Sunday, January 28, 2007

Brian Wilson in concert

Brian Wilson is old.

It can be easy to forget considering everything the man's been though. He made it back through the looking glass but he's still human — and he's still 66. He walks with a bit of a slouch, carries a bit of a gut and his face looks a bit like the emperor's in "Star Wars."

So on Friday night at the 4th and B, Wilson wasn't a band leader a much as a conductor. He sang but rarely touched the keyboard in front of him. Instead, he clapped along and pointed left and right, forward and back, to cue the 10 other musicians through a mixed set, then "Pet Sounds" in order, then an encore of Beach Boys surf classics. He sneaked glances at a monitor attached to his keyboard that probably showed the lyrics just in case. His voice has lost maybe half a notch, but it was still strong and instantly recognizable.

And while the concert was not a life-changing experience, the songs were written by Brian Wilson and performed by a band he put together, making for a show that never disappinted.

Only got two photos from the balcony before security told me to stop, so apologies for the blurriness. Highlights from the first set included "Surfer Girl" and a "Good Vibrations" that included the mystical, magical theremin. The other highlight was Al Jardine, the original Beach Boy who wasn't related to the Wilsons. Standing to the right of Wilson, he sounded exactly like he did 40 years ago, and in jeans and a striped shirt he looked like the Beach Boys did in all those black-and-white photos.

I'm not sure if the "Pet Sounds" set would have been as strong without Jardine there to do his vocals (most of "Sloop John B." is him, although he's all over that album). The band re-created all the music down to the bicycle bell and horn in "You Believe in Me," but much of it sounded rushed and slightly stiff, with Wilson keeping an eye on his keyboard monitor. The band didn't seem comfortable enough with the songs to just hang loose.

The encore was where the generation gap really showed. Classics like "T-Bird" and "Barbara Ann" kept the 40-something set on its feet, but I wondered if the 20-somethings, including a keyboard player and a female vocalist on stage, first heard "Help Me Rhonda" when it was used in a Rodda paint commercial. It's a kick to see those classics live, but they lack the timeless themes in "Pet Sounds," which only shows how important that album is.

Sometime around 10, as Jardine sang and the band played on, Wilson let out a massive yawn. While it was odd symbolism for a man who famously spent part of his life in bed, it didn't seem out of place. His band was doing its job perfectly, and, besides, it was probably Wilson's bed time.

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