New York Wantagh Jones Beach Amphitheatre

[b]Wilson[/b] knows the audience is riveted by the presence of a living icon and runs with it...

A warm September evening at an airy beachside venue with [a]Brian Wilson[/a], a full orchestra and nine-piece backing band playing the epochal ‘Pet Sounds’ album from start to finish – what could be better?

The keyboard in which the head Beach Boy sits rather awkwardly behind serves a purpose more of security than entertainment, with Wilson‘s hands rarely touching the keys. At first, he’s seemingly uncomfortable with the whole experience, stiffly moving his hands about to act out specific lyrics, but it all adds to the charm of the man. He begins with a mish-mash of new and old songs, each accompanied by a explanatory quote – including ‘California Girls’ (“the most popular song we ever recorded”) and The Ronettes‘Be My Baby’ (“the best rock and roll song ever written in the whole world”). Wilson knows the audience is riveted by the presence of a living icon and runs with it, inquiring from time to time how loud the crowd can yell. After a nostalgic joyride through ‘Help Me Rhonda’, the stage clears for 15 minutes. It’s the calm before the splendid multi-layered storm that’s just ahead.

Faithfully beginning with ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’, Wilson finally seems able to enjoy the performance, giving us a live version of the album he wrote at a mere 23 years old that literally changes lives. His voice, although fragile and struggling to reach the high notes he once hit with ease, is still warm and sincere. After delivering the first two lines of ‘You Still Believe In Me’ Wilson stops and demands, “Do it again please. I goofed now and I’m gonna correct that goof!” After a pitch-perfect retake he bellows “Hooray Wilson!”, really getting into the fun of it all.

Both the performance and musical arrangement stay faithful to the album, but Wilson adds a new element by peppering the set with cutesy commentary, such as “This is my favourite song off ‘Pet Sounds’” (‘I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times’) and “This is an instrumental I wrote for James Bond and they turned it down so I put it on ‘Pet Sounds’” (“‘Pet Sounds’“).

On the two instrumentals, Wilson remains seated, but turns his back to the audience. It’s this delightful awkwardness that makes the man such a bewitching legend. By the time of the encore, he breaks out his beloved bass on ‘Surfer Girl’ and takes to the keyboard on ‘Surfin’ USA’, leaving us to go off into the sea air with a new spring in our step.