When you love classic rock and the sounds of the 60s, it’s not uncommon to see musicians who are long past their prime. Brian Wilson, however, took this phenomenon to a whole new level.
Wilson, who famously and publicly duels with personal demons, goes through long stretches during which his substance abuse and mental health issues render him unable to tour. As such, I celebrate the fact that he’s currently able to go on the road and perform for legions of adoring fans at sold-out shows.
Still, it would be dishonest to describe his current ability to perform in glowing terms. Fans are there to pay tribute to their idol, the troubled musical genius, and to acknowledge his influence on their lives. Wilson’s voice, however, has been shattered by age and substance abuse, and he often was off the beat. Given how fabulous his large band sounded, I found myself wondering if his white grand piano was even mic’ed.
Overall, the show had the feeling of attending someone’s wake while they were still alive. Whispers of Wilson’s impending demise have been circulating since the mid-60’s, so it’s possible he’ll continue to tour well into the future. That said, it’s only worth seeing him if you’re a die-hard Beach Boys fan and want to show the maestro some love.
Al Jardine, by contrast, still has a solid voice and strong stage presence. He took the vocals on many of the songs and handled most of the chatting and commentary. While Jardine doesn’t inspire the level of adoration that Wilson does, he deserves credit for holding the performance together. Son Matthew Jardine sang lead on several hits as well. Matthew, who has gone between the Mike Love-fronted Beach Boys and Wilson’s touring band, performed admirably. He seems to be standing at the ready to take over, Jason Bonham style, when the older generation can no longer perform.
With Al Jardine and the massive/excellent touring band carrying the weight of the show, Blondie Chaplin provided comic relief. As a long-time member not only of the Beach Boys’ band but also of the Rolling Stones’ band, he seemed to have learned his swagger from Mick Jagger. He strutted across the stage, preening for the crowd. For most of the show, however, he stayed in the wings. He appeared for select tracks, including an enthusiastic tambourine solo and a brief but intense clapping interlude for which he quickly popped onstage mid-song, leaving the audience laughing and slightly baffled.
The performance consisted of two sets: a greatest hits act and the “Pet Sounds” album in its entirety, separated by an intermission. It ended with an encore of additional hits. In what could either have been narcissism or a charming tribute, the background music during the intermission was orchestral renditions of Beach Boys classics. They ended the show on a classy note, thanking not only the band but also the crew, who they called out by name.
Regardless of Wilson’s condition, the older-skewing crowd loved the performance. He received multiple standing ovations throughout the evening as his fans showed their love for a hometown hero. They clutched old records and posters, hoping for a signature after the show. The audience danced to surf classics during the greatest hits segments. Confirming my suspicions about crowd demographics, people shouted and cheered for “their” local beaches during “Surfin’ USA.”
While I’m glad I had the chance to see Wilson while I can, it was also hard to watch at points. Is it too much to hope Wilson, Jardine, and Love can bury the hatchet and perform together once more? It seems unlikely, but I’d buy a ticket for that show in a heartbeat.