Brian Wilson sat at a white baby grand piano, looking like a guest of honor at his own concert. Especially when flanked by bandmates serving as a musical dais, and on a stage adorned with lighted wreaths, a multitude of candles, and trees of evergreen, Wilson and his holiday songs were celebrated as sincerely as the season itself. Over a crisp 90-minute set covering nearly 30 songs, the former and forever Beach Boy and his inspired group brought the feeling of Christmas to Southern California.
In all truth, Wilson sang and played less throughout this performance that presented the Beach Boys Christmas album in sequence, as well as a host of yuletide classics and band gems, as compared to his previous tour paying tribute to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album. Instead, the grandfatherly icon was positioned more like the architect of these indelible songs, and the sound, leaving much of the sonic interiors to the rest of ensemble. He was joined, again, by Beach Boy brethren Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin; the latter popping in and out for select tunes; the former a constant presence serving as a de facto Master of Ceremonies.
Jardine, in fact, introduced the opening portion of the evening- the re-creation of The Christmas Album- praising Wilson and his A-side of original compositions now, over five decades later, firmly implanted in the canon of holiday favorites. The band was sparkling, hitting the multi-part harmonies in angelic grace and keeping note-sure true to the original arrangements. The B-side collection of more traditional fare was equally well-executed, culminating with a spirited “Blue Christmas.”
The middle of the set offered a glimpse into rare territory, with Wilson reaching back to his recent solo years for a pair- “Christmasey” and “On Christmas Day”- that featured the most singing from the rock-and-roll legend. Then, Jardine told of a “lost” second Christmas album, recorded by the Boys in the ‘70s, but shelved by the record label, before launching “Winter Symphony” and “Christmas Time is Here Again.” Chaplin returned to dedicate “O Holy Night” to his mother, and then delivered a rendition of stunning beauty and emotive passion.
Next was a run of Beach Boys staples, including several from Pet Sounds, opening with the summery bounce of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” that oddly fit the festive feel of the occasion. Others, like “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and “Fun, Fun, Fun,” brought the sold-out theatre crowd, and Wilson’s daughter Carnie, to their dancing feet. A touching acapella encore, with the dozen gathered around the piano, began with “White Christmas,” and finished with the quintessential good-bye/welcome to the passing of time with “Auld lang syne.”
There may not be another musician alive more closely associated with the fun and exuberance of youth than Brian Wilson. And there may be no other holiday that perpetuates the nostalgia and innocence of being young quite like Christmas. The pairing of the two led to a treasured album, and the live performance 50 years later was long overdue. Wilson may be aging, but his music, for his and every generation after, thankfully remains timeless.