Friday, 27 May 2016

Brian Wilson & Friends

2016 marks the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest albums of all-time – The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. To celebrate this milestone, the man behind the album – Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson – is touring extensively across the world to perform the album in full, along with an array of hits from his illustrious career both with the Beach Boys and as a solo artist. But this isn’t the only interest the world has in the great Brian Wilson these days. 

In the last few years, Wilson has been working harder than ever before. With his latest solo album No Pier Pressure released in early 2015 and a phenomenal film about his life - Love & Mercy, to which he contributed a song - recently released, here is a man totally unwilling to stop. This is made all the more incredible and inspiring when you learn about the man’s deeply troubled and difficult life. But we’re not here to discuss that – although I do recommend you see Love & Mercy if you’re unfamiliar with his story. No, we’re here to talk about his new live concert film, Brian Wilson & Friends, which is out now in a DVD/CD combo-pack.

On December 12th 2014, Brian Wilson performed a selection of tracks from No Pier Pressure and his musical past at the Venetian Theatre in Las Vegas with help from original Beach Boy Al Jardine, 1970s-era Beach Boys Blondie Chaplin & Ricky Fataar, fresh recent talent Nate Ruess and Sebu Simonian, and legendary jazz trumpeter Mark Isham. This concert was filmed, cut down to 60 minutes, and broadcast as an episode of Soundstage on American television. But now, totally uncut, the concert arrives on CD & DVD.

With an extensive set-list spanning Brian’s career, there is something for everyone here. While his newer stuff occasionally gets a little too contemporary and pop-heavy – I’m looking at you, Runaway Dancer – the Beach Boys stuff performed in Brian Wilson & Friends sounds just as good as it ever has. Al Jardine, original Beach Boy most famous for his lead vocals on Help Me Rhonda, sounds incredible and, along with an endlessly charming stage presence, makes songs like Wouldn’t It Be Nice and the recent The Right Time feel like they were recorded back in the band’s heyday. He is just as much a legend as Wilson himself, and to see him performing alongside Brian rather than the dastardly Mike Love and his band of imitators (who, due to rights, own The Beach Boys name) feels right and puts a smile on my face. 

Due to a number of factors, Brian Wilson simply cannot take lead vocals on many songs – especially any with iconic high-notes. He’s more of an on-stage presence, presenting the music with a brilliant band to perform it. But when he does sing, he sounds wonderful. Some people say his voice is weak now and he shouldn’t sing, but these old and gentle vocals just makes that nostalgic and cheerful music sound all the more beautiful. And when he is singing some of his deeply personal pieces, this vocal vulnerability only lends to the power of the work. And on top of that, the fact he’s still able to get up there after years of troubles (including stage-fright) and share his music with us is nothing short of inspirational. Wilson seems genuinely touched by the audience’s gleeful applauds to his work, thanking them profusely after each song – but it is us who should be thanking him.

So who else makes up the ‘…& Friends’ of the title? The great Blondie Chaplin, a 1970s-era Beach Boy currently touring with Brian Wilson as part of the Pet Sounds anniversary celebrations, takes lead on a few tracks here including his trademark Sail On, Sailor. With a rock-n’-roll history that includes performing with The Rolling Stones, Chaplin oozes cool and charisma as he roars through his tracks. He is an immense talent and a great addition to the proceedings. Guest vocalists Nate Ruess and Sebu Simonian are clearly delighted to be there, each performing a new No Pier Pressure track along with a Beach Boys classic. Ruess in particular impresses on Hold On Dear Brother, a Chaplin and Fataar-penned piece from a 1972 Beach Boys album. Footage from a studio performance with Wilson being supported by She & Him (Zooey Deschanel) is also included in the film, with Deschanel performing a beautiful rendition of the iconic God Only Knows. On top of that, Brian has an exceptional band of musicians behind him who bring such passion and faithfulness to Brian’s work that they are truly integral to his current sound.

Other hits performed in the show include Good Vibrations, Sloop John B, Help Me Rhonda and Fun Fun Fun – to name a few. With over 20 songs performed, Brian Wilson & Friends is a superb career-spanning concert that will delight fans and newcomers of all ages. To see Brian Wilson still performing into his 70s with a life behind him full of such hardship, it’s truly one of the most inspiring and wonderful sights you can see. And hey, if you get a chance, try and get yourself to one of Brian’s tour dates this year. It’ll be one of the best shows you ever see.

Brian Wilson, you are a hero. God only knows what we’d be without you. Brian Wilson & Friends gets a well-deserved 5/5. Good vibrations indeed.


Sam Love

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