Brian Wilson dazzles with “Pet Sounds”
Legend and top-notch band deliver memorable concert
By Steve Metsch
It was during his singing of “God Only Knows,” a song which Beach Boy Al Jardine introduced by calling it “one of the greatest songs written in the 20th Century, if not the greatest.” No argument here.
Wilson, his voice sometimes showing the strain of 50-plus years in show business, still delivered an impassioned, poignant performance of the beautiful song. The crowd clearly appreciated the effort, giving Wilson, 75, a rousing standing ovation until he asked them to sit down.
The concert was part of a long tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” album. Actually, it’s been 51 years, but who cares? If you don’t own a copy, buy one, sit back and prepared to be blown away by the pop brilliance of Brian Wilson.
I found the CD a few years years ago at a resale record store in St. Louis. I’d heard a few songs before, the big hits, but it’s the other songs that really grab a listener with lyrics that come straight from the heart,
The “Pet Sounds” album was played in order during the second set of the show.
As he wisely did at times during the show, Wilson deferred to other singers like Matt Jardine, Al’s son, who has a beautiful falsetto comparable to one Wilson had years ago. Matt Jardine sang the album’s opening song, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” with Wilson at the piano keyboard. It worked out well with that and other songs.
One of the many highlights was “I’m Waiting For the Day,” the best Beach Boys song you’ve probably never heard. The band was in fine form as Wilson deftly handled the lyrics.
The heartbreaking “Caroline, No” closes the album and – perhaps to keep longtime fans happy – yes, we heard the train and dog that are heard on the album.
Al Jardine, who’s been through 55 years with Wilson, played guitar and his voice, at 75 years, is seemingly ageless. He sounded terrific all night, especially on “Sloop John B” and “I Know There’s An Answer.” He also has an engaging personality and seemed to be having a blast on stage.
Wilson seemed to be in fine spirits, too, after he shuffled out onto the stage. My wife said “Brian looks frail.” And he did at times. But once he got busy performing, any physical ailment faded away. I got a kick when, before starting the “Pet Sounds” album,’ he promised the band would rock the crowd afterwards.
Actually, the band was rocking all night long. Blondie Chaplin, who has tours of duty with the Beach Boys and Rolling Stones, kicked up the energy level playing guitar and singing Beach Boys songs “Feel Flows” and “Wild Honey” – which turned into a marvelous extended jam session.
While Chaplin did a good job on “Sail On, Sailor,” I was hoping Wilson would take over the vocals, recalling his biting off the lyrics during the Beach Boys’ 50th anniversary show at the Chicago Theatre in 2012.
If you wanted to hear classic Beach Boys songs, you weren’t disappointed. The band opened with “California Girls,” “Dance, Dance, Dance,” “I Get Around,” “Shut Down” and “Little Deuce Coupe,” barely pausing to catch its breath.
Introducing “Surfer Girl,” Wilson said here’s one I wrote in 1961, 55 or 56 years ago.” Think about that for a moment. And the song sounded as pretty as ever. So did “In My Room.” You could almost picture a teenaged Wilson sitting his room, writing the song.
Matt Jardine was superb on “Don’t Worry Baby,” pinch hitting for Wilson.
Some rarities were heard, like “I’d Love Just Once to See You” and the rocking’ “Susie Cincinnati.” It was kind of sad when Wilson introduce “Darlin’ ” with “I wrote this for my brother, Carl. He died a few years ago.” Brian Wilson, whose brother and Beach Boys drummer Dennis died years ago, seems to have a good rapport with Jardine, who stood beside the piano all night long.
Nothing was mentioned about the other surviving Beach Boy, singer Mike Love, a cousin of the Wilson boys who unceremoniously booted Wilson and Jardine from the band shortly after they had reunited for the 50th tour.
Love certainly wasn’t missed when the band wowed the crowd with “Good Vibrations,” still stunning 51 years after its release and the first song in a six-song encore that had the fans on their feet, singing along with “Help Me, Rhonda,” “Barbara Ann,” “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and “Fun, Fun Fun.”
They closed with Wilson at the piano, singing “Love and Mercy,” a song released in 1988 with lyrics that still hit home. That’s no surprise after an evening that featured 38 ageless songs from one of the best songwriters ever.
After the show, we ran into a man who was there solo. He had won tickets to the show, as we had, and had debated not attending. In the end, he decided he had to attend “because it’s Brian Wilson.”
“I’m glad I did. This was amazing,” he said.
Yes, it was.