Brian Wilson and his band @ Benaroya Hall, Seattle 12th July 2015
One of the undisputed geniuses in popular music’s history, Brian Wilson has an undeniable aura around him. The Beach Boys legend is revered by young and old alike, as illustrated by the crowd at Seattle’s spectacular Benaroya Hall for his latest tour stop promoting No Pier Pressure.
A part of his musical legend and eventful – and often tragic – life has been chronicled in the impressive biopic Love & Mercy recently, and with the 50th anniversary of Pet Sounds upon us next year, Wilson’s star is still shining brightly, despite his health struggles and advancing years.
All this coupled with the fact that this could be his last ever tour (certainly the European leg will be) means the anticipation of a significant occasion in the Hall is tangible.
But Wilson and his band still have plenty to bring besides nostalgia for aging surfers, and boy did they illustrate that tonight.
Backed by old friend and fellow Beach Boy Al Jardine, his talented son Matthew and a host of other players including guitarist Blondie Chaplin, Wilson’s band does not disappoint.
The opening act for the night is the cult folk singer Rodriguez, the subject of a biopic of sorts himself, in the shape of documentary Searching For Sugar Man.
Rodriguez’s selection as support act was an interesting but welcome one, given both his relatively low profile in America and the fact that his politically charged folk is not to everyone’s taste.
That said, there are enough of his considerable cult audience in attendance, as illustrated by the t-shirts emblazoned with his name in the venue.
Like Wilson, Rodriguez looks increasingly frail, but still impressed the audience with his friendly stage banter and not insignificant talent, performing rousing editions of ‘Inner City Blues’ and ‘Sugar Man.’
It wasn’t long after Rodriguez was helped off stage that Wilson and his band entered the fray, and the main course, so to speak, could be enjoyed.
As 73-year-old Wilson clambered behind his white grand piano the roof of Benaroya Hall almost blew off. He remained there throughout the whole performance, yet seemed to appreciate the uninhibited love the audience was giving him.
The show started with a lovely rendition of the A Capella ‘Our Prayer’ from the Smile sessions. It was a powerful start, the
band’s vocal harmonies on the money right from the beginning. Following the lead of Wilson’s 2004 Smile album, they then segued straight into a brilliant take on ‘Heroes and Villains’.
Given his health problems and age, it was not surprising to see Wilson pass on much of the singing duties (particularly the highest notes) to others in the band, namely his long-time Beach Boys pal Al Jardine and his über talented son, Matt. The latter illustrated his impressive singing ability throughout the enjoyable evening, effectively on hand to deal with the most demanding falsettos, which he did with gusto.
The set was well-balanced between crowd pleasing surf rock hits from their early 1960’s period (‘California Girls’, ‘I Get Around’, ‘Little Deuce Coupe’) and the more emotionally resonant cuts from the Smile period and beyond, (‘In My Room’) taking in his latest, collaboration heavy LP No Pier Pressure too. The Beach Boys’ hit ballad ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ featured a stunning solo from the junior Jardine.
Blondie Chaplin has proved a welcome addition to the touring band, his charisma and classy guitar solos wooing the Seattle audience.
Of course, the night wouldn’t be acceptable for many in the audience without Brian and the band visiting the classic Pet Sounds. The audience had to wait patiently, but when the opening chords of ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ hit the elation was obvious. Matt Jardine again illustrated his vocal prowess on this classic number.
A sing-along ‘Sloop John B,’ followed before the moving spiritual ‘God Only Knows’ and eerie, Theremin- laced pop of the classic ‘Good Vibrations.’ If it had ended there and then, there could have been no complaints. But a stunning encore featuring ‘Help Me Rhonda,’ ‘Barbara Ann,’ ‘Surfin’ USA,’ and ‘Fun Fun Fun’ meant the night was even more memorable for the lucky folk in attendance.
Even M. Ward – of She & Him and solo fame who plays on Wilson’s new record – entered the fray during the encore to offer up his vocals and acoustic guitar (though a heavily pregnant Zooey Deschanel sadly didn’t appear).
Wilson fittingly closed the brilliant, lengthy set with ‘Love and Mercy’ – the title of the biopic currently showing in cinemas worldwide. The 73-year-old’s place as an American popular music institution is assured, but this show provided ample proof he isn’t quite finished yet.