Brian Wilson (Concert Review)

Brian Wilson & Friends – Fraze Pavilion  – 7/25/13

It’s real easy to take some things for granted.  The idea of Brian Wilson consistently playing live concerts would’ve been inconceivable just fifteen years ago.  He quit touring with the Beach Boys at the peak of their popularity in the mid-Sixties, and had only played sporadically since then.  All of that changed in 1999 when he hooked up with a group of devoted Beach Boys’ fans known as the Wondermints.  Through their encouragement, Wilson has been able to regularly tour for the first time in his career, even participating in the 50th anniversary Beach Boys’ reunion last year.

After that tour, co-leader Mike Love famously sacked the other original members (he now legally owns the Beach Boys’ name). So, Wilson decided to tour with his fellow ex-patriots Al Jardine & David Marks, calling it Brian Wilson & Friends.

First of all, Wilson’s band is fabulous.  It looks like there’s a hundred people on stage, but it works.  Their harmonies were breathtaking and the instrumentation faithfully reproduced the feel of those early Beach Boys’ hits.  Wilson, at times, sounded shaky, other times sounded spot-on.

The show opened with the triple punch of “California Girls,” “Catch a Wave” and “Hawaii.”  The 39-song setlist featured plenty of hits for the crowd to sing along to.  “Do it Again” really got everyone going.  Wilson always had a knack for writing beautiful ballads, and they did three of them in a row – “In My Room,” “Surfer Girl,” and “Please Let Me Wonder.”  There were also several surprises along the way – “Girl Don’t Tell Me’ (the b-side to “Barbara Ann”), “Little Bird” (an obscure Dennis Wilson track), and the almost hit “Sail on Sailor.”  They also played a handful of newer songs – “Your Imagination” (off Wilson’s 1997 solo album) and “That’s Why God Made the Radio” (from last year’s BB reunion album).

Jardine’s voice still sounded great, especially on the #1 hit “Help Me Rhonda.”  Marks’ guitar playing was impressive throughout – it was his fretwork which adorns much of the Beach Boys’ early material.  The show ended with a beautiful version of the wistful “Summer’s Gone” – definitely a surprising, but fitting way to close.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Brian Wilson concert without a strange moment or two.  At one point, he introduced a song the band had just played, and then he led the crowd through a singing of “Row Row Row Your Boat.”  But, for a man who has battled mental illness for most of his life, he is really amazing.

And that it – the fact that we get to see Brian Wilson in concert in 2013 is something not to be taken lightly.  It was also great to see Jardine and Marks having a good time as well.   –Tony Peters