Norah Jones Out-Weirds The Flaming Lips at Brian Wilson Festival
Brian Fest, a tribute to Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson held at the Fonda Theater March 30, found Jones partnering with violinist Gingger Shankar (a relative of hers) on one of the night's more obscure tunes -- “Little Bird,” a ditty written by Brian's late brother Dennis and released in 1968 on Friends. A quirky number with details similar to the music found on the Beach Boys' SMiLE, Jones delivered it with modesty and innocence, a perfect fit for the childlike qualities of her voice. She followed it with a more traditional reading of “God Only Knows.”
The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd preceded Jones with an impeccable take on “Good Vibrations,” giving it a nearly note-for-note re-creation with only a slight slowing of the tempo in the verses. In Lips fashion they entered dramatically: Coyne held aloft an inflated gold plastic piece six-feet high that read “We Love You Brian” and tossed it into the crowd as the song commenced. He had the same words taped across his dashiki-like top.
Coyne and the other 18 acts had ample assistance getting the music as close to the Beach Boys recordings as possible -- seven members of Brian Wilson's band augmented the Cabin Down Below Band, which has served as the house band for fund-raising concerts like this (devoted to a single songwriter) in the past. Monday's show was to benefit Sweet Relief.
As is the case with many of these multi-act concerts, some performers dove head-first into the material while others simply sang and went on their way. The Punch Brothers turned “Surf's Up” into a bluegrass operetta; Blondie Chaplin, a former Beach Boy himself, put a passionate, soulful twist on “Wild Honey." Doyle Bramhall II took “Feel Flows” on a twisting psychedelic journey with guitar and flute interplay. Boz Scaggs not only glided vocally through “Sail On Sailor,” but added a gust of wind with a powerful bluesy guitar solo at the song's conclusion.
Local Natives won the prize for sounding most like the record on “I Get Around”; M. Ward got the flip side of that prize -- sound the least similar to the record -- for taking “You're So Good to Me” into Beatles territory with hard-strummed acoustic guitars and a George Harrison vibe in his solo.
Devendra Banhart and his two singing partners won the costume contest, dressing up as a carrot, peapod and corn husk to sing “Vegetables.”
Considering the vocal range these singers were required to take on, it's no surprise some struggled to hit high notes or even nail the proper pitch. Heart's Ann Wilson, though, demonstrated how to wrap a voice around song's notes and its intentions on “Warmth of the Sun," while Karen Elson found the despair in “Caroline No." Meanwhile, Joy Williams and Kesha just had fun with their respective numbers.
Wilson closed out the night with a group sing-along that worked better than most, especially on “Surfer Girl.”
Cabin Down Below Band
“Do It Again”
Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig - “'Til I Die”
Adam Bush and Danny Masterson- “Be True to Your School”
Jade Castrinos - “I Just Wasn't Made for These Times”
Devendra Banhardt - “Vegetables”
Punch Brothers - “Surf's Up”
Joy Williams - “Wouldn't It Be Nice”
M. Ward - “You're So Good to Me”
“Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)”
Local Natives - “Let Him Run Wild”
“I Get Around”
Karen Elson - “Caroline, No”
Kesha - “California Girls”
Blondie Chaplin - “Wild Honey”
Wilson Phillips - “In My Room”
Doyle Bramhall II - “Feel Flows”
Boz Scaggs with Bramhall - “Sail On Sailor”
Al Jardine - “Sloop John B.”
Bethany Cosentino and Jardine - “Don't Worry Baby”
Sebu Simonian and Jardine - “Help Me Rhonda”
Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd - “Good Vibrations”
Norah Jones and Gingger Shankar - “Little Bird”
Norah Jones - “God Only Knows”
Ann Wilson - “Warmth of the Sun”
Brian Wilson Band - “Our Prayer”
Brian Wilson, Norah Jones, Boz Scaggs and Al Jardine - “Surfer Girl”
Brian Wilson and ensemble - “Fun, Fun, Fun”