It can be quite a thrill to witness a true icon of music showcasing their best work.
And when that performer is in the twilight of their career, you go along knowing that you might not be catching them in career best form, but as long as the material is rendered faithfully, it doesn’t really matter.
This is even more so in the case of Brian Wilson, whose battles have been so well documented. It’s a marvel that he is performing at all; that the songs are performed so beautifully is a thing of wonder.
Much of this is due to the amazing eleven piece ensemble that Wilson has around him. Boasting original Beach Boy (and key vocalist/guitarist) Al Jardine, and former seasonal members of the band, Blondie Chaplin and Matt Jardine (Al’s son), this group is arguably a far more faithful incarnation of the act than the official Mike Love iteration that toured here just last year.
Wilson himself occasionally struggles with his diction these days and in the second half of the show his voice momentarily strains on some of the higher notes, but for the most part he remains in fine voice, blending nicely with the other vocalists to produce some of the most incredible harmonies ever heard in modern popular music.
It also works well that the vocals are shared around: Al Jardine is still at the top of his game, while his son takes on the daunting task of carrying those falsetto notes. And all but a couple of the large ensemble contribute something to the singing.
There’s also a strange and slightly wonderful atmosphere to the whole show. In place of the usual rock’n’roll swagger (carried here only by Chaplin), the vibe is warm, gently celebratory and unfailingly supportive. In full knowledge of what Wilson has been through, band and audience rally around the man. And this is not in a patronising fashion either, as everyone is having a genuinely great time.
The show is presented in two halves. The first half covers the career of The Beach Boys, mixing super hits with a few rarities (the show even starts with two tracks from Smile, Wilson’s lost masterpiece). Ripping out “California Girls” early in the evening is an indication that all the favourites are going to be on the night’s setlist.
After the interval we get a full run through of the seminal Pet Sounds album. Wilson’s voice might be tiring slightly here, but the genius of the song construction is a pure delight to behold. “God Only Knows” prompts a standing ovation; Wilson acknowledges the strength of the song but then asks people to stop clapping because he has another tune to play. His matter of fact style is just part of the show’s charm.
We might have left satisfied with just “Good Vibrations” for the encore, but then Al Jardine takes centre stage as the band reels off hit after hit: “Help Me Rhonda”, “Surfin’ USA” and “Barbara Ann”, just to name a few.
It’s a marvel that by night’s end Wilson and company have taken us through 38 tracks with not a moment of filler. With the Entertainment Centre Theatre playing host, and one or two empty seats, it’s just a shame that more people didn’t get along to witness this: it was a very special gig and one of the most enjoyable shows I’ve experienced in a while.
Reviewed by Matthew Trainor