Saturday, 5 August 2017

Brian Wilson - Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary Tour

Brian Wilson - Pet Sounds. Summer Nights, Kelvingrove Bandstand, Glasgow. 3rd August 2017. Live review

The Beach Boys were surely one of the most recognisable and influential bands around. As they evoke a bright, breezy awakening of youth culture in the 1960s, their songs still pop up again and again in film and television. Even people like me born after the Beach Boys had faded away can adopt a cheery falsetto and sing along to "Surfin' USA", "I Get Around", "Barbara Ann," "Fun Fun Fun", "God Only Knows", and "Good Vibrations". When I was 8 or 9 years old I got a tape recorder as a present and "The Beach Boys 20 Golden Greats" tape, with the blue cover and the surfer on the front was the first, and for a long time, only album that I possessed. Apart from that I had a collection of music recorded off of the radio chart show. 

The Beach Boys 20 Golden Greats
The original Beach Boys line up was brothers Brian, Denis and Carl Wilson, their friend Al Jardine and cousin Mike Love. Brian Wilson was the main songwriter and often producer, along with performing lead and backing vocals, bass and keyboards. However the life of Brian was far more complicated than the sunny music would have you believe and that leaked into the music of their 1966 album Pet Sounds, which when you listen to it is far more complex and self-doubting than you would expect from a 24 year old leading one of the most successful bands on the planet at the time. Although receiving disappointing sales at the time, it has stood the test of time and was rated number 2 in Rolling Stone magazine's "500 greatest albums of all time" list (behind Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band). 

I was not really aware of how complicated and bizarre Brian Wilson's life became over the years as he dealt with health problems, exploitation and over-medication until I watched the 2014 biopic Love & Mercy, which seems to have been greeted by those in the know as a fairly accurate portrayal of events in his life. With Paul Dano as the young Brian Wilson and John Cusack as an older version it is hard not to warm to him as the character portrayed on screen, then when you read about what has happened in his life it is hard not to shake your head in disbelief. 

However seeing him live, it is the music that you are coming to hear. The fear is that you will be seeing a mere shadow of Brian Wilson's former self. However the younger man is such a musical giant, that any crumb of that is worth buying a ticket for. 

Brian Wilson, Kelvingrove Bandstand
The show we saw was on a summer night in Glasgow, at the fantastic Kelvingrove Park bandstand, a repeat of last year's successful "Summer Nights" season of concerts. In Glasgow the potential summer issue here is obviously the weather, but tonight the rain held off and wee shards of blue sky meant that if you screwed your eyes up really tightly, you could pretend you were being transported to a Californian beach. Expecting a run through of the Pet Sounds album, then an encore of other hits, I was amazed that before we got there the first set was 19 songs long, going from opening number California Girls, to I Get Around and Surfer Girl and 1973's Sail On Sailor, by which time Blondie Chaplin was on stage to add to the vocals and guitar barrage. 
Brian Wilson at Kelvingrove Bandstand, August 2017
Brian Wilson sat centre stage behind keyboards, sharing singing duties with original Beach Boy Al Jardine, who was in fine voice, and Jardine's son Matt Jardine. Matt dealt brilliantly with the falsetto end of the scale, notes which are beyond the older vocal cords on stage, creating harmonies very evocative of the original recordings. Wilson is not a man in good health and was helped on stage, but after that seemed invigorated throughout the two and a half hour show. His flat affect and shuffling gait are the inevitable consequences of a lifetime on heavy medication, which makes it hard for any outside observer to say what his true feelings are, but my impression was of a man at ease in front of a receptive and lively crowd, and a smiling and supportive band of eleven fellow musicians. 

The second set of the gig, working through the Pet Sounds album from start to finish, including the two complex instrumental pieces, was the highlight of the show. Opener Wouldn't It Be Nice is possibly the most positive song on the album, after that the lyrics leave you pondering and raising an eyebrow. As Brian Wilson's gruff tones started singing You Still Believe In Me then Matt Jardine's stronger falsetto took over it gave a nice impression of the passage of time from the youthful voices that recorded the album half a century ago, until today. I Just Wasn't Made For These Times could be a summary of Wilson's life, a man out of time, dealing with low moods with lines like "no one wants to help me look for places where new things might be found". Was nobody listening to him?

Summer Nights, Glasgow
As darkness finally fell over this part of Glasgow, the show was finished off with a flurry of five classic Beach Boys songs that got everyone on their feet. The last song of the night was the 1988 tune Love and Mercy that gave the biopic film its title, a slower number which is about two things Wilson feels the world needs more of. Me? I had a big smile on my face all evening. 

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