Brian Wilson and the Pet Sounds Symphonic Tour
With the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, September 26, 2000
Last Sunday I went to see our old pal Brian W. at the Hollywood Bowl. At least I think it was Brian, we were so far away it could've been Carny Wilson. In fact, we were so high up that Carl and Dennis were in the next isle. Murray, of course, was nowhere to be seen.
I had heard about this show a few months back but had no interest even though I knew there was to be a "Pet Sounds" Orchestra. The concept of today's Brian being connected with it was too scary to even bother with.
About a week before the event, my friend Andy calls and says he's got an extra ticket. Andy's about 40, but if you factor in the time he's spent thinking about the Bronx Bombers he's really only about 10. Anyway, I try to beg off by saying I can't afford it. I figure it's the Bowl, tickets have to be 30 or 40 bucks. Andy says he'll spring for it. Instantly I realize I came up with the wrong excuse. It's Andy! The seats are nosebleeds and cost no more than $5. So now I'm roped into it and dreading it will be even more horrible than Dylan was last year at the Bowl...where the only way you could figure out what Dylan was singing was by keeping the binoculars peeled on the nice looking young man standing alongside the stage who was "Signing" for the hearing impaired. Fact is, if I was deaf I'm sure I would've enjoyed the show more.
The evening opens with some old Hollywood sycophant blathering on about the genius who is about to take the stage. He concludes with "Ladies and Gentlemen...Brian Wilson!" Then nothing happened for 5, 10, 15 minutes. During that interval, Brian's devotees were conjecturing that he was either, still eating, trying to find parking, or chasing butterflies.
Finally Van Dyke Parks strolls out and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra begins a medley of Brian's songs. Van Dyke is the conductor- Although considering his diminutive size and the distance I was from him, he looked more like a semiconductor-The Hollywood bowl setting is so gorgeous that even a symphony orchestra playing Beach Boy songs is bearable. The real fun, however, was sifting through Van Dyke's bizarre arrangements and trying to figure out which song they were playing. The medley of about 30 songs in 30 minutes included things as obscure as "Sail on Sailor."
Then Van Dyke and the orchestra leave and Brian comes out with a band and a shit load of back-up singers. He seemed to know where he was and why he was there, although he did yell out "Hello, Los Angeles!" Which seemed disconcerting since he has lived here for 60 years. But then he opened with "Until I die" and after about 10 seconds I apologized to Andy for all the mean Brian jokes - You know like referring to him as "Flipped Wilson."
Anyway, both the band and the sound were wonderful. Brian's limited vocal abilities were comfortably disguised by shadow vocalists who snuck in a Brian falsetto part or two. It was not nearly as sad as I was expecting. His between song patter was uniquely Brian, not always coherent but mildly entertaining. There were a few pathetic moments like when Brian nailed a falsetto slide and the audience applauded as if someone had just played a great solo. Nevertheless, it wasn't too bad and then came intermission, during which time the devotees discussed which aspects of Brian's voice had deteriorated the most.
After the break, the Pet Sounds orchestra came out, along with Brian and his band. The conductor (I can't recall his name) talked about how this was Brian's tenth album and he was only 23 when he made it. After "Wouldn't It Be Nice" they all seemed to settle in along with the tears welling up in me as I realized that whoever had put this together for Brian, loved every musical nuance in Pet Sounds as much as I did. The masterwork was reproduced note for note, sound for sound and emotion for emotion. As they pressed on through the record, I began to stare up at the night sky and visualize the little drops of cynicism evaporating from my brain. By about "The Sloop John B." I began to feel like the Grinch whose heart had grown two sizes too big.
At this point, I must say, I can no longer tell you what happened after that, for I had completely lost my critical faculties. God only knows what went on, although I remember thinking that suddenly the album seemed way too short and I was dreading the fact that it would soon be hearing the dogs barking at the end of "Caroline No."
Well, the train did go by and the dogs did bark and then I believe a Beach Boy concert broke out and as I recall I was bouncing up and down helping Brian with some shadow vocals that were almost as weak as Brian's but contained just as much heart.
Walking back to the car through the bowels of Hollywood, I thanked Andy about 17 times and he was good enough to not gloat too much. Andy is the type for whom cynicism holds no glory and for a few hours on that night I understood what is was like to be Andy.