Right: My photos from the Atlanta show did NOT come out! So, here is a picture from Brian's Dallas show three days earlier. Photo by Kim Ritzenthaler/DMN
The summer of 1985 brought a dawn to the 16th year of my life. As a teenager in South Florida, the beach truly was the place to go. Because of that reason, it seemed that our local MOR radio station played songs that epitomized the sun and fun of a teenage summer days (and summer nights!). My friends were the typical 1985 teenagers, slaves to the music determined cool by MTV Program Directors. Me, I was different. My ear perked to a new tune that appeared that summer. A song that truly sounded different than the music of the period. "Getcha Back" cut through the grill of my friend Tom's 1982 Skylark speakers. Tom, a disciple of the gospel according to EDDIE & Iron Maiden, turned the station in search of 'power chords'. Over the course of that summer, I mowed and worked to earn enough money to buy used Beach Boys LP's from a local flea market vendor. That led to 45's and any Beach Boy related recording I could find. Tom thought I was crazy. How could Beach Boys music ever be as powerful as a Bruce Dickenson vocal?
Pet Sounds was the album that worked its way into the code of my DNA sequence. It understood my first relationships with girls, it explained why I was different than my friends, and why my parents hated everything I did. It cradled me to sleep, alone and disillusioned far away at college. It was my comfort, and I was convinced that Brian Wilson created Pet Sounds for me, and my life. 15 years, 1/5 of an ideal lifespan. College, marriage, children, careers all change a person. After 15 years, I still listen to the Beach Boys, more specifically, the music of Brian Wilson.
The Brian Wilson Pet Sounds Tour was a sure thing for me. I was going to go, no matter how far. I decided that Atlanta was the best bet, even though it was a 12-hour drive. Tom volunteered to go with me. He still didn't know exactly why, but was up for the trip. 15 years is a long time to wait for anything. The summer of 2000 arrives with the tour of my life, Brian Wilson. Not Brian as a member of the Beach Boys, but as a solo artist. I wasn't sure how the show would look or sound; would there be cheerleaders or beach balls bouncing on top of the crowd?
Chastain Park was surrealistic on the last Sunday of July 2000. The crowd was filled with concertgoers with coolers full of paté and sushi. Wine bottles clinked to crystal as the Brian Wilson Suite began.
The Wilson Suite (arranged by Van Dyke Parks / Conducted by Larry Baird):
As the orchestra stretched and played with the harmonics that Brian Wilson so carefully worked out on the piano so many years ago, the clouds overhead began to fall. Mad scrambling of yuppie concert paraphernalia began, but I could hardly take notice, as I was lost in the melodies. Van Dyke Parks' unorthodox arrangements required a great familiarity to identify all of the songs (reminiscent of detecting songs on the industrial band Leibach's Let It Be record). Parks comments in the tour book that he wished to shed new light onto the "American song-masterworks" of Brian Wilson. I, as a former piano major, greatly enjoyed Mr. Parks' loving re-visitations, but the average concert attendee might have been checking their concert stubs to make sure they came the right night. As a tribute and a ray of hope for the future, Van included 7 melodies composed in the SMiLE era. Recent indications (including the EAR CANDY interview) hint that Brian might finally be facing the 'spectors' of his past, including the SMiLE material.
The Suite was followed by a break in the rain and a 20-minute intermission that gave the audience time to repack their coolers and dry a little.
Set 2 (Brian Wilson & Band):
Brian and the Wondermints came on stage shortly after 8:30. The opening number, "Brian Wilson", is a cover of the song from the first Barenaked Ladies CD. Brian's version of the song was under a minute, but served as a piece of powerful sarcasm. Brian's performance begins with "'Til I Die", a haunting piece from the Beach Boys Surf's Up album that Bruce Johnston once referred to as the "last great Brian Wilson song." Its performance was breathtaking. By this time the rain at Chastain Park was coming dawn in sheets. Brian playful asked the audience "What are you going to do about this?" The response was a loud scream at which sparked the band. The next 2 selections were just as moving. "In My Room" came across beautifully as the Wondermints and Brian + background singers harmonized perfectly, but not as perfect as the Wilson clan's blend in 1963. "Kiss Me Baby" (and later in the set "Please Let Me Wonder") made me wonder if maybe Brian should have started last year with a Today side 2 tour! These beautiful tunes were hardly performed live by the Beach Boys, if ever.
