Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Brian Wilson in Boston 11/19/08

As legends go, it doesn’t get much bigger than Brian Wilson. For years the man wrote for, arranged, and fronted the Beach Boys, transforming them from an early boy band singing about surfing, cars and girls to the group that created Pet Sounds…while still singing about surfing, cars and girls. After decades of mental illness and drug abuse during which he barely left his room (check out the Barenaked Ladies’ “Brian Wilson”) his star is currently the highest its been since the 60’s. Having finally released the long-delayed SMiLE in 2005, and an even-better follow up this year in That Lucky Old Sun, Wilson is riding – or surfing – high.

Having toured behind That Lucky Old Sun for a couple years now, Wilson’s first
remark upon entering the stage (at 7:30 exactly – the guy’s got a bedtime) was about how tired the group was. Though undoubtedly true, no sign of exhaustion came across in the performance. Though late November in Boston is hardly the ideal setting for Beach Boys songs, the Orpheum Theater was up dancing from the opening chords of “California Girls” through the “Good Vibrations” theremin that closed the first half. Called “the best touring band in the world” by Paul McCartney, the 10-piece backing group cluttered the stage with keyboards, guitars, mics, and more keyboards. Though Brian’s voice has aged over the years, preventing him from hitting those dog-ears high notes he once did, the gorgeous voices of the group more than made up, each member adding to harmonies that sounded even more complex than on the original recordings.

Most of the hits out of the way, in the second half Wilson charged into a full performance of the new album. Though I’m sure some people were hoping for more sing-alongs, the crowd seemed respectful and appreciative throughout the performance of his latter-day masterpiece. Wilson proved any doubters that he could still make you want to take your best girl to the dance floor with “Good Kind of Love,” then make you tear up with “Midnight's Another Day.” At the same time, Wilson expanded his repertoire beyond crooning harmonies and bouncing keyboards to tackle mariachi on “Mexican Girl” and unaccompanied quasi-rap in “Live Let Live.” Even the spoken-word pieces received the full band treatment, accompanied by cute animated videos projected behind the band. Wilson’s ode to L.A., That Lucky Old Sun proved that years of absence did not destroy the man who wrote Pet Sounds and sales of the album at the merch table afterwards appeared the be brisk.

After the elaborate presentation and thematic song landscapes of the second half, jumping back to such lightweight material as “Barbara Ann” and “Surfin’ USA” for the encore seemed a little abrupt, but seeing Wilson snap on his trademark bass for the first time of the night (he'd been behind a keyboard up until then, only touching it rarely) made a few more oldies worth it. After five songs and a bow, the bad reemerged a second time for “Love and Mercy,” the first non-Beach Boys song of the night (minus the new album of course) to close things out on a more serious note. Wilson proved himself more than the nostalgia act many expected, having assembled an ace group of musicians to bring his elaborate musical wonderlands to life.

SET LIST
California Girls
Girl Don't Tell Me
Dance, Dance, Dance
Surfer Girl
In My Room
Salt Lake City
All Summer Long
Please Let Me Wonder
Add Some Music To Your Day
The Little Girl I Once Knew
Do You Wanna Dance?
Do It Again
Sail On Sailor
Marcella
I Get Around
Wouldn't It Be Nice?
God Only Knows
Good Vibrations
-intermission-
That Lucky Old Sun
-first encore-
Johnny B. Goode
Help Me, Rhonda
Barbara Ann
Surfin' USA
Fun, Fun, Fun
-second encore-
Love and Mercy

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