Report: Brian Wilson Live in Saratoga

 

Fifty years into an amazing career, Brian
Wilson and his crack backing band dig deep into the head Beach Boy’s back
catalog, come up with nothing but fun, fun, fun at the Mountain Winery on
August 24.

 

By Jud Cost

 

Brian Wilson
never looks really comfortable when he plops down in front of a keyboard placed
at center-stage and makes sure the teleprompter with all his lyrics loaded-in
is functioning. You would think tonight would be duck soup for the man who’s
survived 50 years in the music biz and is now looked upon as a musical deity,
someone to take the kids to see as the Bach or Beethoven of his day.

 

Wilson toured his beloved Beach Boys albums Pet Sounds and Smile “for the last time” a few years ago. That now
leaves the parameters of a Brian Wilson show fully open to deep excavation of
his huge back catalog. The crack nine-man outfit that surrounds Wilson, led by guitarist
Jeff Foskett and Darian Sahanaja on keyboards and vibraphone, exudes nothing
but confidence-and they’re ready to dig.

 

In the awkward
fashion of most of his between-songs patter, Brian tells the three-fourths full
house at Saratoga’s
Mountain Winery to “sit back and relax while we play some music for
you.” Wilson must have run through “California Girls” thousands
of times by now, but surrounded by what he calls “the best band in the
country” it sounds as fresh as the day it appeared on the Beach Boys’ 1965
album Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!).
As always with this backing band, the vintage arrangements are recreated so
faithfully it’s almost as though you’re eavesdropping on the original recording
sessions. From tubular bells to glockenspiel to exotic rhythm instruments, it’s
all about attention to detail. “Are you glad you came?” asks Wilson.

 

Brian dedicates
“Wendy” to one of his kids, “the little girl with the Dutch
haircut.” He describes touching ballad “Surfer Girl” as
“the first song I ever wrote” and follows it up with its musical
twin, “In My Room.” The gorgeous harmonies and lush melody of
“Please Let Me Wonder” from the Beach
Boys Today
album speak for themselves. When Wilson comes to the part where he sings
“I’ve built all my dreams around you/That some day my love would surround
you,” he extends his arms in a bear-like embrace.

 

One memorable
teenage anthem follows another. “Drive In” which urges kids to see
enough of the movie “so you’re prepared to tell” and “Salt Lake
City” whose girls are extolled as “the cutest of the western
states” are followed by the harpsichord-laced beauty of “When I Grow
Up (To Be A Man)”: (“Will my kids be proud or think their old man’s
really a square?”)

 

A surprising
choice by Wilson
as “one of my favorites from the 400 songs I’ve written” is
“You’re So Good To Me,” again from Summer Days. The old Bobby Freeman chestnut “Do You Wanna
Dance” sounds just as exciting as Wilson’s
stomping original “Dance, Dance, Dance.” Wild Honey album standout “Darlin’,” sounds every bit the
soulful offering to Stevie Wonder it may have once been. The opening hour-long
segment ends with “Do It Again,” a late-’60s paean to the formative
days of the Beach Boys: (“Well I’ve been thinking ’bout/All the places
we’ve surfed and danced/And all the faces we’ve missed/So let’s get back
together and do it again”).

 

The second hour
kicks off with a five-song medley of George Gershwin songs from Brian’s recent
tribute to the famed composer Brian
Wilson Reimagines Gershwin
(Disney Pearl). “Summertime” and
“They Can’t Take That Away From Me, as well as a smattering of
“Rhapsody In Blue” are effortlessly reworked into the Wilson instrumental
scheme.”It took the band a month to learn this stuff,” says Brian.

 

“Add Some
Music” is a perfect little slice from the overlooked Beach Boys’ Warner
Bros. debut album, Sunflower.
(“You’re sitting in the dentist’s chair/And they’ve got music for you
there/There must be nine million ways/To add some music to your day”).
“Let’s Go Away For Awhile,” an instrumental gem from Pet Sounds, is extended by the band to
epic proportions, employing every Tiki-bar nuance imaginable, and ends with a
fine Charles Lloyd-like tenor sax solo by the wonderfully versatile Paul
Mertens who doubles on baritone sax, flute and clarinet. “

 

The one-two
knockout blow from Pet Sounds,
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” followed by “God Only Knows”
(“Paul McCartney’s favorite song,” says Brian) can only mean the
dazzling fireworks of the finale are fast approaching. The Van Dyke Parks era
as Brian’s lyricist flashes by in a purple haze with “Heroes And
Villains” and “Good Vibrations.” The glorious refrain from
“Help Me Rhonda” has the entire crowd jumping up and down in place.

 

The sublime
“She’s Not The Little Girl I Once Knew” was one of the few
Wilson-penned flop singles for the Beach Boys in the winter of ’65. The reason
was obvious to AM radio programmers terrified of dead air. It has a charming
two-bar air-hole right before the bridge. Capitol pulled the single from
distribution and rush-released “Barbara Ann” off the Beach Boys’ Party! album, yet another
chart-topper.

 

The obvious
closer is “Fun, Fun, Fun” (“Well, she got her daddy’s car and
she cruise to the hamburger stand now/Seems she forgot all about the library
like she told her old man now/And with the radio blastin’ goes cruisin’ just as
fast as she can now/And she’ll have fun, fun, fun til her daddy takes the
T-Bird away”). But who could argue with what comes next, the real finale,
“All Summer Long. (“Sittin’ in my car outside your house/Remember
when you spilled Coke all over your blouse/Miniature golf and Hondas in the
hills/When we road on horse we got some thrills”). It was the perfect
music for the credits to American
Graffiti
, and it works just as well tonight, encapsulating what Brian
Wilson’s music has always been about: having fun.

 

As Foskett
introduces each member of this fine band for an individual curtain call, he
slyly refers to Brian as “the man who wrote every one of these great songs
you’ve heard tonight, even the ones by Gershwin.”  With Brian Wilson’s brilliant trunkful of
original material, he takes a back seat these days to no one. Not even George
Gershwin.

 

 

[Photo via Wilson’s Facebook page]

 

 

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