"The First Time" is a 'new' song that was featured on the Live at the Roxy CD. Written and demoed in the mid 1980's, it was the only road bump in the set. Its arrangement with the Wondermints is nice, featuring Beach Boys style vocal swells, but it is time for Brian to start looking forward for new material instead of pillaging from a period when he was so manipulated. The last 4 songs of this set were all hit singles for the Beach Boys during the 1960's and all continued to be part of the Beach Boys repertoire, including the Wilson-less Mike Love driven Beach Boys tour of today. Hearing Brian perform these eternal nuggets was nice, but these were not the songs that his fans were waiting all these years for. Brian baited the audience through the early part of this set and later during the Pet Sounds set by saying that the fast songs were coming just 'hold on'. The fact that these fans were at his show, and not a Beach Boys concert meant they were true to him. There was no need to apologize, and if there was any apprehension it was in anticipation of the Pet Sounds set.
Set 3 (Brian Wilson & Band, plus orchestra):
The Pet Sounds set brought the orchestra back to the stage. The guitar intro of "Wouldn't It Be Nice" was almost inaudible and made the song unidentifiable until Brian's vocal came in 3 half steps lower than the original recording. Some of the songs were lowered to accommodate Mr. Wilson's voice, which is not a problem, but makes one shiver with wonder what a Brian Wilson performance in 1966 would have been like. The arrangement of the band by Darian Sahanaja of the Wondermints is admirable and those attending shows without the orchestra will not suffer. The band for the most part, overpowered the orchestra. Pet Sounds flowed like a dream until "Caroline, No" when Brian came in on a chorus early for which he apologized. He knows that even though he wrote these songs, they belong to the audience and mistakes are noticed. The audience was forgiving, just thankful that Mr. Wilson is still here to share this piece of his soul he poured 34 years ago.
"Good Vibrations" concluded this set. As testified by the 1997 release of the Pet Sounds Sessions box set, "Good Vibrations" was a Pet Sounds era composition that was recorded and considered for the release. Participants and documentation show Brian spent the next 6 months perfecting this 'pocket symphony'. Strangely, Brian tells audience that the song was written in August of 1966 and that he spent only 6 weeks on the single. In his defense, I can't remember what happened 34 years ago either. (Maybe because that's 3 years before my birth, but that's not the point)
The Encore is what Brian told the audience to hold on for. The first 2 numbers featured him on the bass, just like the early 60's. Although Bob Lizik played with him, Brian appeared right on top of these. "Surfer Girl" was announced as the first song he ever wrote. Wow! What a song to start out with. "Surfin' USA" evoked thoughts of the demo from the Good Vibrations box set, on which a 21 year old Brian pounded his heart onto the upright in the Wilson family den. The Wondermints played these so strong and fresh I would think twice about attending the aged cliché-filled Mike Love show.
After a rain-filled night, Brian was ready to let the audience return to their homes and hotel rooms. The audience would have no part of that by chanting BRIAN...BRIAN...BRIAN. He returned to give a musical kiss good night.
Brian loves this song and his performance proves it. The touring version is stripped of the extreme production found on his 1988 self-titled release. I never got to hear it this way, and now I have found its true beauty.
What of Tom, you ask? My best friend who never fully understood my Brian Wilson addiction? What did he think of the performance? Before I could ask, he turns to me, "That was the best concert I have ever seen!" See even though Brian is almost 60 and his angelic falsetto is gone, he still has the ability to captivate an audience that few do and 'power chords' of his own.