Thursday, November 02, 2006

The renewed life of Brian

Drugs and therapy work!! I saw Brian Wilson perform at Royce Hall at UCLA Wednesday night and am happy to report it was one of the greatest concerts I’ve ever seen. Absolutely electric. And with any Brian Wilson concert there’s the added appreciation of just how far this guy has come from a year in bed to being able to perform in major venues without so much as a sandbox at his feet.

There’s always a price for genius and Brian has not only paid for himself but the whole room. The resulting music, however, is extraordinary. I hear “God Only Knows” and think, I’d be over-the-moon thrilled if just once in my lifetime I could write “Little Deuce Coupe”.

His backup group, the Wondermints, is far better than the Beach Boys ever were. (I guess the “Beach Boys” now play minor league baseball stadiums, County Fairs, and Jiffy Lube openings.) And to make the night extra special Brian was reunited for the first time with original Beach Boy, Al Jardine.

They played for two-and-a-half hours, the highlight being the recreation of the entire “Pet Sounds” album which was absolutely thrilling. Although he didn’t include my favorite Beach Boy songs – In My Room (in German), No-Go Showboat, and All Dressed Up for School – he did feature many of the group’s big hits and was in great voice and spirits. The ecstatic crowd, mostly baby boomers (or as the TV networks call them – “dead for all we care”) was on its feet for much of the show…not easy to do anymore with their knees. A few even bought the Brian Wilson action figure that was being sold in the lobby. Yes, there is an actual Brian Wilson action figure (You can now play “Meet me after the show” with Malibu Barbie).

In addition to the great orchestrations, innovative chords, and lush harmonies I was struck by how evocative the music was of the time and how ambitious it was, even the early stuff. For every song about surfing there was one about teen angst. And they each strike such an emotional chord that even forty years later they still resonate.

It hasn’t been easy for the Pepsi Generation. We survived a war, drugs, civil unrest, Nixon, disco, midlife crises, the economy, raising children, caring for parents, 9-11, and nothing to watch on ABC. And we had it EASY compared to Brian Wilson. But there he was, still going strong, still singing his heart out. Damn it, we can STILL have fun fun fun until daddy takes the T-Bird away!

If you get the chance to see Brian Wilson in concert, do it. Even if you’re grounded. Sneak out.

23 comments:

Frank Abe said...

Ken, you're a Brian Wilson fan too! Not only did I hang on your every literary allusion during Seattle Mariners broadcasts, and get to meet you in person at the KIRO studios to sign your book, you share the love for the music. It's been said before, his music can bring grown men to tears, as it did for me when I made the pilgrimage of my life to hear the big guy present SMiLE at Carnegie Hall two years ago. Glad the Pet Sounds farewell show was a success, and thanks for sharing it! You've already made me a daily reader since I discovered your blog.

zazupitts said...

Brian is our generation's Ultimate Fighting Champ.

The human spirit soars!

Great to hear it...

Mark Anthony said...

Watching Brian Wilson in concert is like watching your kids at a school play or sport.

You know it will be gut wrenching and nerve wracking BUT it is always worth it.

The Man Rules!

Ken Rasak said...

I saw him last summer at the Hollywood Bowl, and he was amazing. A guy seated behind us said that performance was as close to the original Beach Boys as you're going to get. I'd have to agree with that.

branfordbob said...

As you know Ken, Brian Wilson's music is a love we share.

I've saw the first "comeback" tour when it stopped at the Calvin Theater in Northampton, MA. I was also fortunate enough to see the Pet Sounds tour (with orchestra) and the SMiLE tour stop in Philly.

Al Kooper, founder of Blood, Sweat & Tears and musician extraordinaire, wrote just as eloquently after seeing Brian play Boston Symphony Hall in 1999.

"As I walked into Symphony Hall, I silently prayed that everything would be OK. That Brian would surmount the recent deaths of his brother Carl and his mother Audree, leaving him the sole- (soul) surviving Wilson.

In the appropriately selected Symphony Hall, I sat with tears in my eyes and triumph in my heart. It seemed, by the response after each song, that each and every audience member in the sold-out concert hall shared the same feelings, adoration, and respect, and that we were all in the same secret handshake Brian Wilson Society.

The entire show was set up as a fans’ fantasy set list... precision-like replications of the original recordings, obviously lovingly assimilated by the orchestra and choir...it was actually a watershed moment in time that I shall never forget."

I enthusiastically echo Ken's sentiment: If you get the chance to see Brian Wilson in concert, do yourself a favor and go.

BOB

Darren said...

I was just wondering about that TV show you mention in your blog's "About Me" called "EVERYONE LOVES RAYMOND". Never heard of it.

Nick said...

Very interesting, Ken. As a Gen-Xer, I never saw the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson in that way.

Your writing on this was great.

