Wilson Phillips

04 June 2011

Cannery Casino, North Las Vegas, NV


Riding on a recent, significant resurgence of popularity sparked by their cameo in the film Bridesmaids, Wendy Wilson, Chynna Phillips, and Carnie Wilson were able to sell out the indoor/outdoor arena called the Club at the Cannery Casino, in the NE part of the Las Vegas metro area.

On the drive to North Las Vegas, I was listening to their sophomore CD Shadows & Light, released 19 years ago.  I continue to be stunned at how well their voices blend together, in large part because they all grew up together and started signing almost before they could talk, but also because of sonic chemistry:

Chynna has an infectiously likeable, emotional, slightly nasally voice, standing out much like Mike Love does as lead singer of the Beach Boys; Wendy offers a razor-sharp, almost childlike sweetness to the mix; Carnie provides a smooth, low depth to stabilize the blend between the three.

Perhaps just as key to the harmony is the chemistry between their personalities: Carnie is definitely the spokesperson for the group--sometimes bossy, outrageous, and hilarious to the point of being over the top--the gal has no pride sometimes; Chynna is the even-keeled positive charge to the vibe, looking to both sides to inspire the best of her teammates; Wendy is the almost painfully shy, vulnerable figure that can send chills when she takes the lead vocal.

In the front row with a couple of my friends, we got to see the backing band walk out before the show began. I immediately recognized the keyboard player, Kiki Ebsen, whom I first saw in 2000 opening for, and backing, Christopher Cross. Some trivia, she is the daughter of the late actor Buddy Ebsen. She's very kind on the ears and eyes, and can tickle a keyboard comfortably and competently.

The show began with the three-part a capella prelude to "Release Me", followed by the three principles walking out to sing the rest of the song with the band.

Next on the set list was a rare track from the 1997 Carnie/Wendy duo album called The Wilsons, called "Monday Without You", which by the way sounded better with Chynna eagerly adding her distinctive contribution.

Wilson Phillips also grabbed "Reason To Believe" and "You're In Love" from their debut album, complimenting producer Glen Ballard for the brilliance of writing an unique lyric that involves praising an ex-partner for having a new love. Chynna thanked the audience for making the song their third (3rd) #1 single.

WP drew several tracks from their 2004 covers album California, namely: "Old Man" by Neil Young, Beach Boys originals "Dance Dance Dance" and "In My Room", and "Already Gone" by the Eagles.

Only one track from Shadows & Light, "You Won't See Me Cry", complete with the amazing-sounding complex harmonies featured on the studio version.

Carnie & Wendy dedicated the John/Taupin classic "Daniel" to their stepfather of the same name. Carnie also recognized her mother, Marilyn Rovell, as well as touring Beach Boy Billy Hinsche, sitting several rows behind us.

Covers of ABBA's "Dancing Queen" and Mamas & Papas "California Dreaming" were amazingly competitive with the smash hit studio versions from decades ago.

In between songs, Carnie told several stories, including one about how Billy Baldwin and Chynna first met on an airplane, later exchanging phone numbers in baggage claim. Chynna candidly added that she has been with Billy for 20 years, some better than others.

Chynna wished her mother, Michelle, a happy birthday, and paid tribute to her late father John, describing him as a great songwriter, and expressing how much she misses him. I have to give a hat's off to Chynna, for praising both of them with exceptional dignity, especially in light of the recently somewhat unpleasant press surrounding their family.

Wendy taking center stage to lead with her vocals on "Impulsive" highlighted the second half of the show.

The overall feeling of the show was surreal and yet real at the same time. Nature couldn't have created a more magically well-fit puzzle that stands stronger than the sum of the pieces. Chynna, Carnie, & Wendy, all now in their 40s, seem to have the strong sensibility to cherish the miracle of truly what they have together.

[****1/2] - Steven T.

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