LET THE SUN SHINE IN: Brian Wilson

Onstage in Oakland the Beach Boys
auteur turns in a classic performance.

 

By
JUD COST

 

Sitting
almost Buddha-like at center-stage behind his seldom-touched keyboard, Brian
Wilson looked more confident and comfortable than he ever has onstage as he
presided over a magical two-hour testament to his own greatness at Oakland’s Paramount
Theatre last week (September 5). As “Dandy” Don Meredith, onetime
color-man for Monday Night Football,
used to say, “If you can do it, it ain’t braggin!'” With all that
singing talent behind him, Wilson
seems to have accepted his new vocal role as the permanent replacement for the
hybrid low-tenor/baritone of Mike Love, rather than struggling to be the
resident high-tenor/falsetto, as he has in the past. He’s certainly having more
fun onstage. “Oops, I fucked up!” he muttered after a minor keyboard
gaffe.

 

Perfectly-rendered
versions of “lesser-known” classics “All Summer Long,”
“Do It Again” and “Add Some Music To Your Day” made you
feel you were right in the middle of a vintage Beach Boys recording session.
Led by longtime Wilson pal Jeff Foskett and former Wondermints Darian Sahanaja,
Nick Walusko and Probyn Gregory, along with newfound lyricist Scott Bennett,
Wilson’s backing band has a reverential regard for the original arrangements
that made “Dance, Dance, Dance,” “Do You Wanna Dance” and
the harpsichord-laced “Will I Grow Up (To Be A Man)”-all from The Beach Boys Today, the stunning 1965
album where Wilson finally catches up to his studio idol, Phil Spector-sound
terrific.

 

It
wasn’t just the usual hour-long, opening-set stroll through the voluminous
Beach Boys back catalog that hit all the right spots tonight. The just-released
Wilson solo
effort, That Lucky Old Sun (Capitol/EMI), which filled-up the entire hour after intermission, sounds like
the best thing the 66-year-old legend has recorded since striking out on his
own many years ago. I’d heard the new album a few times before the show, but
was totally unprepared for the knock-out blow it delivers live. The album’s
opener skims just enough from the old Frankie Laine chestnut, “That Lucky
Old Sun,” before morphing into “Morning Beat,” a wake-up
call/heartfelt tribute to Los Angeles. As always during Wilson’s prolific 47-year career, the
occasional awkward lyric just makes everything ring more true.

 

“Forever
She’ll Be My Surfer Girl” may poach an occasional phrase from some ancient
Beach Boys (or 4 Seasons) session, but with an overall effect so
heart-cleansingly gorgeous, who cares! Much like Love’s 1968 classic, Forever Changes, That Lucky Old Sun feels like a long, slow drive through the City
of Angels, from Olvera Street out to the Santa Monica pier. Adding
the Stockholm Strings to Wilson’s
usual tentette backing-band format gave the sparkling arrangements even more
punch. With the bite of a narrative from a film
noir
classic, the between-songs segues, penned by Wilson’s onetime Smile collaborator, Van Dyke Parks, were
a perfect fit.

 

But
not everything went as planned tonight. Keyboard/vibraphone whiz Sahanaja
signaled an immediate halt to the proceedings after the first playing of
“That Lucky Old Sun”/”Morning Beat,” due to an out-of-tune
keyboard. “Everything ready now, haircut?” growled Foskett testily as
Sahanaja signaled AOK after a 5-minute tuning delay. They began the album anew,
this time with every hair in place.

 

Concert
(and album) wrap-up “Southern California,” with its nod to the sweet
harmonies that draped almost-forgotten 1968 Beach Boys album Friends, was accompanied by a
lump-in-the-throat montage of vintage photos of Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson,
growing up in Hawthorne, Calif. The song feels like a mini-biography,
hitting the highlights of Brian’s sometimes bumpy trek along the yellow-brick
road. “I had this dream of singing with my brothers,” he sings. It
felt like both Dennis and Carl were here tonight, nodding approval.

 

Of
course, the fortunes of live acts may ebb and flow-even those of the Beach
Boys, themselves, during their glory years-but the high price of gasoline can’t
be the only reason the vast Paramount Theatre was only half-full tonight. Maybe
it’s because Wilson & Co., by having played Pet Sounds in its entirety here back in early 2007, violated one of
booking’s ten commandments: Thou shalt not play the same venue in a market two
times in a row. It’s a rule Bob Dylan’s people have never broken in the greater
Bay Area. The rabid crowd that did venture out into violence-wracked Oakland was rewarded
handsomely with the debut performance of a work that richly deserves to become
a Brian Wilson staple. 

 

 

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