Brian Wilson and crew give "Pet Sounds" a warm final bow
In May of 1966, the harmonious Beach Boys debuted their 11th album, "Pet Sounds," to a less-than-harmonious response, the artistically fueled record falling short of the band's previous light and sunny hits.
More than half a century later, the album has taken its rightful place in the pantheon of music. After its ho-hum critical and commercial response, "Pet Sounds" is now overwhelmingly considered one of the greatest records of all time, filled with songs that haven't lost their luster.
Now that it's celebrating its 51st birthday, original members Brian Wilson and Al Jardine – along with Blondie Chaplin, who joined in the '70s – are celebrating the album on their latest tour, traveling the world and revisiting the whole of "Pet Sounds" one last time. That included a stop at Riverside Theater on Wednesday night, where Wilson filled the auditorium of young and old fans with smooth, melodic tunes.
The lights on stage turned on with bright colors of purple and green, and the band members filed out in their classic button-up shirts. The music began, and soon Wilson made his way to the piano with Jardine soon by his side, playing guitar.
When you see musicians whose heyday was decades ago, you never know what kind of performance you will get out of them. At older ages, artists like Billy Joel, Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney still know how to perform and take you back in time with their music. Brian Wilson did half of that, still helping people relive the earlier days with his music, but lacking a bit with his performance. He just sat at his piano for much of the night, only getting up to leave the stage to take quick breathers.
Considering his age, 74, and health problems, it's more than understandable that Wilson wasn't up to par, needing to be walked out on stage by a fellow band member. However, as the show went on, he did perk up, getting into the songs as much as he could by wiggling his fingers, swaying his arms and belting out the lyrics. It was actually impressive how much Wilson could bring the old sounds back to life after all these years.
Jardine definitely impressed the audience, as well, still jamming on the guitar, grooving around on stage, hitting all the notes vocally and interacting with the audience. Their teamwork made the performance work; not to mention the rest of the crew Wilson and Jardine brought along who killed it. They delivered an incredible performance with their multi-instrumentalist skills, radiating energy and stamina. The whole time they looked like they were having the times of their lives, sharing the stage with two rock legends and sharing that contagious enthusiasm with the crowd.
The show came in three parts, opening with some of the group's greatest hits like "California Girls," "I Get Around" and "Help Me Rhonda." These early favorites got the crowd pumped up, clapping along, belting out the words they knew and dancing around in their seats.
The highlight of this first section came when Wilson sang "Surfer Girl," a song he wrote as a 19-year-old that worked like a time machine, his sweet performance sending the audience back to when the young songwriter might have been looking out into the distance, watching a girl catch some waves and inspiring his music. It warmed my heart.
For the second part of the show, Wilson and Jardine dove into "Pet Sounds," the purpose of this show. And, to be honest, this section was lacking the most. The audience got excited at first when they heard the initial notes of "Wouldn't it Be Nice," but then really didn't perk up again until "God Only Knows," which received a standing ovation from some in the crowd. The influential and heartfelt songs are slower and not as upbeat as the Beach Boys' lighter, beach-boogie hits, which hurt the energy coming off of some of their sunnier tunes.
The third part of the concert, however, woke people up from "Pet Sounds" and had them going wild. The set list for this section featured the best combination of songs, including "Good Vibrations," "Barbara Ann," "Surfin' USA" and "Fun Fun Fun." The crowd was constantly on their feet, shaking their bodies to the beat, loudly applauding after every song, as well as singing every word at the top of their lungs. The section closed the night out on a blissful high note, bringing smiles and laughter to the audience members as they heard and reminisced about the classics.
As soon as Brian Wilson sang his final notes, the whole crew stood up and everyone in the Riverside rose to applaud them. The band kept bowing as the audience continuously clapped. Although they missed out on singing "Kokomo" – and there was no John Stamos in sight – the concert was still enjoyable, a trip back in time and a much-deserved final bow for "Pet Sounds." And, hey, fans will at least get an encore of the Beach Boys at State Fair come August.
I thought Pet Sounds was by far the best part of the night. The first set, while filled with "the hits", felt like one of those shows you see on channel 36, maybe with commemorative CDs for sale. Pet Sounds was incredible from a music and musicianship standpoint - the layers upon layers of sound and incredible percussion faithfully recreated one of the more complex studio albums of its time. I'm 38, not 70, and was not there to relive my childhood, so I didn't care about the crowd's "energy". Although Wilson was almost incidental to the show, the Pet Sounds set was the highlight of the evening.
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