Brian Wilson wrapped his April 21 concert at Columbus’ Palace Theatre with an almost a cappella rendition of “Love and Mercy” – the only non-Beach Boys song of the evening—accompanied by only keys and the angelic voices of his agile and muscular Pet Sounds band.
The delicate performance capped a five-song, hit-heavy (“Good Vibrations,” “Barbara Ann,” “Fun, Fun, Fun”) encore that followed a 35-song, deep-cut-infused performance. Wilson spent the evening seated center stage at a white piano, as his 11-piece band recreated some of his most adventurous compositions and the Beach Boys’ most audacious studio performances.
By this point, Wilson’s already-fragile voice veered into a couple of wildly off-key notes that he seemed to find out of sheer exuberance. Despite his frailty (he had to be assisted on and off stage), Wilson looked to be having a ball even as he scolded an audience member for holding up a sign and occasionally got distracted by things known only to him. However, the long-addled and mysterious creative genius behind the Beach Boys’ sound sang surprisingly well and remained fully engaged throughout the performance, even as his band did the heavy musical lifting.
As they were introduced following the main set, the band members—including former Boys Al Jardine (vocals, guitar and banjo) and Blondie Chaplin (vocals, guitar and percussion)—reeled off snippets of tunes by Lou Reed, NRBQ, Blue Öyster Cult, Sly and the Family Stone and others as evidence of their sheer musicianship. But this wasn’t necessary.
Over the course of two hours, the multi-instrumentalist band members adeptly moved from horns to theremin to guitar; from keys to vibes to percussion; from brass to woodwinds to harmonica, etc., leaving audience members in states ranging from slack-jawed to teary-eyed.
The musicians arrayed around Wilson in front and back lines of five and six, respectively, and played and sang as they were bathed in soothing lights that simultaneously added to the concert’s entertainment factor without detracting from the musical performances taking place below it.
The second of two hour-long sets was devoted to the Beach Boy’s crowning achievement, 1966’s Pet Sounds. And much as he directed the studio musicians known as the Wrecking Crew to create that album—without which, there would be no Sgt. Pepper’s —Wilson directed his band to recreate that album on stage.
With a wildly diverse collection of percussion, flutes, banjo, xylophones, French horns and keys among the musical miscellany, and a dozen voices making a heaven-on-earth choir, the big band made tracks like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Sloop John B” and “God Only Knows” come to life and rendered the record’s deeper cuts, including the instrumental title track and “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times,” as fresh, ageless compositions that need to be a part of any music lover’s regular diet.
It was a spellbinding performance that cast the impossible-to-perform-live Pet Sounds in the light it has long deserved.
While Pet Sounds was the reason for—and the highlight—of the night, it encompassed only about 40 minutes of the two-hour show.
The festivities kicked off minutes after 8 p.m. with a rapid-fire, 17-song set front-loaded with hits such as “California Girls,” “I Get Around” and “Little Deuce Coupe” led by Wilson and Jardine. After a dream-like, harmonious run through “Surfer Girl,” Chaplin emerged, Jardine promised to wake the audience, and the group dived headlong into vintage 1970s rarities such as “Add Some Music to Your Day,” “California Saga” and “Wild Honey.”
These songs proved the perfect bridge into the Pet Sounds performance that followed and established Wilson a master of pacing, as he pulled of the herculean task of satisfying both casual and hard-core fans with a setlist no one could complain about. Chaplin—playing the stage-prowling guitar hero—wrapped up set one with a stinging run through “Sail on, Sailor,” during which Wilson gingerly hobbled off stage, as the band played with tenacity that typically sets up an encore break rather than a mid-show intermission.
Just an hour earlier, his bandmates had helped Wilson to his perch at center stage and taken their spots as their boss got situated. The first of a handful of standing ovations slowly quieted and Wilson set expectations for the evening.
“It’s not a Beach Boys concert,” he said. “But it’s a good concert.”
This was a Beach Boys concert in everything but name and it wasn’t a good concert. It was an incredible, moving and historical concert as Wilson, 74, wraps up what he says are his final Pet Sounds performances.