The irony was inescapable. On Jan. 28, Brian Wilson’s daughters, Carnie and Wendy, wowed a star-studded audience as they performed with their smash-hit group, Wilson Phillips, at the American Music Awards show in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, across town at Hollywood’s trendy China Club, Wilson himself — the severely troubled 48-year-old guru of the Beach Boys — made a rare live appearance, singing what might have passed as lounge versions of Beach Boys classics for a generally inattentive crowd.
Wilson’s set was poignant, though frequently uncomfortable. His band included some of L.A.’s hottest musicians, among them the past year’s most in-demand producer, Don Was. Wilson began with the Beach Boys’ ”Surfer Girl,” visibly straining to hit some of the high notes. Later he invited ”anyone with a guitar and amp” to come onstage and ”join the biggest jam in the history of the world.” That sounded like a joke — but he honestly looked puzzled when no one stepped forward.
There were magic moments, including a heartbreaking take on the Beach Boys’ ”In My Room,” which will always rank as the shy, awkward Wilson’s most touching plaint. He sang one new song, ”Spirit of Rock & Roll,” from his in-progress second solo album, which is tentatively titled Sweet Insanity and which will feature a duet with Bob Dylan.
After the show, Wilson said he felt ”loved and accepted, which I don’t feel often in my life.” His controversial therapist, Eugene Landy, who — or so charge some of Wilson’s associates — turned him into a virtual prisoner, was nowhere in sight. Added a veteran rock photographer: ”Fifteen years ago, he couldn’t walk ) and talk at the same time. I think the fact he actually got up in front of an audience and performed is a miracle.”