A bucket-list item happened for me last night. I got to see Brian Wilson perform all of what is widely regarded as the best album of all time, the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” in sequence, along with a lot of other hits (and not-so-hits!).
I went with my Dad, Susan, and my brother. While there, I also met up with some old friends from high school that I don’t see enough of, including the guitarist from the band I was in as a teenager (union jack/Marc Schneider). Didn’t think to do a group shot with the family, but did do a group shot with the friends, which I have stolen from my friend Nik’s Instagram page…
My relationship with Brian Wilson’s music is a little unusual. I described it in brief in the review of the Love & Mercy movie I wrote last year…but there’s more to it (isn’t there always?) There have always been at least a handful of Beach Boys tunes I’ve liked, even if there were years that I denied it because I was in a punk band and I thought it was cool to hate nice things. (There were also years that I claimed I hated the Beatles. Didn’t always make good decisions.) I remember when I was a kid (like under the age of 10) during the Summer where our air-conditioner stopped working so we stayed with Grandma for a little while, there was a commercial on TV for a Beach Boys greatest hits collection. I remember asking if we could get it. Dad, wisely, said that we could get A Beach Boys hits record, but it didn’t have to be THAT one…and of course I was young and an idiot and wanted THAT one… So I never followed up and didn’t own any Beach Boys until I got old enough to by a greatest hits (but not the one from TV) with my own money.
As I said a year ago, I spent most of my Beach Boys fandom as a casual fan, but a much bigger fan of Brian Wilson solo, beginning with his release of “Smile” in 2004. Since seeing the movie last year, I’ve been working to correct the deficit of knowledge on the band itself. Along with getting more and more familiar with the hits, I’ve also been listening to the weird 70s stuff, when it was mostly Carl Wilson’s show. Brian and Co. did a good deal of that stuff at the show, which was a nice surprise. (They did two sets and an encore. Set one was “hits” and album tracks. Set two was all of “Pet Sounds.” The encore was more hits, ending on Brian’s signature piece, “Love & Mercy.”) If you ever want to have the experience of saying, “How can THIS be the Beach Boys?” to yourself, I recommend picking up copies of “Surf’s Up,” “Sunflower,” “Holland,” and “Wild Honey” and just making a night of it.
I’m glad I’ve been on a Beach Boys kick over the last year. Made the show a lot of fun–but I think it would’ve been fun even for the people who only know them from their Full House episodes. “Fun” is the best word for the show. (“Fun, fun, fun” in fact…sorry.) I genuinely can’t remember the last time I had that much pure, free, fun at a show. The Who might’ve come close…but that was more of an emotional journey for me than a celebration… Seeing Brian Wilson was a joy throughout–a celebration of all he’s overcome and the stuff his music has helped me get through. And those songs are just so infectious and filled with so much joy (even the sad ones) that it’s almost impossible to have a bad time to that soundtrack.
The band was great. Fellow Beach Boy Al Jardine accompanied Brian and sang a lot of leads. He still sounds great. There were a couple of points in the night I considered trying to get a “YOU’VE STILL GOT IT!” chant going for him. Jardine’s son Matt is in the band too, playing a little guitar and singing the high-parts Brian isn’t able to hit anymore (no judging–it happens). He did a phenomenal job. And Blondie Chaplin was there too… He’s kind of a cheeseball and seems to think he’s Keith Richards…but whatever, it was fun!
The only thing that wasn’t fun was something I fully expected. The average age of the crowd was probably 483-years-old, and a lot of them had obviously not been to too many concerts. There was a guy behind me having a good time, cheering, letting out “whooooo!” sounds in quiet moments, like ya’ do. People kept turning around and saying shitty things to him and commenting about it like he was being an awful person or something. So Dave and I started joining in with the guy–again, like ‘ya do. At one point a couple several rows in front of us got up and either relocated or left in a huff when the guy behind me let out one too many “whooooos” for their taste. That’s when I shook my head, looked behind me, and saw that the guy whoooooing was in the handicapped section in a wheelchair. So…it was the kind of crowd that has less fun than a guy in a wheelchair and looks down on him for it. At that point I went over to the guy, thanked him and the girl with him for having fun and hooting and hollering and we shook hands probably four or five times and had a good time celebrating being there together. So even the only down-part turned into an up.
…and good God, hearing the guy that wrote “God Only Knows” sing it was a breathtaking moment. I was sitting listening to Brian belt it out and near the end of the song, I realized that I’d had my hands folded in a prayer-pose the whole time. It was a spiritual moment, man. Even the whooooo-less among us felt it as the whole crowd rose to their feet at the end of the tune. Brian, being Brian, after the ovation went on for a while eventually said, “please be seated” and got a good laugh out of the crowd. The memory of him doing that song is one I’ll carry with me as a warm feeling for a long time.
And talking of Brian himself… There have been reviewers throughout the tour (and probably from last night as well) who have pointed out that he’s showing his age. He’s not hitting all the notes. He’s not even TRYING for some of the notes (ha ha). He’s a little visibly shaky. He seems to not be very energetic and just sits behind the piano all night…etc etc… Well…some of that’s true. But it’s also true that he’s 74 years old. More than that, it’s not your average 74, either. It’s a 74 that has seen extensive drug use. It’s a 74 that saw both of his brothers die; one WAY too young. It’s a 74 that was held a psychological and physical prisoner to a deranged “physician” (Eugene Landy) who kept him virtually catatonic until he needed him to dance in the spotlight. It’s a 74 that before THAT got hit so hard by his dad when he was younger that he lost hearing in one ear. And I could go on… The point is, he’s still DOING IT. It’s shocking that of the three Wilsons, he’s the one still living. If the 70s and 80s didn’t take him, the 90s should have just from getting off all the drugs Landy had him on ALONE. But he’s somehow still with us, and he’s somehow still playing the best album anyone’s ever written. How DARE anyone criticize him for not being a tenor anymore?
There is so much more I want to say about what seeing Brian Wilson meant to me. However, I have absolutely no idea how to say it. Even though as a fan, you don’t KNOW your musical heroes, you do get to experience something very intimate in hearing them perform their songs that mean so much to you. Maybe that’s why I found myself unknowingly praying during “God Only Knows.” Maybe only He does.
There are still some dates left on the tour. If you can get to a show, do it. And buy one of the shirts. They’re neat.
Like I said, I got to cross off a bucket list item last night. And I got to do that with people I celebrate being with. It was a good night. Hope you have one too.
Love & Mercy to you.