This much anticipated concert date finally rolled around last night and what a night it was. An authentic musical genius, Brian Wilson, founder of The Beach Boys, performing in it's entirety, one of the greatest rock and roll albums of all time, "Pet Sounds", to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of it's release. Throw in the accompaniment of fellow Beach Boy Al Jardine, and a terrific ten piece band, and what you got was an evening that far exceeded every expectation that I had when I walked into the Benedum last night.
Brian Wilson's story is well known. A founder and the musical master behind The Beach Boys, Wilson withdrew from touring with the band when he had an anxiety attack when traveling on an airplane. He then went into the studio to create the masterpiece, Pet Sounds. No one knew it at the time that it was masterpiece. It was only a modest, if that, commercial success when it was released, but as the years went by, it became elevated in the pantheon of rock and roll albums. (No less than Paul McCartney has called it perhaps the greatest album of all time.) Wilson continued to withdraw, had artistic disagreements with his band mates, became drug dependent and paranoid, fell under the influence of a Svengali-like doctor, and became pretty much of a mess. His story did have a happy ending and was well told in the 2015 movie, "Love and Mercy", which I highly recommend.
Anyway, the concert last night was tremendous. Can Wilson sing like he did in his Beach Boys hey-day? No, of course he can't, what seventy-four year old singer can? Yet his singing of the entire Pet Sounds album last night was mesmerizing. He would sing the songs, and when it came time for the trademark Beach Boys high notes and falsettos, those portions of the song were sung by vocalist Matt Jardine, Al's son. These trade offs were done seamlessly, and they contributed to the magic of the performance. It was beautiful.
The night began with a one hour set that mixed some Beach Boys standards as well as some of the "Smile" songs, and featured a number of the individual band members. Highlights included Matt Jardine singing "Don't Worry Baby", and Wilson singing "God Only Knows", which led to a mid-set standing ovation.
The second set was the Pet Sounds performance, which, as I have stated, was simply amazing.
(Photo courtesy of Dan Bonk)
It was the encore, featuring Wilson and Jardine, that shook the rafters of the Benedum and had the crowd on its feet the entire time. "Good Vibrations", "Help Me, Rhonda", "Surfin' USA", "Barbara Ann", and "Fun, Fun, Fun". I mean, how could it get much better than that?
At the risk of sounding like a total fanboy, I don't think that I can overstate what it felt like to actually see and hear Brian Wilson perform live and person. The term "genius" is passed around too easily and too often, but I think that it is totally appropriate to use it when speaking of Brian Wilson. He has led a tortured life, and much of that is evident in his somewhat wooden stage presence. He shuffles when he walks, and he talks very little between songs, but when the music plays and he begins to sing, even at the age of 74, the magic is there. I feel very fortunate that I am now able to say that "Yeah, I saw Brian Wilson."
I will close this post the same way that Wilson closed his show last night: with a remarkable performance of "Love and Mercy".