If only every rock casulaty was so good...
How often do you get to see an elusive legend perform his masterpiece, in a perfect setting? Not often. But yes, onstage is the [a]Brian Wilson[/a] – the man-child genius who liked his bedroom a whole lot. It’s a warmish night at the Molson Amphitheatre, near the shore of Lake Ontario. Seagulls circle overhead. Everyone’s drinking huge plastic cups of beer (thanks to the venue’s landlords). Is this still Canada? Impossible! California, here we come.
Released back in ’66, Pet Sounds has since influenced everyone from The Beatles to The High Llamas. But the revolutionary LP was never meant to be played live – indeed, it was disturbed Brian‘s sly way to stay off the road. Yet, with the aid of a 10-member backing band, plus a 55-piece orchestra, Wilson is finally giving it a try. It’s a little ambitious for a guy written off as crazy 30 years ago.
The evening begins with an innocuous, get-a-beer/find-your-seat overture of Beach Boys instrumentals. Wilson finally takes the stage, dressed in a Tasmanian Devil sweatshirt, genuinely humbled that so many people have come to see him. While the orchestra musicians take a break, the backup group launches briefly into The Barenaked Ladies‘ homage, ‘Brian Wilson’, with Wilson himself ironically crooning [I]”I’m lying in bed like [a]Brian Wilson[/a] did.”[/I] This nod to Toronto‘s hometown heroes doesn’t go unnoticed, especially among the many local icons – Sloan, Hayden, Dallas Good, and yes, the Ladies – who are all visibly in attendance.
As the gang of session guys confidently motors through the first set of new tunes and surf oldies (the older crowd mustn’t be denied ‘I Get Around’ and‘Help Me Rhonda’), Wilson boyishly introduces each song with some small anecdote (“this next song has the best lyrics of my whole career,” or “listen to my background singers on this one”). He barely touches the organ he’s perched in front of, concentrating on the incredibly dense harmonies swirling around him. ‘In My Room’ is the set’s highlight, but everyone knows this is just a warm-up.
After a 20- minute break it’s time for the real show. Wilson and orchestra slide effortlessly into ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ and ‘You Still Believe In Me’, which feature even the very smallest of details – including Theremin, vibraphone and bicycle horns – from Pet Sounds.
Jaws are dropping everywhere at this point. Despite the size of the amphitheatre, one has the eerie sense of being alone with Brian in his room. “Now onto side two, track three,” he says warmly, before breaking into the angst-ridden ‘Here Today’. The stage is virtually dripping from the lushness.
But one of the strangest things is the audience. Sure, it includes the expected smattering of Mums and Dads. But there is also an undeniable majority of people under 30, who sit in increasing states of rapture. Even more surreal are the isolated groups of twenty-ish girls, some almost in tears, dancing and yelling “Briiiiiiiiian,” during ‘Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)’.
Wilson finishes up with the sublime ‘Good Vibrations’, before returning with his bass, to offer a few more oldies (‘California Girls’ et al). The Mums and Dads dance, but many others remain seated, still spellbound by the ‘Pet Sounds’ set.
If only every rock casualty were so good.