Last Man Standing
Brian Wilson and the Pet Sounds Symphonic Tour
With the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, September 26, 2000
by Eddie Rivera
So begins another paean to the oft-noted rock and roll genius, the idiot savant, the musical man-child known as Brian Wilson. Just the idea that he would actually perform live on a stage, let alone perform his 1967 masterpiece, Pet Sounds, was enough to send everyone from Paul McCartney to Marshall Crenshaw to Todd Rundgren to this correspondent (and you, I hope) into giddy fits of anticipation. Coolest place in America to be on this Sunday evening? Guess.
Added to the delicious mix was the appearance of collaborator/conspirator Van Dyke Parks, who wrote lyrics for a number of Wilson tunes, including the magnificent 'Surf's Up." Park was on hand to conduct the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in a medley of Wilsonics.
But we are ahead of ourselves.
Among the many factors making a Wilson appearance such a rare event in rock's self-important history is the fact that former Beach Boy Mike Love is currently touring with a band calling itself, strangely enough, the Beach Boys. Mike Love, Bruce Johnston, and some other guys playing that music and calling themselves, well, you get the idea...
Who would you rather see?
The evening opened with Parks at the podium conducting his arrangement of the Wilson oeuvre, combining with fiendish delight snippets of early Beach Boys tunes with pieces of Mozart. The overall effect, however, was just a clever sledgehammer of "I am genius hear me roar," with little subtlety to be found.
Much more ingenious was the WonderMints opening with the Barenaked Ladies tune, "Brian Wilson." Wilson himself sang the bridge, "...and if you want to find me, I'll be right here in the sun, building castles in the sand and listening to Fun Fun, Fun." It was the perfect blend of irony and acknowledgment of Wilson's troubled past.
From there it was on to one highlight after another, beginning with the elegant "Til I Die" from the 1970 Sunflower elpee. Wilson played a surprising number of early Beach Boys hits, perfectly duplicated by the crack band, all of them clearly members of the Church of Wilson. (You know the band is the best available when Wilson himself is the weakest singer.) Wilson sang in an earnest tenor, but it was clear the years have left their mark on his remarkable voice. Though in gliding to his famous falsetto for such tunes as "I Get Around" and "In my Room," Wilson brought his own ragged and gentle touch to songs other Beach Boys actually sang.
Tipping his hat to producer Phil Spector, Wilson also performed the Ronettes' "Be My Baby," the inspiration for his own "Don't Worry Baby," a tune which daughter Carney claims to have heard EVERY morning of her childhood and teen years. "This is generally acknowledged as the greatest song ever written," Wilson told the adoring audience. Who's to argue with him?
As though surprised that anyone would attend, but fully aware of his spot in the pantheon, Wilson thanked the audience profusely for just showing up. His geeky stage manner was equal parts endearing and embarrassing, but no one came to hear him do stand-up. (Note to Brian: Don't learn stage antics from that nitwit Mike Love.).
After an intermission, Wilson returned to perform the eponymous "Pet Sounds." Joined by an orchestra and the fabulous WonderMints, Wilson said without a trace of shame, "This is the 'Pet Sounds' album, and it goes something like this."
"Wouldn't it Be Nice," was as effervescent as the original, with Wilson recreating every minuscule detail of the album that inspired the Beatles to write Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band. It is Wilson's famous attention to detail that made Pet Sounds so original and unique, and it was the same story live, right down the bicycle horns on "I'm Waiting for the Day."
In the end, it came down to actually seeing Brian Wilson sing "Caroline No," or "God Only Knows,"tunes with no history of performance which made this correspondent truly appreciate the evening's import.
Throw in an encore of "All Summer Long," "Surfer Girl," and "Love and Mercy," and the world made perfect sense.
In a heartless world of anger and hate set to music, and where copying and sampling pass for originality, Brian Wilson still remembers the joy inherent in simple creation. He still gets around.
CopyrightŠ 2000 Arroyo Seco Journal