Larry Fouch said...

That was actually one of the best reviews I've ever read for anything. I wish instead of some spectacle-y Brookyn-living critic trying to be funny, maybe it's the funny people who should be critical.

Anonymous said...

Your surf music I do not understand.

Beth Ciotta said...

Months ago, I saw a documentary on Brian Wilson and the making of Smile. It included the Wondermints as well. The film (and the man and his music) was fascinating. As an aside, I also own a solo CD of the Wondermints. Fabulous music.

Tom Quigley said...

The opening notes in the intro to "California Girls" are probably the most sublime and beautiful thing I've ever heard. They took me to another level I never knew existed before I heard them for the first time. The man is truly one of our generation's creative geniuses.

Mustang Bobby said...

I have a Friday afternoon ritual after work. I stride across the parking lot, hop in my my Laser Red 1995 Mustang GT convertible, put the top down, put on the Ray-Bans, and put in the Beach Boys Songs of Summer. It starts out with "California Girls," and by the time it gets to the driving chords and guitar riffs of track 4 ("Surfin' USA") and 5 ("Fun, Fun, Fun") I have this goofy grin on my face that doesn't go away for the rest of the weekend.

Thanks for the review, Ken. I hope I get to see the tour when it gets to South Florida.

howie said...

To be fair to the Beach Boys, they really ceased to exist when Carl Wilson died. Brian was the genius, but Carl held that band together through a lot of Brian's c**p.

The current band is Mike, who never was very talented, I think Bruce Johnston (Brian's replacement in the late '60s) and a backup band.

It certainly is a state fair level group.

Brian is surprisingly great. I never thought he could recover enough to perform.

But, Geez, he's still hard to look at. I'd rather just listen.

shana said...

Saw him at the Bridge School benefit concert in the Bay Area a few weeks ago, where he was undeniably one of the biggest highlights of the show. (And thanks for ID'ing his band, who were amazing and seemed just as thrilled as the audience to be there.)

Mike Barer said...

Brian Wilson is a fighter and a survivor. Glad he is doing what he loves still.

Glenn said...

While the Wondermints are wonderful musicians, you miss the essential essence of what they Beach Boys were, especially if you think that they are “far better than the Beach Boys ever were.” I’m not referring to the dueling traveling Beach Boy shows, Mike vs Al, one night only, or even the different versions of the band that have been a 4th of July staple for the last 30 years, but rather the actual recordings from 1962 to 1966 (Pet Sounds year). With assorted studio musicians and guests, not only does Brian Wilson’s genius shine through, but just as important, the sound, the harmonies and the unmatched vocal abilities of Carl Wilson, make the Beach Boys, one of the seminal groups of last 50 years. Brian’s songwriting was innovative and brilliant, so much so that he inspired Lennon & McCartney to greater heights, but without Carl, those songs would never have reached the heights to which the did.

Mike Tuton said...

Let's get this straight.

There's the Beach Boys BRAND that serves as technical advisor to Made For TV Movies, opens for the John Stamos Experience, and keeps a straight face when signing checks made out to the "Beach Boys."

Then there's the Beach Boys BAND. That's Brian.

stephen said...

Dennis Wilson said, "Brian *is* the Beach Boys, we're just his messengers."

With that in mind, pick up the "Brian Wilson" solo CD. It's probably the best Beach Boys album the Boys never made.

The Great White Shank said...

Thanks for the review, Ken. I'm a long-time afficiando who favoriet period is Pet Sounds through Sunflower. Great to see Al is back on board. I wouldn't want to see what Mike and Bruce are pushing out there, but we always have the music and the memories, right?

BTW, if you're interested, I write about Brian and the BBs occasionally on my blog, and recently completed an extensive 5-part review of my own personal version of SMiLE culled from previously-released Brian/BB material. You're invited to take a look and let me know what you think.

Steven said...

I've always been much more partial to the 1966 to 1971 period (Pet Sounds through Surf's Up). Even though Brian's involvement was reduced, some of the songs he did contribute are among my absolute favorites: Busy Doin' Nothin', This Whole World, Our Prayer, 'Til I Die. The harmonies on the latter two are just exquisite. They are two of the most beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard.

David Schwartz said...

No Go Showboat. An obscure Beach Boys song that's one of my favorites, too! Love those lyrics about a great looking car that just can't run very well!

Other Guy said...

I saw that Hollywood Bowl show last year, and I thought it was as close to seeing a stolen bog mummy being toured around the deep south with a backup Beach Boys cover band and an embalming team.

Seriously. I was there, that's what I thought. If the original, prime-time Beach Boys had sounded like that surfing would be illegal in California and we'd all be speaking Jan and Dean.

Other Guy Errata said...

Make that "as close to seeing...as I'm likely to get." Sorry.