLING “Wild Honey” with an incredibly soulful, rockin’ lead vocal. (Hey hey, he’s a kickass singer.) By the time all the artists returned to the stage at around 11:00pm for a spirited, Probyn Gregory-led group sing of “Good Vibrations,” the appreciative crowd was over the moon, and rightly so. It was a truly special evening that had to be heard to be believed.
Of course, the fantastic show begged the question, “What will the Wild Honey folks do for an encore next time around?” Well, I know there’s an answer.
Guess I lied about that “all done with the clichés” thing.