Monday, November 17, 2008

A Wonderful Night at the Beach

Concert Review:
Brian Wilson
November 16, 2008
Chicago Theatre

Lest anyone forget that Brian Wilson may be America’s greatest living pop music composer—though I didn’t realize that he rarely wrote the lyrics to his songs—Sunday’s performance at the Chicago Theatre was a forceful reminder. And not just because of the hour-and-a-half of Beach Boys classics, half of which were not of the super famous (or even familiar to me) variety; these included Girl Don’t Tell Me, Salt Lake City, All Summer Long, Please Let Me Wonder and more, in addition to California Girls, I Get Around, God Only Knows, Good Vibrations and other pure chestnuts (setlist here).

With the childlike Wilson sitting behind a keyboard he rarely touched and never seriously played, all the Beach Boys stuff sounded great, thanks to Wilson’s still fine voice and an excellent backing band of 14 strong (including a string section). But while not quite as good as his ’60s touchstones, Wilson and his band’s performance of his new album, That Lucky Old Sun, in its entirely, was extremely enjoyable and demonstrated that even at 66 years of age, after 40+ years of mental illness and difficulties that derailed his creative output in its prime, Wilson still knows his way around a melody better than most people who have ever lived.

Unlike his last release, Smile, which was the resurrection of one of rock’s most mythical lost albums—though to me, not nearly on par with Pet Sounds, nor Sgt. Pepper’s—TLOS (as the album is referenced in the setlist) is entirely new and written with one of his much younger current bandmates (interesting story behind it here). And while not representing the sonic genius and sheer creativity of Smile—which per a documentary I watched after getting home last night, didn’t go over well with the other Beach Boys, got scrapped and contributed to and/or coincided with Wilson’s descent into depression—for pure listening pleasure, That Lucky Old Sun is more accessible and enjoyable.

It’s a shame that from the late-60s to mid-90s, Brian Wilson was largely “missing” in terms of extending a superlative creative legacy that was pretty much halted at age 24. But even earlier in his days with the Beach Boys, Wilson had stopped performing live, and it seems for whatever reason—legacy, therapy, enjoyment—he has significantly resumed doing so over the past 10 years.

I’m glad he has and I’m glad I went to see him. He not only did his stature proud, he truly put on a completely enjoyable show that demonstrated that, at least in part, he still is what he once was: a musical genius.

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