27 October 2004
Paramount Theatre, Denver, CO
I highly recommend SMiLE, the CD, released on 28 September 2004. On one hand I would attempt to discourage confusion of this new CD with the legendary, otherworldly, never-finished Beach Boys album of the same name, given that the new CD contains no recordings from the original 1966-1967 SMiLE sessions. On the other hand, having listened to bootlegs of various Beach Boys SMiLE sessions, I would remark about the amazing similarities between the two SMiLEs.
Late last year Van Dyke Parks and B.W. got together and finally finished the composition aspect of this project. Earlier this year, with Brian's amazing touring band, they rehearsed and recorded the 17-track pop opera that many thought Brian would never commit to a completed product. By choosing one of the same studios he used for many of the mid-1960s Beach Boys recordings, and selecting recording equipment from that era as well (including some vintage microphones), Brian produced an album that very, very closely resembles the original recordings, down to the instruments, arrangements, and production. To add to the mistique of the SMiLE legend, the album debuted on Billboard's album chart at #13.
Brian decided to follow this release with a 1 1/2 month-long U.S. tour, starting with the Tonight Show, and stopping by at the Paramount in Denver.
Brian and his 10-piece band members opened the show by sitting around each other on stools, and employing a couple acoustic guitars, a bongo drum, and an occasional bass and/or additional percussion instrument. This Beach Boys Party-based atmosphere reeled off a very pleasant "Surfer Girl", "Wendy" (dedicated to his daughter, who recently became a mom), a rare "Drive In", and "In My Room". Singer/guitarist Jeffrey Foskett made reference to lip-synching, making light of a recent Saturday Night Live snafu involving Ashlee Simpson.
After the unplugged opening, Brian introduced the next song by saying, "Here's a song called 'California Girls'," Many have described psychadelic-influenced symphonic opening to "California Girls" as the beginning to the sophisticated, strange, and classic phase of the Beach Boys career. I would also parallel this beginning as the intro to this evening's performance, which would precede remarkable versions of some of my favorite Beach Boys tunes, including, "Sail On Sailor", "Please Let Me Wonder", the stop-timed "The Little Girl I Once Knew", "Sloop John B.", and "God Only Knows" (with staccato bridge).
The title track was tonight's only selection from his June 2004 release Getting In Over My Head. Personally, I had hoped for "Saturday Morning In The City".
Dedicating the next two tunes to his brothers Dennis and Carl, ".....who both died," Brian sang songs originally composed by his siblings, the beautiful "Forever", and "Marcella".
Brian and band finished their first set with the more successful tracks, "Darlin'", "Do It Again", "Add Some Music To Your Day", "Fun Fun Fun", and "I Get Around", and subsequently took an intermission break.
Without introduction, Brian Wilson, his 10-piece band, and a six-piece string section, performed, from beginning-to-end, top-to-bottom, the entire SMiLE album.
The live performance of SMiLE was as authentic as you could get. "Barnyard" featured live, not pre-recorded, animal sound effects. "Workshop" featured real drills, saws, hammers and nails. "Vega-tables" included real articles of food. On-stage equipment included a theramin, a keyboard saxophone, pitch-variant-whistles, and other strange instruments. Vocalist Taylor Mills led an ensemble of "Wind Chimes".
A backdrop of projection imagery accompanied the performance. During "You [were] Are My Sunshine", this display showed a sun with a 1967 picture of Brian in the center, setting as the song sadly ends.
Brian fumbled a lyric during "Cabin Essence", and, in true, honest-to-form Brian Wilson fashion, corrected himself: ".....crow cries uncover the wheatfield.....I mean cornfield."
The "Wonderful / Song For Children / Child Is The Father Of Man / Surf's Up" suite was outstanding.
During "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow (Fire)", the string section donned fire hats, and the stage illuminated fake, but authentic-looking, fan-and-light-driven fire props, prompting Brian to place his hand inside one and shake his hand in mock pain. "Hawaii (Water)" put out the fire, and the second set ended with "Good Vibrations".
At the beginning of the first encore, talented, king-of-falsetto singer/guitarist Jeffrey Foskett, looking thinner than before, introduced the band. When Brian walked back out, he picked up a bass, and played and sang "Barbara Ann" and "Surfin' U.S.A.".
A key-of-G "Love And Mercy" served as the second encore.
So, finally Brian can close a long chapter on his life that started out as very inspirational, became a source of consternation, discomfort, paranoia, and shadows, and ended on positive notes, Good Vibrations, and a SMiLE. I get the sense that Brian has finally learned not to take himself too seriously, while simultaneously learning to give himself enormous credit for what he's done for American pop culture, and truly appreciating the beauty of the incredible brainchild he masterminded some 37 years ago.
[**** 1/2] - Steven T.
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