The last time I saw Brian Wilson in person was April 14, 1973. He showed up 3 hours late to entertain me at Pirate’s World, a now-defunct amusement park in Dania Beach, FL. I was 17. Brian was 30. Creatively, the Beach Boys had already been declared dead by then, relegated to Oldies status. The fact they were playing Pirate’s World may have been a tipoff. Brian had already peaked, achieving full musical genius status, and had begun to enter his couple-decades-long descent into drugs, depression and general estrangement from humanity.
I’m at that age now where you do the math on everyone, followed by an analysis of how you’re doing relative to any particular person. Brian was 13 years older than me then. He still is. Whatever resiliency and luck enabled him to emerge from the darkness to be able to be out there right now brilliantly recreating his own music, making me way more happy to see him these 42 years later…. I’m thankful for it and so, so glad for the moment this week in Durham, NC at The Carolina Theater, as was the News & Observer’s David Menconi. “Ultimately, the songs themselves were the real star of the show, tapping into an almost primal sense of music as gateway to a private emotional cosmos. It was awe-inspiring to take in the set list and marvel at how many inarguable icons of Western culture Wilson is responsible for. The closing pre-encore stretch was “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” to “Sloop John B” to “God Only Knows” to “Good Vibrations,” and they were all still transportive from first note to last. Anyone there whose heart wasn’t breaking could not possibly have had one.”
No, he can’t hit the high notes that fifty-year-old falsetto demands, not that he tries. So? Brian saunters out in his Del Boca Vista shirt, plants himself in his chair in front of the Steinway and barely moves for 90 minutes. Occasionally the arms wave in unison. But you don’t care. It is the Creator, Brian Wilson, who has assembled such an array of talent around him, including Beach Boy Al Jardine and Al’s son Matt (who is the the falsetto designated hitter… and he’s great!) that such difficult harmonies as I Get Around, Help Me Rhonda and Wouldn’t It Be Nice were utterly pristine. The live recreation of extremely studio-dependent records such as Good Vibrations and God Only Knows, which Brian reminds you is the greatest of his great songs, takes 13 people….. and it works near-perfectly. No French horn and you ain’t got God Only Knows. They had it. Jardine’s male version of “And Then He Kissed Me,” the Crystals/Phil Spector classic, was a great selection and salute to the era beyond Brian. Jason Rubin’s Fuse Concert Review expands…. There are some artists where in concert you never know what you’ll get. Bob Dylan and Van Morrison, for example, are as capable of giving unnerving performances as they are at delivering mesmerizing ones. Brian Wilson is a little different. His unpredictability is itself highly predictable.
If you’ve seen Brian Wilson lately on tv, you know he is a slow motion version of his former self. Don’t do drugs, kids. While physically Brian’s 73 going on 93, when you are privileged to visit Mt. Rushmore. you simply marvel in the grandeur and the eternal brilliance you’re witnessing. I’m sure Thomas Jefferson couldn’t hit the high notes when he was 73, either.
BONUS SNARK! Listen closely and tell me these guys aren’t singing, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Bomb IRAN! Just like John McCain back during the campaign in 2007!!