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HEADLINE: An All-star Tribute to Brian Wilson
BYLINE: PHIL GALLO
(Concert special; TNT; Wed. July 4, 8 p.m.)
Filmed at Radio City Music Hall in New York City by TNT, Radio City Entertainment in association with Rachlin-Leaf-Ramone Prods. Executive producers, Brian J. Diamond, Sandy Shapiro; producers, David Leaf, Chip Rachlin; co-producer, Frank Garritano; director, Bruce Gowers; writer, David Leaf; pre-taped packages producer, John Hoffman; production designer, Bruce Rodgers; art director, Joseph Kale; lighting, Simon Miles; musical director, Darian Sahanaja. 2 HOURS. Performers: Harlem Boys Choir, Ricky Martin, Paul Simon, Go-Gos, Carly Simon, David Crosby, Jimmy Webb, Vince Gill, Evan and Jaron, Aimee Mann and Michael Penn, Billy Joel, Darius Rucker, Matthew Sweet, Wilson Phillips, Elton John, Ann and Nancy Wilson, Jubilant Sykes, Brian Wilson.
Presenters: George Martin, Dennis Hopper, Cameron Crowe, Rachel Hunter.
Host: Chazz Palminteri.
Taken back to back, the performances of "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" by Aimee Mann and Michael Penn and "Help Me Rhonda" by Billy Joel telegraph the genius of Beach Boys brainchild Brian Wilson. Mann and Penn invest their own emotional response to the Wilson/Tony Asher work and, without altering the melody, tempo or tenet of the tune, they make it singular and personal. Joel tries to duplicate the record and doesn't quite hit the mark --- but there's no way to stop the sentiment or the energy of the number. While one has to wonder what sort of audience TNT will attract on the Fourth for "An All-star Tribute to Brian Wilson," the cable web has outdone itself with this marvelous package.
The only weak spot comes at the beginning as Ricky Martin does a rickety rendition of "California Girls" that seemingly draws its inspiration from anonymous theme park performers across America. After that, it's clear sailing: Performances are consistently sharp; pre-taped packages get to the heart of the Beach Boys/Brian Wilson saga, rightfully including brothers Carl and Dennis as well as the dark periods; and the presenters give honest, heartfelt speeches that illuminate Wilson's contributions to music and fuel the Wilson fetishists, of which there are many these days, in the TV audience.
Filmmaker Cameron Crowe says he gives a copy of "Pet Sounds" to cast members whenever he makes a movie. "Here's what it's like to live, here's what it's like to grow up," he says, recalling the speech he has given to actors whenever he presses the album into their hands. The concert does a pretty good job of reflecting what he sees in Wilson's greatest work.
While most performers appear solo, one pairing makes for particularly compelling viewing. Vince Gill and David Crosby, both in wonderful voice, do a marvelous take on "Surf's Up" --- wouldn't it be nice if Crosby got Nash to take over the high parts and add it to a CSN set down the road?
Quality perfs are enhanced by Wilson's backup band featuring L.A. pop-rockers the Wondermints and Beach Boy emeritus Jeffrey Foskett on guitar and vocals. Wilson, himself, continues to have that distanced look in his eyes and it can be disarming to those who haven't seen him perform over the last three years. Regardless, he does a fine job on "Heroes and Villains" and then leading sing-alongs of "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "Barbara Ann," "Surfin' USA" and "Fun Fun Fun."
John Hoffman's historical packages are loaded with stellar footage and stills that complement the concert and commentary. Sound quality is on par with the perfs.