Brian Wilson and his bandmates do ‘Pet Sounds’ proud at ACL Live

Brian Wilson and band perform at ACL Live on Saturday, May 13, 2017. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

Seated at the piano at center stage, Brian Wilson sometimes disappears into the grandeur of his own show, overwhelmed by the great wealth of talent in the 11-member cast that surrounds him. If that sounds like a problem, it really isn’t: Wilson, who turns 75 next month, needs the support, and not just because he’s getting up there in years. This, after all, is a full-on genius musician, with the psychological baggage that often accompanies such a gift. It’s worth remembering that Wilson had trouble performing live even when he was in his 20s.

As such, his mere presence remains a wonder unto itself. Everyone in the room — on this night, a packed house for the first of two nights at ACL Live — knows he’s the architect of the sound that made the Beach Boys iconic, so it’s a rite of passage just to see and hear Wilson revisit the material that made him one of the greatest pop composers of the 20th century.

His current tour is a special one, with the second set featuring the Beach Boys’ landmark “Pet Sounds” album played in its entirety. Austin initially was set to get this show last year at Levitation Fest, but the festival’s weather-related cancellation caused a yearlong delay. The end result may have been preferable: While it would have been intriguing to hear this band in the context of that giant outdoor psychedelic party, the sounds of “Pet Sounds” ultimately are best suited for a great concert hall.

Not that there aren’t sometimes glitches even in the best of venues. Escorted to the stage for a first set featuring many classics from the Beach Boys catalog, Wilson immediately had technical issues. He halted the grand opener “California Girls” a few bars in, notifying the crew that his teleprompter was displaying the lyrics upside down. At the end of the song, he called out that his piano had been turned off in the mix. Both problems were fixed quickly, and the show moved right along.

If most of the crowd probably came especially for “Pet Sounds,” they got plenty of other highlights in the first set, thanks largely to Beach Boys co-founding guitarist-singer Al Jardine. He sang lead on several early numbers, including “Help Me Rhonda” and “Little Deuce Coupe,” before Wilson resumed control mid-set for “In My Room” — “the first song I ever wrote,” he told the crowd in one of several likely scripted but still welcome asides.

The full band’s instrumental range stood out on “Add Some Music to Your Day,” an inspired choice from the tail end of the Beach Boys’ glory years. But the first show-stopper came when Jardine’s son Matt, conspicuous on the back riser from the start as the guy hitting the glorious falsetto high notes Wilson can’t reach, stepped out for a lead vocal on “Don’t Worry Baby.” He’s the secret weapon of this touring lineup, so much so that it’s hard to imagine the show succeeding without him.

Touted highly in the advance push for the concert was the inclusion of Blondie Chaplin, revisiting his brief early-’70s Beach Boys tenure (later followed by a decade with the Rolling Stones’ touring lineup). Chaplin beefed up the evening’s mostly pristine-pop sounds with three numbers at the end of the first set that featured him stepping out with heavy guitar jams, most notably on “Wild Honey.”

During the stretch of Chaplin and Matt Jardine spotlight numbers, you could almost have forgotten this was Wilson’s show, as he held back and let them shine. But when the “Pet Sounds” portion of the evening started after intermission, the focus went squarely back to his vocals. While both Jardines still gave him plenty of help on numbers such as the opening gem “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and the trad-folk remake “Sloop John B,” Wilson did the heavy lifting on crucial numbers such as “That’s Not Me” and “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times.”

Brian Wilson performs at ACL Live on Saturday, May 13, 2017. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

Perhaps most surprising, and ultimately rewarding, was that Wilson sang lead on the night’s finest number, “God Only Knows.” Brian’s late brother Carl recorded the unforgettable lead vocal on the 1966 version that ranks with the greatest pieces of popular music ever recorded, and Wilson might have turned this one over to Matt Jardine, who no doubt could have sung it spectacularly. But it meant a great deal to hear those notes and words directly from the man who wrote the song with Tony Asher. If it was more plainspoken, it was transcendent for the personal touch. And when both Jardines joined in for the layered vocal parts toward the end, it was hard to hold back tears of joy.

Once “Pet Sounds” was completed — with Wilson walking off solo after his last vocal note of “Caroline, No” as the band finished the song — a boisterous encore call was answered quickly. Paul Von Mertens, who starred all night on saxophone, flute, clarinet and more, came out to introduce all the band members, one by one: drummer Mike D’Amico, bassist Bob Lizik, guitarist Nick Walusko, percussionist Nelson Bragg, multi-instrumentalist Probyn Gregory, and keyboardists Darian Sahanaja and Gary Griffin, as well as the Jardines and Chaplin.

Once Wilson returned, one might have expected a finale of “Good Vibrations,” the biggest Beach Boys hit that hadn’t yet been played, and a quick wave goodbye. That was indeed the first song of the encore, but it was far from the last. A rapid-fire mini-set of rockin’ hits followed, including “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and “Fun Fun Fun,” before Wilson closed the show on a note of grace and beauty with “Love and Mercy,” the title track to his 1988 solo album. It’s a simple message, but one so dearly needed in this day and age.

Exiting the theater, I overheard a snippet of conversation two people were having about the show. I caught it midstream, but the concluding words were, “…how important music is. Nothing else could do that.” I expect they were marveling at the miracle of Wilson still being able to perform, 50 years after his greatest music came to be. But really, they could have been talking about any one of us.

Set list:
1. California Girls
2. Dance, Dance, Dance
3. I Get Around
4. Shut Down
5. Little Deuce Coupe
6. Little Honda
7. Help Me, Rhonda
8. Salt Lake City
9. In My Room
10. Surfer Girl
11. Wake the World
12. Add Some Music to Your Day
13. California Saga: California
14. Don’t Worry Baby
15. Let Him Run Wild
16. Feel Flows
17. Wild Honey
18. Sail On, Sailor
—Intermission—
(Pet Sounds album:)
19. Wouldn’t It Be Nice
20. You Still Believe in Me
21. That’s Not Me
22. Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)
23. I’m Waiting for the Day
24. Let’s Go Away for Awhile
25. Sloop John B
26. God Only Knows
27. I Know There’s an Answer
28. Here Today
29. I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times
30. Pet Sounds
31. Caroline, No
—Encore—
32. Good Vibrations
33. Do You Wanna Dance?
34. Barbara Ann
35. Surfin’ U.S.A.
36. Fun Fun Fun
37. Love and Mercy

Brian Wilson, at piano, and his band, from left: Gary Griffin, Probyn Gregory, Darian Sahanaja, Nelson Bragg, Mike D’Amico, Bob Lizik, Al Jardine, Matt Jardine, Nick Walusko and Paul Von Mertens. (Not pictured: Blondie Chaplin.) Saturday, May 13, 2017, at ACL Live. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

Reader Comments 0

0 comments