Report: Brian Wilson Live in Florida

 

August 5, at Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, Fla.,
the legend essayed both Gershwin and the Beach Boys.

 

By Lee Zimmerman

What becomes a legend most? In
the case of Brian Wilson’s performance Friday night at hard Rock Live, it’s
somewhat hard to say.

 

Cynics might deride the fact
that at age 69, Brian still portends to be a battered soul. Sitting at his
keyboard last Friday night and playing to a rapt crowd, he seemed stiff and
somewhat robotic, his arms either dangling by his side or swinging with
exaggerated gestures, his hands making only occasional contact with the keys.
Clearly, the years have taken their toll. Overweight, looking frumpy, and often
staring expressionless (some might say even he appeared catatonic), his
comments between songs lacked spontaneity and appeared perfunctory (“This is a
Chuck Berry thing we do,” he said blankly while introducing “Dance Dance
Dance,” and “This is the first thing I ever wrote,” he dully mentioned prior to
“Surfer Girl,”) Likewise, he seems only a bit player relative to his superb
band, which basically does all the heavy lifting in terms of fleshing out those
gorgeous arrangements, supplying the lush harmonies and singing the falsettos
that Wilson can no longer muster. It’s their show, and by ceding the spotlight,
Brian often seems a figurehead, there to receive due homage. There were some
songs where he rarely sang at all, and only half that found playing… and when
he did doodle at the keys, the sound was nearly inaudible. Even the musician
intros were left to another — guitarist Jeffrey Foskett, the show’s de facto
emcee.

 

Still, none of that seemed to
matter to diehard devotees. And for good reason. Wilson’s shell-shocked man/child persona is
as much a part of his famous persona as the incredible, heartfelt “teenage
anthems to God” he created and composed over the last half century. Despite his
battles with drugs, depression and personal despair – the cruel manipulations
of his overbearing father Murray, the loss of his two brothers Dennis and Carl,
his retreat from the world and subsequent subversion of personal psychiatrist
and Svengali, Dr. Eugene Landy – Wilson’s
dedication to his muse and determination to create those exceptional sounds are
more than cause for admiration. One of the greatest musical creators and
composers of the past half century, he’s long since earned due reverence,
despite the tolls taken on his psyche.

 

Besides, it’s the music that
matters most, and Friday night at the Hard Rock, it was the songs – those
glorious age of innocence incantations – that shone oh-so brightly. Culling
well over two-dozen Beach Boys classics and four from his latest album, Reimagines Gershwin (vigorously plugged
on at least a couple of occasions), Wilson
and his band generously covered several decades of his classic catalogue. While
there were some who would rue the exclusion of, say, “Caroline No” or “Surf’s
Up” or “In My Room,” the inclusion of such classics as “Help Me Rhonda,”
“California Girls,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Darlin'” and, above all, “God Only
Knows,” perhaps the most beautiful song ever added to the pop lexicon, more
than made up for any deficiencies. Likewise, live performances of his two most
adventurous min suites, “Good Vibrations” and “Heroes and Villains” continue to
dazzle well over 40 years on.

 

Of course, due credit has to go
to the band itself, which long since has negated any need for an alternate
reunion of the Beach Boys, given the fact that Dennis and Carl have passed on,
Al Jardine has ventured out on his own (check out last year’s superb solo
album, A Postcard From California),
and the current Beach Boys incarnation fronted by Mike Love and Bruce Johnston
is little more than a cover outfit. Wilson’s current ten piece ensemble –
Wilson, Foskett, keyboardist Darian Sahanaja, percussionist Nelson Bragg,
drummer (and Palm Beach resident) Mike D’Amico, guitarist Nick Walusko,
multi-instrumentalist Probyn Gergory, bassist Brett Simon, keyboardist Scott
Bennett and Paul Mertens on horns -are more a part of Wilson’s collaborative
process than the Beach Boys in their prime, and their ability to fill in all the
nuances, nooks and crannies of those elaborate arrangements Wilson originally
labored over so feverishly in the studio and then embellish them accordingly is
a marvel to behold. The remarkable take on Gershwin’s “I Got Plenty of
Nothin’,” with the musicians switching from banjos to whistles to other nutty
accoutrements, was like peering on one of those infamous Smile sessions. Add the overwhelming sway of nostalgia (songs like
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Help Me Rhonda” still ripple through teenage memories),
and the songs can’t help but stamp an indelible impression.

 

As mentioned, Wilson himself
was fairly stoic the entire time, and looked rather fragile as he lumbered off
during the break and later, shuffled back for the encore, giving a grand bow
before he unceremoniously shuffled off the stage. An old school showman, he may
be living off his legend, but he still seems clearly in touch with his music,
especially when the band’s in full stride. Songs end with grand flourishes and
the set list is arranged as an oldies show, one clearly designed to give his
audience all they might desire.

 

Then too, just for a moment,
when he strapped on his bass during the encore, he actually looked like the
Beach Boy Brian of old. Despite his foibles, quirks and eccentricities, the
audience still gets the man they know and love. Ultimately, it’s the
opportunity to witness genius – in all his rumpled glory, through past, present
and for all time — that made that two hour encounter so memorable and amazing.

 

Set List

 

California Girls
Dance Dance Dance
Catch A Wave
Little Deuce Coup
Surfer Girl
Please Let Me Wonder
Row Row Row Your Boat
Don’t Worry Baby
Salt Lake City
Drive-In
Do You Wanna Dance
Darlin’
Do It Again
I Get Around
— Intermission —
I Got Plenty of Nothin’ (instrumental)
They Can’t Take That Away From Me
I Got Rhythm
Nothing But Love
Add Some Music To Your Day
The Little Girl I Once Knew
Sail On Sailor
Sloop John B
Wouldn’t It Be Nice
God Only Knows
Heroes and Villains
Good Vibrations
— Encore -=
Johnny B Goode
Help Me Rhonda
Barbara Ann
Surfin’ USA
Fun Fun Fun

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