The audience sang along Saturday night with vocalists on stage at a packed Lobero Theatre to celebrate Brian Wilson’s birthday and the theater’s reopening after more than a year.
Mr. Wilson, who has a home in Santa Barbara, turned 79 Sunday. While the Beach Boys legend wasn’t seen in the Lobero audience, his presence was felt in his songs, which varied from “Our Prayer,” the powerful a capella notes that open his 2004 “Smile” album (listen to it if you haven’t) to the Beach Boys’ “Surfer Girl.”
Other “Beach Boys’ songs ranged from the emotional “God Only Knows” to the musically complex and thrilling “Good Vibrations.” Throughout the Santa Barbara concert, musical director Sal Leonardo led the ensemble of Brother Sal and The Devil May Care with musicians such as Glen Phillips, Garrison Starr, Will Breman, Chris Pierce, Shane Alexander, Leslie Stevens, Todd O’Keefe, Max Kasch, The Brambles, Jems, Derek Thomas and Dusty Rocherolle.
They were all part of “Songs of Summer: Celebrating Brian Wilson and His Music.”
During the concert, Mr. Leonardo played the Lobero’s Steinway piano with power. His hands bounced freely above the keyboard, and he created a rich, beautiful, fun sound as he performed with the backup band. Just before performing some of the songs, he played quick, bluesy riffs, and they fit the spirit of the night.
Mr. Leonardo also talked about his love for Mr. Wilson’s music, and the energetic pianist, who also sang at times, made the crowd laugh with his spontaneity and humor.
After he erred on singers’ hometowns while introducing them, Mr. Leonardo joked he didn’t even know his own origins.
The music was mostly Mr. Wilson’s songs, although the concert ended with a couple Beach Boys songs not written by Mr. Wilson, including “Kokomo,” from the 1988 movie “Cocktail.” And just before the intermission, the concert featured an inspiring duet of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to commemorate Juneteenth.
The song was written in 1900 in honor of Abraham Lincoln, who signed the Emancipation Proclamation and worked with Congress to ensure adoption of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.
After the intermission came more spontaneity. At one point, Mr. Leonardo loved a duet of Mr. Wilson’s “In My Room” so much that he asked the singers to do it again.
They did, with one vocalist, Glen Phillips of longtime Santa Barbara band Toad the Wet Sprocket, persuading the audience to sing along. The crowd, who were mainly baby boomers who grew up with the Beach Boys, knew all the words.
The vocals stood out throughout the concert, and it was great to hear the women on stage performing songs originally recorded by men. The results were everything from a fresh interpretation of the rhythmic “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” to the upbeat “Be True to Your School.” The latter song was performed by The Brambles, a female duo, who added the nice touch of a ukulele during the beginning before the beat picks up. Before singing, the vocalists proved to be true to their own school by noting they were graduates of Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta.
Jems, a trio of women with a great sound, came dressed in colorful clothes reminiscent of the colorful 1960s, right down to the flowers. At one point, Jems and The Brambles shared the stage together, and during a song’s instrumental interlude, they performed a quick tribute to special 1960s dance steps.
The concert also featured the vocalists talking to the audience about Mr. Wilson and his music.
Chris Pierce, who succeeded as a singer despite some loss of hearing, talked about how he was inspired by Mr. Wilson, who lost hearing in one ear during his youth. Then Mr. Pierce impressed the audience with his performances. Wow, the man can sing!
The crowd was also amazed by the other singers, from Shane Alexander whose hat and coat fit the look of The Beach Boys, to Todd O’Keefe, a young man with powerful vocals.
Overall, it was a night of power, nostalgia, celebration and caring for others. The concert’s ticket proceeds and silent auction of a guitar signed by the musicians raised money for New Beginnings of Santa Barbara.