Saturday, July 27, 2013

At Ravinia, Brian Wilson Provides Enough Good Vibrations to be Fun, Fun, Fun -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Brian Wilson
w/ Al Jardine and David Marks 
Ravinia Festival, Highland Park, IL
July 26, 2013

Having caught the Beach Boys' reunion tour last year, and Brian Wilson on his own in 2008, I probably didn't need to hear him run through his remarkable oeuvre of pop-rock gems yet again.

And though I had noted his Friday night show on Ravinia's schedule, I was likely to skip it until Goldstar sent an offer of rear pavilion seats for just $15 ($23 incl. fees). 

But not only do I revere what Wilson did in the '60s enough to make it well-worth revisiting his classics for a rather modest outlay--and feel Mike Love dropping him from ongoing Beach Boys touring is bush league--it was cool to see him just 10 days after seeing Paul McCartney, to whom he is inextricably tied. (The Beach Boys' 1966 Pet Sounds, a masterpiece showcasing Wilson's studio production genius, inspired the Beatles--primarily Paul--to try to top it. When Brian heard Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, he reportedly cried and suffered a nervous breakdown from which he seemingly never fully recovered.)

Though the Goldstar offer was for "rear" pavilion, I wound up just 15 rows from the stage in the front center section. And what I got is largely what I expected: 
A robust helping of wonderful songs, well-delivered due to Wilson being in good voice and backed by a crack 11-piece band including Jardine and Marks.
I think many if not all in this band--with at least three members hailing from Chicago--backed the Beach Boys on their 50th Anniversary tour, and led by Jeff Foskett on guitar, principal backing vocals (often falsettos) and occasional lead, they helped Brian deliver faithful, frequently sublime, renditions of his Beach Boys chestnuts, even some on which he wasn't the lead singer. (See the setlist on

Sitting at a grand piano he likely never really played, Wilson appeared occasionally impassive, but seemingly in better spirits and more verbose than during last year's Beach Boys outing, his first time playing with them in years.

At Ravinia, the setlist and arrangements were clearly tightly-scripted, with 6 songs delivered in the first 12 minutes and the entire 17-song first set over at 8:48 after starting promptly at 8:00.

But with the large band ensuring the music--including the trademark glorious harmonies--were pristinely delivered, the early pairing of "In My Room" and "Surfer Girl" served to showcase just how much the addled-looking man at the piano has given the world, including considerable pleasure on a summer night more than 50 years down the road.

Though even with deeply-discounted tickets available, the crowd was far from full--wrongly, the current Mike Love and Bruce Johnston-led "Beach Boys" would undoubtedly sell far more tickets--it showered Wilson with appreciation, for far more than just the songs he delivered this evening.

The fans rose to their feet and passionately applauded after "Heroes and Villains," from the long-shelved Smile album, and gave an even longer ovation after "God Only Knows," which featured Brian singing lead after paying tribute to brother Carl, who had done so on the recorded version.

Wilson seemed taken aback by all the applause and eager to move along, but Jardine wisely and warmly encouraged the crowd to continue their salute to "one of America's greatest songwriters" while referencing Paul McCartney calling the Pet Sounds centerpiece his favorite song of all-time.

Yet the concert was acutely enjoyable well beyond a sense of reverence, and even with Jardine, Marks, Foskett and other members of the band taking lead vocal turns, seeing "Brian Wilson" wound up being considerably more joyful than merely wistful. Even in his current state, at 71, he was still clearly the star--and worthy of the love the fans bestowed.

Whatever one might say about Wilson at this point, or the purity of having so many accompanists, there's no doubt that singing along with "I Get Around," "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "Help Me, Rhonda," "Barbara Ann," "Surfin' USA" and others was a lot more "Fun, Fun, Fun" in the man's presence. 

It should also be noted that more recent material--such as Wilson's solo "Your Imagination" and "Goin' Home," as well as the title song of last year's Beach Boys album That's Why God Made the Radio--were convincing reminders that not all of the maestro's magic disappeared decades ago. 

And with the show seemingly over, Wilson and his band ambled back onstage for a last encore, playing the melancholy "Summer's Gone." Written by Brian along with longtime producer Joe Thomas and Jon Bon Jovi, it is the last song on his (former?) band's solid 2012 release, which could quite well be the final Beach Boys record to feature new material.

Let's hope the recent run of cooler temperatures in Chicago don't portend the accuracy of the song's title, but though not the most upbeat concert closer, given the life Brian Wilson has lived, it was a rather apt and poignant way to say good night to a genius. 
Summer’s gone
I’m gonna sit and watch the waves
We laugh, we cry
We live then die
And dream about our yesterday

Below is a bit of "I Get Around."


Rafaela said...

This is awesome!

Anonymous said...

Just saw Brian three hours ago...a remarkable man we should truly appreciate.