It was by no means obvious that I would attend this show…a fair bit of thinking was done before a decision was made.
You see, I’d been lucky to see Brian Wilson on five previous occasions, which is something that, in the seventies and eighties would have been fantasy talk. Back in these days, the notion that one would see Brian Wilson at all, much less that one would see him performing with grace and power, was madness.
But it did indeed come to pass that the rehabilitated Mr Wilson became a frequent touring artist and I saw a couple of transcendent shows and a couple that were very good. However, I was positive until a few weeks ago that the last show I saw was indeed going to be the last Brian Wilson show for me…it was a few years ago in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall and while the music was fine, we were close enough to the stage to see that Mr Wilson was not. He did not want to be there, he looked frightened and uncomfortable. It became more and more uncomfortable to watch as well.
I figured at the time that, well, there were probably quite a few people whose jobs relied on keeping Brian Wilson on the road at an age when most people are stopping to smell the roses. It left an unpleasant taste so I didn’t go to any subsequent shows or The Beach Boys tour.
But…when an Edinburgh show was announced, I did vacillate…it had been a few years since that unpleasant night in Glasgow, the show was in Edinburgh so I wouldn’t have to travel far…ah what the hell, we better go.
I’d read a couple of reviews in the weeks before the show…they were highly favourable, but as I believe Mr Wilson is in that rarefied orbit where all critics are afraid to say anything negative, I didn’t give them too much credence.
But, in the event, Brian and the band pulled it off. He was present and lucid, if not obviously having a great time and played long, powerful sets, including Pet Sounds from start to finish as the second set – the first set and the encore segue were hits, hits, hits.
With this current band, Brian is getting some help with the “heavy lifting,” as Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin from The Beach Boys are on hand to sing, as well as Al’s son Matt Jardine, who dovetails beautifully with Brian in handing the high parts Brian can’t get anymore. It work tremendously well…one of the high points of the evening was Brian and Matt harmonising on the three word “listen, listen, listen” refrain from Don’t Talk, which has always stood out as recording due to the fact there is no vocal harmony on it. Unique on Pet Sounds and unusual in the canon.
Al Jardine’s voice doesn’t seem to have substantially changed and it was great to hear him on the Pet Sounds songs, as well as Help Me Rhonda and Cottonfields. I’d seen Al with The Beach Boys on a couple of occasions, but I’d never seen Blondie Chaplin…he was a revelation; these days he looks like a cross of Lou Reed and Keith Richards, thin and bescarfed and garlanded with a beautiful old Les Paul and Strat; he has the vibe of a rawk-god sprite in a musical midsummer night’s dream, more like the spirit of musicality caught in a man’s body than an actual man. Who knew the piece Pet Sounds is actually a tambourine solo? Well, it is the way Blondie played it, so beautifully, in his one foray onstage during the Pet Sounds section of the concert…in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a tambourine sounding more like a musical instrument of depth and power. Blondie also got to sing Wild Honey, Funky Pretty and Sail On Sailor.
Billy Hinsche was also in the band, on keys and family harmonies, a man who has probably been in The Beach Boys touring bands for longer than some members of The Beach Boys.
So, I’m definitely glad I took the chance and went along to the show. I think everyone there left feeling a bit better about everything, that’s what the music of Brian Wilson does for you. Add some music to your day, as John Cale did in his song from 1974, the best ever Brian Wilson homage.
The pictures at the top and below were taken by Barry McLuskie at the show in Glasgow on 27 May – thank you for letting me use them, Barry.