Brian Wilson

16 September 2000

Magness Arena, Denver, CO


Anyone who has read the Brian Wilson autobiography, Wouldn't It Be Nice, or seen the documentary on him, I Just Wasn't Made For These Times, will end up with an image of a sometimes-disturbed genius.

After a successful first solo tour at age 57 in 1999, Brian took to the road again this year, with a slightly different twist--he added a symphonic orchestra to the mix. For someone who has only 6 % hearing in one ear, being able to hear the individual sounds of several dozen people is, in a word, unreal.

The Magness Arena is a nice facility on the University of Denver campus. One big building houses a basketball court, an Olympic-size swimming pool, and a hockey arena, at which Brian and his bandmates performed tonight.

The tour is billed as Brian Wilson and the Pet Sounds Orchestra. The Orchestra contains about 50-60 skilled musicians, who began the evening with a 25-minute suite of Brian Wilson originals, arranged by eccentric, longtime Wilson collaborator, Van Dyke Parks, and conducted by Charles Floyd. This opening set, without Wilson present, served one valuable purpose--it revealed Brian Wilson's true talent as a composer--these 25 minutes of music sounded like work by a classic, historical musical genius. This set proved that one would not be out of line comparing B.W. to Beethoven, or really any other composer.

Like last year, Brian later walked out onto the set with a tight, talented, ten person band consisting mainly of the band, the Wondermints. Jeffrey Foskett is on the road with B.W. again this year, filling in for Brian's ultra high harmonies. Brian shows he still has a great sense of humor at 58, by opening with the Barenaked Ladies hit "(I'm lying in bed just like) Brian Wilson", and following it with the etherial "'Til I Die".

The rest of the set included wonderful versions of Beach Boys hits "California Girls", "Darlin", "Do It Again", and "In My Room". He also performed his tribute to Carl, "Lay Down Burden", the Ronnie Spector hit, "Be My Baby" in C, and the relatively obscure "Add Some Music To Your Day".

After a break, the show intensified. Brian brought out the orchestra again to play, in its entirety, the monumental Pet Sounds album. In less than 45 minutes the 60-70 musician ensemble performed the 13 great songs that, in the studio, took several months to record. With rare exceptions such as key changes, the ensemble did a fantastic job of recreating the magic of Pet Sounds live.

"Wouldn't It Be Nice" was performed a note and a half below the studio version. Though, Brian was, most of the time, able to reach the high notes in the other songs. He superbly handled the Mike Love parts on "Wouldn't It Be Nice", "That's Not Me", "I Know There's An Answer", and "Here Today". During "Let's Go Away For A While" and "Pet Sounds", Brian turned around, folded his arms, and proudly watched the ensemble. "Sloop John B." and "God Only Knows" were exceptional. "Caroline, No!" was performed at a semitone lower than in studio.

Like last year's tour, Brian sat in front of a piano. But, rather than faking it, he kept his hands off the keys most of the time, and instead he used a lot of interesting hand gestures. After finishing his live rendition of his 1966 album masterpiece, Brian proceeded with his 1966 single pinnacle, "Good Vibrations", and promptly walked off at the end of the set, to a large ovation.

The encore produced another surprise--Brian strapped on a Fender bass! He played it during "Surfer Girl" and the beautiful "Please Let Me Wonder", which many regard as a big step towards his symphonic-based departure in the middle 1960s. Afterwards, he sat back down at the piano during "Surfin' U.S.A.", "Fun Fun Fun", "I Get Around", "Help Me Rhonda", and "All Summer Long". His performance of "Barbara Ann" offered a nice mimic of Mike Love's vocals.

For a second encore, Brian and the ten piece band harmonized on his 1988 gem, "Love And Mercy".

The word "inspiration" sums up this evening.

[**** 1/2] - Steven T.

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