Friday night at a full Manship Theatre, Chynna Phillips and Carnie and Wendy Wilson, the trio known as Wilson Phillips, performed their hits from the early 1990s as well as a sampling of ’60s classics created by their parents, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and John and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas.
It was a show of melody, harmony, wonderful songs and nostalgia stemming from two eras of American pop. Phillips and the Wilson sisters, women in their 40s who’ve been friends since childhood, also engaged in a lot of sisterly ribbing and clowning.
Phillips quickly emerged as the most spotlight-loving lady in the group. Her stage attire included a glittering miniskirt. She usually stood center stage while the comparatively demure Wendy Wilson stood to her right and especially clowning Carnie Wilson to Phillips’ left.
Phillips sang lead for opening song “Release Me,” one of three Top 10 singles from the trio’s self-titled 1990 debut album. As the singer, 22 when “Release Me” hit the charts, poured passion and energy into her performance, the 23 years since the song first appeared melted away.
Distinct as the women’s personalities were onstage Friday, their voices came together in that natural Wilson Phillips blend.
Genetics play into that for the Wilsons but the three women also grew up singing together, following the examples of Phillips’ parents and the Wilsons’ father, uncles (Carl and Dennis) and cousin (Mike Love) in the Beach Boys.
A group that can recount its own platinum-selling history in music as well as its parents’ Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-level accomplishments, Wilson Phillips took time for some stories and reminiscing.
“We like to pretend we’re in our living room when we sing,” Carnie Wilson said of their childhood. “We sang and performed for whoever came over to the house.”
Phillips mentioned that her father would write songs through the night. One such session produced “California Dreamin’.” She took the lead for Wilson Phillips’ performance of the song and mentioned that the day of the group’s Baton Rouge show, Aug. 30, was her late father’s birthday.
Carnie Wilson sang lead for the Beach Boys’ exquisite “God Only Knows,” originally sung by her late uncle, Carl.
“I always sing it for Carl,” she said. “He’s an angel who’s looking out for us.”
Despite some poignant moments, the Wilson Phillips show was broadly entertaining. The ladies, their songs and Rat Pack-style rapport may be ripe for Las Vegas.
Carnie Wilson, at Phillips’ urging, did her impressions of Cher, Aaron Neville and the Bee Gees. She also did a perfect imitation of the nasal chirp so characteristic of modern-day girls and young women.
The evening’s fun factor kicked up another notch with an Abba medley featuring a stage full of guest dancers from the audience.
The nearly 90-minute show’s encore contained an intimate performance of the Beach Boys’ “In My Room” and Wilson Phillips’ own “Hold On,” that sunny pop anthem featured so pivotally in the 2011 movie hit, “Bridesmaids.” Empowerment has never sounded so sweet.