TVD Live: Brian Wilson celebrates Pet Sounds at the Kennedy Center, 11/5

It’s been two years since Brian Wilson’s 50th anniversary tour of the Beach Boys Pet Sounds “final performances” commenced across the states and around the world. But the masterpiece of rock expression has never worn out its welcome. Another one of the “final performances” came Monday at the Kennedy Center, this one not only enhanced by the acoustics and decor of the Concert Hall, but with added strings and horns from the Kennedy Center Opera Orchestra (the ones who weren’t being used next door at Anastasia presumably).

It gave another dimension to parts of the work, which had already been pretty well handled by the 10 piece band who had figured out ways to perform all of the xylophones, bass harmonicas, flutes, clarinets, banjos, theremin, and electric guitar that the endlessly innovative work required. Violins added an extra emotional tug to “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder),” the horns amping up an additional urgency in “Here Today.” Both pushed the existing, somewhat surprising emotional wallop further.

It wasn’t just the nostalgia of the sweet hopeful naiveté of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” it was hearing Wilson, at 76, starting these songs in his own voice with lines that maybe ring more true for him at the end of his life than they did at the beginning. “I know perfectly well I’m not where I should be,” he sings in “You Still Believe in Me” (whose title, on the part of the audience, was also still true). Or mournfully singing, “I keep looking for a place to fit in,” at the start of “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times.”

In each of those songs, the higher parts were picked up by another band member. In the past, it had been Al Jardine’s son Matt. Only recently has somebody new stepped in for those parts. Keeping in the family, now it’s Wilson’s son-in-law Rob Bonfiglio, Carnie Wilson’s husband, handling acoustic guitars and doing those high parts for the tour.

It’s a nifty hand-off process, from Wilson to Bonfiglio, and sometimes over to Jardine, also 76, who adds more Beach Boys credibility to the outfit than anything in, say, Mike Love’s contractual version of the traveling surf band. There is all manner of vocal help, though, with eight of the 10-piece band behind Wilson adding harmonies when needed. Only bassist Bob Lizik and booming drummer Mike D’Amico are spared microphones.

Still at the heart of the band and making it come to life are the Wondermints, whose Nick Walusko and Darian Sahanaja each took spotlights on guitar and vocals/ keyboards respectively. But there are key roles in the group, from Probyn Gregory on French horn and theremin, to Jim Laspesa on woodblocks and bike horn. Like them, seeming band leader Paul Von Mertens, switching from sax to bass harmonica to clarinet, seems happy just to be a part of it; their joy was infectious.

Of course a lot of people come just to hear the Beach Boys hits, so the artful Pet Sounds is sandwiched between a couple of generous sets of favorites. And while fans hear a trio of car classics “I Get Around,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” and “Shut Down” at the start, and surefire “Help Me, Rhonda,” “Barbara Ann,” “Surfing’ USA” and “Fun, Fun, Fun” at the end, there are also some well-chosen creative high points like “California Saga: California” that Jardine handles so well, and “Darlin.’”

Blondie Chaplin, the short time member of the Beach Boys, came out at key points to add a bit of life and showmanship to the proceedings. Also a traveler with the Rolling Stones, he seems more and more reminiscent of Keith Richards on stage, and thus, the essence of rock and roll. He sang lead on both the ethereal “Feel Flows” and on “Sail On, Sailor” the tune on which he sang lead in 1972. During “Pet Sounds” he marched out and played some rousing tambourine.

How many fans were unfamiliar with the featured album at hand? It seemed unclear, but when Jardine took up “Sloop John B” in the middle of it, they seemed suddenly invigorated to hear something they knew from the radio. And then there was Wilson at the end, with one of the most affecting and time-honored songs, that served as a kind of benediction on Election Eve in the nation’s capital, singing, “Love and mercy, that’s what you need tonight.”

If we’re actually nearing the end of the Pet Sounds performances, we’re not near the end of Wilson touring. He and the group will be back at the end of the month touring The Beach Boys Christmas Album in its entirety.

SETLIST
California Girls
Dance, Dance, Dance
I Get Around
Shut Down
Little Deuce Coupe
Surfer Girl
California Saga: California
Don’t Worry Baby
Darlin’
Feel Flows
Sail On, Sailor
Wouldn’t It Be Nice
You Still Believe in Me
That’s Not Me
Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)
I’m Waiting for the Day
Let’s Go Away for Awhile
Sloop John B
God Only Knows
I Know There’s an Answer
Here Today
I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times
Pet Sounds
Caroline, No
Good Vibrations
Help Me, Rhonda
Barbara Ann
Surfin’ U.S.A.
Fun, Fun, Fun
Love and Mercy

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  • Jack

    Roger…nice review of Brian’s concert…we’re looking forward to seeing Brian at Staten Island, NY on December 3. But it was unnecessary and completely unwarranted for you to take a cheap shot at Mike Love and what you describe as his “contractual version of the traveling surf band.” Love’s traveling group is as GREAT in replicating the Beach Boys’ sound as is Brian’s group. Both bands are true perfectionist musicians and guardians of what we all love (no pun intended) most and that is the music…nothing more nothing less. Your attempt to stoke the flames of hate among the nattering nabobs of negativism on either side do the music industry, as a whole, and Vinyl District in particular, as gross disservice. Grow up!

    • Dragon

      You are so correct. I just saw the Beach Boys last week and it was an outstanding concert. Looking forward to seeing Brian next week. Two outstanding bands!

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