Brian Wilson needed a walker and assistance from his bandmates to get to his on-stage position Aug. 13 at the Rose Music Center.
But once he was seated behind his white piano at center stage and with stupendous support from his multi-talented, 10-piece band of multi-instrumentalists – including fellow Beach Boys Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin – Wilson was able to wipe away decades worth of calendars and make it seem not so odd that a man of 77 was singing songs about Daddy taking T-birds away; goin’ to a dance and lookin’ for romance; and not leavin’ his best girl home on a Saturday Night.
“Fun, Fun, Fun,“ “Barbara Ann” and “I Get Around” were just a few of the humongous hits – along with deeper cuts such as “Add Some Music to Your Day” and “Friends” – Wilson and company used to surround the evening’s showcase – the (almost) full-album performance of 1966’s seminal Pet Sounds LP, the record said to have inspired the Beatles to make Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and considered among the greatest works of the rock era.
Wilson’s presence was essential, even if his contributions were minimal. When he sang, he mostly sounded like himself but occasionally mumbled or strayed off key. His piano faced the audience directly, was mostly inaudible and a black sheet hid his legs and the foot pedals, so it was likely a prop. But his supportive bandmates, who occasionally walked over to whisper something in his ear or place a loving hand on his shoulder, did heavy lifting and recreated Pet Sounds, an album that was once thought to be unplayable live, with incredible accuracy.
Here are some of the tools needed to do it: theremin, bass, flute, baritone and alto saxophones, trumpet, flute, bass harmonica, drums, various percussion, guitars, banjo, keys, cornet, xylophone, French horn and, possibly, piano. With these implements in place – and the musicians often playing more than one in a single track – numbers such as “Wouldn’t it Be Nice,” “Sloop John B,” “God Only Knows,” “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” and “Caroline, No” filled the air and elicited many hard-earned standing ovations.
Only the instrumental title track went unplayed out of deference to guitarist Nick Walusko, who died unexpectedly last week and to whom Wilson dedicated the show. Walusko’s instrument sat untouched on stage and a bouquet of flowers stood on the riser where he had helped recreate his favorite album so many times before. It was a delightful touch in an evening that was one delight after another over the course of the 95-minute show.
Bookended by “California Girls” and the aforementioned “Fun, Fun, Fun,” the concert put Wilson’s ear for melody and harmony on full display. And when Chaplin emerged – he was the only player not on stage the entire time – for a triptych of tunes that concluded with “Sail on, Sailor,” he proved the Boys also knew how to rock as he prowled the lip of the stage playing solos, made sure Wilson (who occasionally yawned or stared blankly into space) remained engaged and faced off with his bandmates in good-natured, mock one-upmanship.
During the final run, which included must-plays such as “Good Vibrations,” “Help Me, Rhonda” and “Surfin’ U.S.A.” Chaplin, in maroon pants and a white denim jacket with a red carnation peeking from the pocket, was ringleader for band and audience, banging a tambourine and bounding about the stage as Wilson and Jardine took charge.
There was no encore, as getting Wilson on and off stage was a chore.
But it didn’t matter.
Delayed two months as Wilson battled recurring mental illness, that the show happened at all was a gift. It was a victory lap for one of pop music’s most creative songwriters and his masterpiece and a victory dance for his fans.
It wasn’t perfect, yet it was sheer perfection. The concert humanized a musical god; it celebrated of the soundtrack of a generation; and it demonstrated the healing power of music, for both Wilson and his followers.