BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
The creative genius of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Brian Wilson was on display and shining brightly Wednesday night at The Masonic in San Francisco. Wilson, the 74 year old singer-songwriter and original Beach Boy whose iconic profile has grown even larger following the recent release of his new memoir “I Am Brian Wilson”, in addition to the highly acclaimed “Love And Mercy” motion picture last year is in the midst of a prolonged tour celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Beach Boys ambitious masterpiece “Pet Sounds” by playing it in it’s entirety.
Positioned behind his black Yamaha baby grand piano center stage throughout the evening, Wilson is clearly a survivor. Long considered a reclusive LSD casualty with well documented struggles with mental illness, he’s also overcome the loss of both younger brothers. Bandmates Dennis drowned in the Pacific Ocean off Marina Del Rey in 1983 after a day of drinking while Carl was lost in 1998 to brain cancer.
But this night was strictly a celebration as the stage was filled with an 11 piece backing band including fellow Beach Boys co-founder Al Jardine, his son Matthew, and flamboyant early Seventies member Blonde Chaplain. Opening with the unmistakable piano chords of “California Girls” as fans were still finding their seats, Wilson proceeded to deliver a stellar two hour plus performance featuring an astonishing 32 Beach Boys songs out of the 35 played.
A 16 song first set established the tone of the evening as some of the Beach Boys earliest and most memorable hits including “I Get Around”, “Little Deuce Coupe”, “Surfer Girl” (the first song Wilson ever wrote at the age of 19), and “Don’t Worry Baby”, delivered with the stellar falsetto vocals of Matthew Jardine, were played. Al Jardine, dressed in an all white suit and playing a white guitar for the first part of the show also sang lead on a handful of numbers, as did Chaplain, most notably on the set closing “Sail On, Sailor”.
Returning to the stage after a twenty minute intermission, Wilson and his ensemble launched into the 13 song groundbreaking “Pet Sounds” with the elegantly produced “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” as a kaleidoscope of instruments ranging from flutes, harpsichords and Electro-Theremin merged with sound effects ranging from trains, bicycle bells, soda cans and barking dogs. The folksy “Sloop John B” concluded the end of Side One from the original vinyl pressing, prompting Al Jardine to inform the crowd that it “Was time to flip the record over”.
The amazingly harmonious “God Only Knows” was once described by no less a music authority than Paul McCartney as his favorite song of All-Time. Hardly a shallow compliment coming from a Beatle that has written some of the greatest songs of All-Time, it led to a well-deserved standing ovation as one of rocks earliest concept albums played out with a melodic mixture of sounds ranging from jazz and classic to the more exotic avant-garde.
The uproarious crowd reactions also led to a glimpse of the discipline and focus Wilson seems to need to perform as he sought to curtail the audience’s enthusiasm with his unexpected request of “Please take your seats” before introducing the instrumental title track by stating “no voice, just instruments” in a way only he could verbalize. The album was completed with “Caroline, No”, once described by Wilson as his “favorite on the album and prettiest ballad I’ve ever sung”.
Returning for an extraordinary extended encore featuring the symphonic “Good Vibrations” followed by Al Jardine’s voiced “Help Me, Rhonda”, Wilson resumed lead on “Barbara Ann”, but the precision of nine of the musicians on stage simultaneously harmonizing perfectly together would not go unnoticed. “Surfing’ USA” saw both youngsters and oldsters standing and dancing in the aisles while “Fun Fun Fun” maintained the energy level before a heartfelt “Love And Mercy” singled the end of a memorable evening.
Showing no signs of slowing down or resting on his laurels, Wilson indicated in a recent interview with Rolling Stone that he not only had no plans to retire but is preparing to enter the studio in December to record a new album tentatively titled “Sensitive Music for Sensitive People”. An additional 37 shows just announced will extend the current tour thru the end of May before concluding at the Santa Barbara County Bowl during Memorial Day weekend.