April 24, 2005
It all depends on how many things you're willing to overlook, focus, or get down on. That's how there are positive and negative reviews of Brian Wilson's performance at Jazzfest Sunday afternoon.
Word around town is that Wilson was disoriented and that the music suffered from his confusion. This is partly true. The music would have been better if Wilson was on top of everything, but maybe that's not possible anymore. Does anyone ever play the perfect show? There will always be mistakes and miscues. This doesn't excuse Wilson's patchy performance, but if people wanted to find scabs in Wilson's performance, they were gonna find them one way or another.
Truth is that Wilson's vocals came in and out of songs like a broken up drive-thru order. But, that didn't matter, amazingly enough. Wilson's immaculate backing band covered for him. Wilson added to the set with his positive energy and vocals, but he was just a figurehead. The band could probably cut a live album without him. So, it all goes back to the fact that nobody's gonna go to a Brian Wilson concert without Brian Wilson. But, since he was in front of video screens that gave him the setlist and lyrics, it looked like he was in the driver's seat. It didn't seem like he even played the synthesizer, though that's what the structure in front of him resembled. Look at it like this: Wilson--the modern-day Beethoven, the genius who revolutionized pop music by layering melody upon melody, harmony upon harmony--was at Jazzfest as an ambassador for his timeless songs. What he did or didn't do was unimportant.
What he played or didn't play was, though. The Jazzfest will always be an anomaly in the chronology of Brian Wilson performances. He hadn't played in months, and he wasn't scheduled to play for two more months. Wilson had been playing album "Smile" in its entirety during 2004. For the rest of 2005, Wilson will play hits-oriented shows in Europe and the "Smile" album for U.S. shows. In an unexpected move, Wilson only played three songs from 2004's "Smile"--"Our Prayer," "Heroes and Villains," and "Good Vibrations." A reason could have been that he didn't have his string section with him.
Maybe it's better Wilson focus on either hits or the album for upcoming shows. 1--People will know what they'll be getting and not be disappointed and 2--Out of all the great songs he's written, it's probably more work than play to put together a comprehensive setlist.
"It was a Beach Boys cover band."
That's the second big criticism of the show. Sure, Beach Boys material dominated the set, and more "Smile" material would have been nice(no pun intended), but did anyone expect them not to play "California Girls" or "Surfin' USA" or "I Get Around"? Wilson actually did a good job of handing the crowd more obscure Beach Boys material--"Hawaii," "Please Let Me Wonder," and "Good Timin'."
They actually played "Pet Sounds," the song, live, and it sounded exactly like the recorded version. Other highlights from that album were "Sloop John B," "In My Room," and "God Only Knows," which sounded just as beautiful live as it did on record. Wilson introduced the song by saying it's Paul McCartney's favorite Beach Boys song. I'll up McCartney. It's my favorite song ever. "Caroline, No" would have been cool, but you can't have everything.
The concert was transcendent. The harmonies and melodies flowed through the ground and up my spine. "Our Prayer"--how friggin' beautiful was that? Ok, before I go off into subjective neverland, it's important to note that everyone was grooving hard during the "Rhonda," "Barbara Ann," "Surfin' USA," and "Fun Fun Fun" section of the encore. There was a beach party on the Fairgrounds.
Heroes & Villains
Dance Dance Dance
Sloop John B
Don't Worry Baby
All Summer Long
In My Room
Please Let Me Wonder
You're So Good To Me
I Get Around
Wouldn't It Be Nice
God Only Knows
Little Girl I Once Knew
Add Some Music
Sail On Sailor
Do It Again
Fun Fun Fun
Love & Mercy