Only an artist as influential and legendary as the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson could inspire a diverse lineup featuring Heart’s Ann Wilson, ex-Civil Wars singer Joy Williams, the Flaming Lips, M. Ward, Boz Scaggs, Norah Jones, Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino, Devendra Banhart, the Punch Brothers, Danny Masterson, singing supermodel Karen Elson, Capital Cities’ Sebu Simonian, Doyle Bramhall II, former Edward Sharpe associate Jade Castrinos, and even Kesha to gather under one club roof.
But that’s exactly what happened Monday night, at Los Angeles’s 1,200-capacity Fonda Theater, for “Brian Fest: A Night to Celebrate the Music of Brian Wilson" — an all-star event benefiting charities Sweet Relief and the Jameson Neighborhood Fund.
California girl Kesha, who’s been laying low during her nasty legal battle with her former producer Dr. Luke, was an unexpected show highlight Monday. A last-minute addition to the bill after the Killers’ Brandon Flowers had to drop out, the pop star sounded in fine vocal form on “California Girls,” looked fabulously fit and healthy, and seemed utterly delighted to be onstage.
The also-reclusive Brian Wilson himself was on hand to sing a few classic tunes, as were his doting daughters Wendy and Carnie, who performed “In My Room” with their Wilson Phillips bandmate, Chynna Phillips. As the Wilson daughters serenaded their father, they called out, “We love you, Daddy!” Carnie admitted she was nervous, not just to sing in front of her dad, but because she’d just finished conversing backstage with one of her idols, Ann Wilson (no relation, of course). Ann later came out to sing an exquisite version of “Warmth of the Sun.”
Another highlight came when Wilson’s obvious psychedelic successors, Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips, covered the Beach Boys’ hallucinogenic epic “Good Vibrations,” with Coyne wearing a Pepto-pink tunic emblazoned with the block letters “WE LOVE YOU BRIAN” and carrying a massive Mylar balloon that expressed the same sentiment. Soon concertgoers were tossing that balloon around the venue, beachball-style — a fitting Beach Boys tribute, indeed.
Other standout performances included Cosentino doing her all-time favorite song, “Don’t Worry Baby,” with founding Beach Boy Al Jardine; bluegrass band the Punch Brothers bringing some Brotherly harmonies to “Surf’s Up”; Banhart in a carrot costume, flanked by backup singers dressed as giant ears of corn, for (what else?) “Vegetables”; and Norah Jones, who also happened to be celebrating her birthday this evening, receiving the gift of arguably the best Beach Boys song assignment, “God Only Knows.”
The two-hour-plus concert wrapped with a Brian Wilson mini-set, first with Jones, Jardine, Scaggs, and longtime Wilson collaborator Blondie Chaplin joining him for “Surfer Girl,” then everyone bounding out for “Surfin’ USA,” “Barbara Ann,” and the fittingly titled “Fun, Fun, Fun.”
Brian Wilson fans can keep the celebration going this year: His 11th studio album, No Pier Pressure, is out next week, and his biopic, Love and Mercy, comes out internationally June 5.