New York’s Radio City Music Hall was filled with the sounds of sunny California last night (March 29), as TNT taped of the fifth installment in its Masters Series, An All-Star Tribute To Brian Wilson.
The Beach Boys mastermind, repeatedly toasted by his peers as a “modern musical genius,” added a smattering of his own performances throughout the inspired tribute to his four-decade career. All evening, Wilson’s songs were performed by his touring band (featuring members of the Wondermints), along with scores of celebrity guests and the Radio City Orchestra.
Among the guests were Heart, Elton John, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, David Crosby, Aimee Mann, the Go-Go’s, Ricky Martin, Vince Gill, and Matthew Sweet. They performed songs spanning Wilson’s heyday with the group he helped found, from the first song the Beach Boys ever recorded, “Surfer Girl” (given an acoustic rendition by Simon), to later tracks like 1973’s “Sail On Sailor” (soulfully performed by Sweet and Darius Rucker) and 1974’s “Surf’s Up” (taken on by a spirited trio of Crosby, Gill, and venerable singer/songwriter Jimmy Webb).
The climax of the evening was a full performance of the Beach Boys’ landmark 1966 album “Pet Sounds,” considered by many to be one of the greatest accomplishments of the recording era. The all-star guests took turns on vocals for the album’s tracks, backed by Wilson’s 10-piece band and the orchestra.
Some of the evening’s other highlights included a take on “You’re So Good To Me” by Wilson Phillips, the trio featuring Wilson’s daughters Wendy and Carnie as well as Chynna Phillips, daughter of John and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas. It was the first time the group had sung together on stage in over a decade, and they dedicated the tune to the memory of Phillips’ father, who passed away March 18.
The tribute was hosted by actor Chazz Palminteri, and also featured three pre-recorded visual segments highlighting different aspects of Wilson’s career. Actor Dennis Hopper introduced and narrated a segment portraying Wilson as a “survivor” by detailing his many hardships, including physical abuse suffered as a child, mental illness, and the deaths of his two brothers and bandmates, Dennis and Carl Wilson. Director Cameron Crowe (“Almost Famous”) and legendary producer Sir George Martin presented similar segments.
After the “Pet Sounds” performance, Wilson returned to the stage in front of his band, and invited all the night’s guest participants to join him. With the crowd on its feet, he led the entire ensemble through a medley of Beach Boys classics “Barbara Ann,” “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” and “Fun, Fun, Fun,” as such notable groupings as Joel, John, and Simon gathered around microphones to dance and harmonize together.
The evening’s festivities will be broadcast on TNT July 4.