Date / Venue: Saturday March 27th, 2016 - Civic Theatre, Auckland
Last night was magical. When Brian Wilson, the talented arranger, composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and one vocalist of many in the legendary Beach Boys finally shuffled on stage, there was little fanfare at first – people in shock at witnessing the formation of some brilliant, familiar ghost. Then you settled to him, very complacent, Svengali-like on that piano stool, closing his eyes, controlling it all with his beautiful mind.
His band, which stretched over 10 members, included fellow Beach Boy Al Jardine, his son Matt Jardine, a very animated fellow on percussion and ‘Pet Sounds’ beeps and bonks, and ex-touring Stone Blondie Chaplin. They opened with a twofer from Smile, ‘Our Prayer’ and ‘Heroes and Villains’. Those first hymn-like moments nearly rendered this reviewer to a blubbery mess. This is, after all, the legend Brian Wilson – the best to do it, arguably eschewed by Lennon and Macca. It truly sunk in that we were witnessing greatness on the largest scale.
The highs were so high in that first set – ‘Don’t Worry, Baby’, ‘California Girls’, ‘In My Room’, ‘Surfer Girl’, an Al Jardine medley including ‘Wake the World’, that it seemed nothing else could top it. But, of course, the next set was Pet Sounds in full, the 1966 masterstroke that blew the world’s collective mind. Famously, Pet Sounds was written in part as a reaction to the ‘completeness’ of 1965’s Rubber Soul. The Beatles then wrote Revolver and Sgt Peppers to regain the crown. Suddenly, this propelled the introverted Brian Wilson into the stratosphere as a great, a serious artist who could offer more than those damn surfing tunes. His struggles post-Pet Sounds are well-documented.
“Heck, it might’ve been the best song I ever wrote!” Wilson joked, introducing ‘God Only Knows’. Yes, that song is untouchable, but there are other often forgotten masterpieces on Pet Sounds – the instrumental lushness of ‘Let’s Go Away for a While’, the big, brash ‘I’m Waiting for the Day’, the stark, amazing ‘Don’t Talk, Put Your Head on my Shoulder’. The hits felt like bonuses, the biggest pop of the night belonging to ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice?’, ‘Sloop John B’ and the closer ‘Caroline, No’.
Eventually, Wilson and the band came back on stage with an encore of all those great early hits; ‘Surfin USA’, ‘Fun Fun Fun’ and ‘Help Me, Rhonda’ plus the later ‘Good Vibrations’ and a poignant ‘Love and Mercy’ summing up a bafflingly great career.
Did I mention this guy was great? Well, though he can’t hit the same notes, the same falsetto, Wilson was in surprisingly great voice. His introductory and mid-song banter was reduced to “Here’s the next tune, it’s a ballad”, but the childlike quality of Wilson was endearing. Having seen the biopic Love and Mercy last year, you may begin to understand why he acts that way. It’s a blessing he is still touring at all. It is also a shame this will be his last big tour, but hell, we saw him. And he didn’t disappoint, buoyed by a stellar band and stellar songs. Sail on, Sailor.
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