Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson led an unforgettable concert highlighted by a performance of Pet Sounds in its entirety.
No songs conjure images of a summer in California as successfully as those released by the Beach Boys. All it takes is the opening notes of tunes from the five men from Hawthorne, Calif. – “Surfin’ USA,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “California Girls” and “I Get Around,” for example – to instantly transport you to a sandy beach towel staring out at the Pacific Ocean. This is why July 10th’s show at the Hollywood Bowl is my pick for the show of summer 2016.
Two of the Beach Boys’ founding members, Brian Wilson and Al Jardine, came together on the Bowl stage last night to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Pet Sounds, one of the most influential albums of all time across many genres of music. Wilson, who produced, arranged, composed and wrote almost all of the music on the album, mounted this world tour with his band to celebrate the iconic work and perform it for a final time. The evening was full of almost all of the Beach Boys’ hits, however, not just the entirety of Pet Sounds, making for an incredibly fun time for all in attendance.
The festivities began with one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Portland-based M. Ward, warming up the crowd with his soulful mix of folk, blues, indie rock and Americana. He treated fans with a few older songs, “Chinese Translation” and “Rollercoaster” from 2006’s Post-War, “One Hundred Million Years” off 2009’s Hold Time and “I Get Ideas” (A Wasteland Companion, 2012), as well as “Girl From Conejo Valley” and “Confession” from his latest album, More Rain.
Before the end of his set, Ward brought out a few of his musical collaborators. The other half of his She & Him duo, Zooey Deschanel, sang back-ups on “Magic Trick, “Never Had Nobody Like You” and “Rave On.” Then two of Ward’s partners from Monsters of Folk, Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes), joined him for “To Save Me,” “Vincent O’Brien” and “Whole Lotta Losin’” for a perfect start to the night.
Since the concert was part of KCRW’s World Festival, DJ Anne Litt from the radio station appeared on stage to introduce Brian Wilson and his band. She declared how lucky we all were to be a part of such an event, since tickets sold out in mere seconds.
All 11 musicians came onto the stage together, and as they warmed up their vocal cords in classic Beach Boys harmony, chills of sheer excitement could be felt. They launched into “Heroes and Villains,” setting toes tapping and heads bopping. Wilson led a short Phil Spector cover before bringing out another former Beach Boy, Blondie Chaplin, for “California Girls.”
“Dance, Dance, Dance” got the audience on its feet to literally dance and sway, and the energy continued to build once the band began to play “I Get Around.” Next, Wilson soothed the crowd with “a little lullaby“ in the form of “Hushabye.” This was the crowd’s first taste of the soaring vocals of Matt Jardine, Al’s son, who also shined on “Surfer Girl” and “Don’t Worry Baby.”
A lyric Al Jardine penned for “California Saga: California” rang especially true as he sang it for the Hollywood Bowl: ““and the people there in the open air, one big family.” Strangers continued to bond as Wilson performed “One Kind of Love” – a song he wrote for his wife that was also used on the soundtrack of his biopic, Love & Mercy, starring Paul Dano and John Cusack from last year – “Wild Honey” and “Sail, On Sailor.”
Then it came time for what most of the crowd had come for, a live performance of Pet Sounds from beginning to end. I won’t lie, a tear definitely moistened my eye when Wilson dedicated the performance to the lyricist he co-wrote many of the album’s songs with, Tony Asher, and began “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.
Wilson made mention of his cousin, Mike Love, who was on another tour and couldn’t be a part of the evening, and said Matt Jardine would be handling Love’s vocals on “That’s Not Me” and “I Know There’s an Answer.” The audience went wild for all of the familiar tracks, “Sloop John B” and “God Only Knows,” in particular, and awarded the band with their first standing ovation for the night. Guitarist Nick Walusko took the lead on the “Pet Sounds” instrumental, gradually working into a saxophone solo by Paul Mertens and drum/percussion showcase from Michael D’Amico and Nelson Bragg.
The album’s final track, “Caroline, No,” ended in another standing ovation, and the crowd stayed on its feet when the band transitioned into “Good Vibrations” to end the main portion of the night. After a short while, Mertens, who is also the band’s musical director, came onto the stage alone to acknowledge the staff and crew. He brought out Tony Asher and then introduced each member until the entire band was on stage again.
Wilson asked the crowd to sing along to “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” before beginning the encore with “All Summer Long.” After which, the lady next to me gushed, “Music is such a good thing,” before jumping up to dance to “Help Me, Rhonda.” Several of Wilson’s family members, including his daughter Carnie of Wilson Phillips, rushed onto the stage for “Barbara Ann” and “Surfing’ USA,” which made it seem like even more of a party atmosphere. The night wrapped up with “Fun, Fun, Fun” and “Love and Mercy.” This final song was such a touching and beautiful way to end an unforgettable show with Wilson singing, “So, love and mercy to you and your friends tonight.”