Monday, October 09, 2017

Here Today: Brian Wilson and His Impressive Current Band Make 'Pet Sounds' Feel Alive -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Brian Wilson
with Al Jardine, Blondie Chaplin and band
Rosemont Theatre
October 6, 2017

Brian Wilson was both the most and least important person onstage Friday night at the Rosemont Theatre.

Certainly, his was the name on the ticket and--while the venue was well short of full--undoubtedly the impetus for everyone being there.

This, of course, is due to the boatloads of magnificent songs he wrote with the Beach Boys--including the majestic Pet Sounds album, which was performed in full--and even some rather fine ones as a solo artist.

But along with his inarguable genius, Wilson is equally famed for mental and psychological difficulties that have beset him to various extents for 50+ years--since he created Pet Sounds in 1966, fought with his brothers/bandmates & overbearing dad, overindulged in psychedelic drugs and suffered several nervous breakdowns, including supposedly upon hearing the Beatles' brilliant Sgt. Peppers and the Lonely Hearts Club Band album on its 1967 release.

And while at age 75 he is thankfully well enough to maintain a near constant touring cycle, Wilson was the steadfast focal point behind a centerstage piano on Friday but--other than perhaps some sporadic tinkering--he didn't actually play it.

Lead vocals were spread around to several of the 11 other musicians onstage--including original Beach Boy Al Jardine and his golden-voiced son Matthew--and when Brian did sing, his timbre, phrasing and power clearly lagged behind his famed recordings and current cohorts.

But understandably, Wilson--whose famed ability to hear and compose music in his head and channel it through ace musicians may be historically second to none--has surrounded himself with sensational players and singers who do most of the heavy lifting.

This includes his stalwart pal, the elder Jardine, who after the 2012 Beach Boys 50th anniversary tour that included but then ousted Brian--at the hands of his seemingly cruel cousin, Mike Love--has opted to stay literally by Wilson's side.

On Wikipedia, you can find the full list of musicians accompanying Brian Wilson on the Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary Tour, which has run since March 2016 with 100+ worldwide shows and is wrapping up this week, at least for now.

But not only were all those onstage highly skilled at their craft--with many playing more than one instrument, singing harmonies and taking occasional lead turns--it seemed apparent that they too were there out of reverence for the music Wilson has given the world.

So while at times the concert reminded of a tribute band, jukebox musical, Las Vegas revue, music-infused religious service (with a central point of worship) or even a museum exhibit, even with showmanship far short of his 75-year old peer, Paul McCartney, and a focus that seemed to wander, it would be inaccurate to call Brian Wilson's acute contributions inconsequential.

If the main attraction didn't earn high marks for technical merit, over the course of 2-hours (plus a set break) I heard some of the greatest songs ever written sung and played quite well.

Preceding the Pet Sounds playthrough was a solid hour that blended Beach Boys mega-hits--"California Girls," "I Get Around," "Don't Worry Baby"--with much juicy fruit beyond the low hanging variety.

There isn't yet a setlist posted for the Rosemont show, but assuming I have the titles right, Matthew Jardine delivered a beautiful "Let the Wind Blow," his ever-dapper pop delivered a Beach Boys rarity that he wrote ("Susie Cincinnati"), the heralded sideman Blondie Chaplin sang and played sizzling guitar on "Wild Honey," and "Darlin'" was among several lesser-known tunes that delighted.

I am one of those who believes Pet Sounds to be one the 10 greatest rock albums ever produced but also--if dictated by putting it behind Sgt. Peppers, Sticky Fingers, Are You Experienced, Who's Next, Led Zeppelin IV, Born to Run, London Calling and Nevermind--just a tad overrated. 

Yet it was magical to hear it delivered live with such care and meticulousness.

And while the parts where Brian sang lead--most notably on the heavenly "God Only Knows," a bit interestingly given that his brother Carl sang it on the album--were the ones short of note perfect, there was something beautifully poignant about his boldly doing the best he could on such sacred material of his creation.

Songs such as "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "I'm Waiting for the Day," "Sloop John B," "I Know There's an Answer," "Here Today" and "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" brought inherent joy and/or wistfulness and--preceded by Brian unnecessarily but movingly telling us that they were instrumentals--"Let's Go Away For Awhile" and the album's title tune had me imagining the maestro hearing/conjuring the melodies in his head.

Pet Sounds was followed out the door by one blast from the past after another--"Good Vibrations," "Help Me, Rhonda," "Barbara Ann," "Surfin' U.S.A.," "Fun, Fun, Fun"--before Wilson's solo "Love and Mercy" (..."that's what we need tonight") not only reminded of Brian's amazing journey as depicted in the biopic of the same name, it punctuated a dark week in America with a musical genius' heartrending pleading.

Hence, even more than on most of my reviews, my star rating--of @@@@ out of 5--is imprecise and unnecessary.

This won't rank as one of the top concerts I've seen this year, and Brian Wilson himself, in the here and now, is well short of musically spectacular.

But even though I had to skip watching a Cubs playoff game to attend, and although this was my 4th time seeing Wilson in the past 10 years--once with the Beach Boys--it was a wonderfully entertaining night I'm glad I didn't miss.

And with whatever disclaimers and delineations, Brian Wilson earned an avid standing ovation--and my abiding affinity--both for what he once did and who he still remains.

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