- 22 Aug 18
The Touched-By-The-Hand-Of-God Mr Wilson Brings His Greatest Hits Live Tour In For A Two-Night Stop At Vicar St. Pat Carty Bears Witness.
I’m available to argue about the genius of Brian Wilson ‘til the cows come home, go back out for a while, and come home again. I’m one of those sad eejits that could tell you about lost demos and bootleg copies of SMiLE. You know, the real one, before the suits released it, man! I’d be third from the left in the mob happy to throw shit at Mike Love in the street for failing to appreciate Brian’s “vision” and worrying instead about mundane concerns like “keeping his job” and “feeding his family”. I paid over the odds for my copy of Holland, just so I could have the bonus 7 inch, etc, etc. In short, it’s hopeless.
Faced then with another “last chance” to see Brian live, what does an acolyte of the church of Wilson do? You go, of course. Just over a year ago, Hot Press witnessed the full Pet Sounds show – the music was sublime, but Wilson was a spectral presence at best. With this in mind, it’s worrying to say the least to see the great man being carried to the piano by two helpers as tonight’s show begins.
Let’s put that to one side and talk about the music first – we get an 11 strong troupe – although they do look like a gang of geography teachers on a day trip - to do this immortal material justice, everything from French horns to xylophones and sleigh bells get a rattle, and the vocals, from Matt ‘son of Al’ Jardine in particular, are gorgeous. Half way through the opening ‘California Girls’, the woman to my left is already grinning like a particularly pleased Cheshire cat. There’s a lot more of the earlier, surfy material in tonight’s set than the more out-there stuff from the late sixties and seventies, but it’s a small complaint when you think of songs like ‘I Get Around’, ‘Shut Down’, ‘Little Deuce Coupe’, and ‘Surfin’ USA’ – songs so full of sunshine, youth and freedom that their sheen shall never be dulled.
Three numbers from Pet Sounds is never going to be enough, especially when one of them is the lesser ‘Sloop John B’, but ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ sounds marvellous, hats off again to Jardine, Jr, and as for ‘God Only Knows’, well, Paul McCartney once called it “the greatest song ever written”, and Macca knows more about great song writing than everyone else put together. Mr B. Hogan, of local jump-merchants Kíla, is sat to my right: “Even if you don’t like Pet Sounds, you know that it’s great.”
Of the remaining Beach Boys, Al Jardine seems to be there mostly for window dressing - he does take the odd vocal, like ‘California Saga: California’, but he wisely gives way to the younger hired hands. Blondie Chaplin, who was part of the band for Carl And The Passions – “So Tough” (1972) and their last great record, 1973’s Holland, on the other hand, is not giving way to anyone. He bounds on stage, in a fetching bright puke green jumper, and takes over for ‘Feel Flows’, ‘Wild Honey’ – reimagined as a seventies car chase theme - and ‘Sail On Sailor’. He’s been an adjunct Rolling Stone for over twenty years now – backing vocals, acoustic guitar, laughing at Keef’s jokes – and it shows as he brings some of their raggedness to bear here – guitar solos are extended where they weren’t before, and he comes back on to arse around with a tambourine for ‘Good Vibrations’. It might rankle the purist in me but it does add to the show.
Much as I’d like to avoid the subject, I can’t do a Brian Wilson review without talking about Brian Wilson. I spoke to a few people in the know after the gig – Pugwash man Thomas Walsh, and mover-and-shaker Joe Fitzgerald – and they reckon that this continued touring is Wilson’s idea rather than, as one might assume, the work of some shadowy background figure. You’d have to ask why though, for to call the man frail would be a severe understatement. There are several moments tonight when Wilson, sat behind an untouched piano throughout, is simply not there. You do get a flash of the lost genius in a beautiful ‘Surfer Girl’, its middle eight now awash with bitter sweet memories, and he gives ‘God Only Knows’ his best shot, but the standing ovation it receives is surely more for the song itself than the performance. It’s understandable that people want to see him, and if he gets something from the adulation then fair play to him, but imagine going to see one of his contemporaries like Dylan or McCartney, only for them to be carried out at the start of the show and put sitting in the corner while the band gets on with it. Imagine going to see The Rolling Stones and Jagger sits it out while Ronnie Wood’s son shouts at you that he can’t get no satisfaction. It’s a bizarre notion. Wilson seems relived when he announces ‘Love & Mercy’ as the last song of the night, he must be exhausted.
All that being said, there were many highlights – ‘Don’t Worry, Baby’, ‘Do It Again’, ‘Let Him Run Wild’ and a load of others. I enjoyed myself immensely, and you could see that the rest of the crowd were having a ball too when the lights came up during the very-good-indeed stab at ‘Good Vibrations’. The run out section featuring the likes of ‘Help Me Rhonda’ and ‘Barbara Ann’ has everyone up dancing and singing along and that’s the point of a night out in the first place. They’re there again tonight, and if you like music at all, you should try and make it too.