Published on theMusic.com.au, Apr 2016
The story of The Beach Boys is an interesting one. On top of band politics that saw founding member Brian Wilson step aside and vocalist Mike Love take charge (the form of which visited our shores last November), there’s also been a slew of mental health issues that plagued Wilson as he rose to fame in the ‘60s and beyond.
As laid out by 2014 biopic Love & Mercy, which he proudly claimed as his own, it was Wilson’s mental health struggles that saw the band’s fragmentation, shortly after he produced one of the greatest records of all time, Pet Sounds. It’s the intriguing manner in which the musical genius formed that ’66 album – almost as if he was piecing it together at the cost of his own sanity – that makes the prospect of hearing the masterpiece in full all the more alluring.
Waddling onto the stage with house lights blaring, Wilson greeted the roar of applause was an enthusiasm that instantly smashed the levels he gave at The Beach Boys 50th anniversary reunion tour in 2012.
An array of uplifting harmonies led by conductor and horns player Paul Mertens set things in motion before Heroes And Villains, with its many layers, trademark vocal tones and quirkiness, set the tone perfectly for the evening.
The beach vibes weren’t far off as the pulsating rhythm and infectious sounds of California Girls came crashing in, with a twang that left punters no other option than to Dance, Dance, Dance.
The nine-part harmonies carried into I Get Around, a transition that the band has nailed. Most of their short, sharp hits rolled into one another seamlessly, creating a medley of non-stop earworms.
His (stage) right-hand man, Al Jardine (also of Beach Boys fame), presented in a suit for Shut Down andLittle Deuce Coupe, while his son, Matt Jardine, stood up the back of the stage as the band’s secret weapon. The second generation Beach Boy had a “golden voice” and his pitch perfect falsetto vocal lead on Don’t Worry Baby stole the show.
He was just one of an impressive array of members gracing Wilson’s band, including legendary guitarist and long-time collaborator Blondie Chaplin, whose time in The Rolling Stones became immediately apparent as he commanded the entire room’s attention every time he appeared, which was surprisingly only a small portion of the set.
Despite an onslaught of hits early on, it seemed everyone was anxiously awaiting the Pet Sounds set. There was a weird contrast between the album’s brilliance and Wilson’s ability to perform it 50 years after its release, but some pitch and pronunciation issues were quickly forgiven as the room buckled up for the ride.
The struggle was most evident during God Only Knows – which Paul McCartney has described as one of the greatest song of all time – but it was clear during that hit that the songs and lyrics themselves on the iconic album have a life of their own, and hold up regardless of whose performing them. Watching Wilson take lead on the piano and sing was like witnessing history; something people will talk about for years to come.
It’s an album that ebbs and flows to perfection, telling a story through intricate and sometimes almost unnoticeable layers; even the instrumentals were captivating, the title track embracing a big sax and range of percussion.
While it was a creative side step for The Beach Boys at the time of release, it’s clear the album is timeless. Witnessing Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds live is an immersive and special experience.