Overall, the nostalgic, shimmering harmonies were adequately preserved, and sometimes exemplary, at Massey Hall concert.
Tues., July 5, 2016
At Massey Hall, Monday, July 4
There were some good, and not so good, vibrations at Brian Wilson’s Massey Hall performance.
Anchored around the 50th anniversary of Pet Sounds, the 1966 Beach Boys album that raised the bar for pop music with its stylistic intricacy, the 2-1/2-hour concert had all the necessary ingredients to impress.
There were the Wilson-penned hits that defined the sunny California, West Coast pop sounds of summer: the irresistible “California Girls;” the immortal “Good Vibrations,” with its stellar contrapuntal harmonies; the rollicking “Help Me, Rhonda” and “Fun, Fun, Fun,” and the soaring “Surfin’ U.S.A.” – all shining examples of the songwriter’s undeniable genius for infectious melodies, bouncy singalong choruses and joyful escapism.
For the hardcore fans, there were the obscure, rarely performed numbers like “Heroes and Villains” from Smiley Smile, “California Saga: California” and “Funky Pretty” from the underrated Holland, and “Add Some Music to Your Day” from Sunflower: song choices with enough sophistication in their modulation and tempo changes that they occasionally tripped up the 12-piece band and sounded disjointed.
And that’s aside from the performance of Pet Sounds in its entirety, the album that added such treasures as “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “God Only Knows” and “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” to the pop music lexicon.
What made the evening a little extra special for Brian Wilson fans was the presence of original Beach Boy Al Jardine and future member Blondie Chaplin on vocals and guitars. By taking lead vocals on “Rhonda” and “Sail On, Sailor,” they helped shoulder the singing burden for Wilson, who, let’s face it, is a polarizing performer in terms of his onstage awkwardness.
When the show started, he shuffled to the grand piano, sat in his zebra-striped chair, recited whatever the TelePrompTer had scripted for him and, when he stopped performing, sat at the piano as motionless as the Rock of Gibraltar.
Spontaneity is not one of Brian Wilson’s strengths.
Neither is his 74-year-old voice, but he manages and the band covers for him, with the occasional falsetto from Matt Jardine (yes, Al’s son) creating a workable illusion.
There were a few missteps: the introductory a cappella number “Our Prayer” had some flat pitches and some of the numbers were clunky. Overall, however, the nostalgic, shimmering harmonies were adequately preserved or, during songs like “Heroes and Villains” and “All Summer Long,” exemplary.
These minor inconsistencies didn’t deter the sold-out Massey Hall patrons from having a good time, at least the majority of them.
The minority who weren’t able to enjoy the show as much? The ones seated in the first 10 rows to the left of Wilson, where their vision was blocked by two keyboards and a vibraphone, which could have easily been moved a few metres for everyone’s benefit.
If you were up close, especially in the wings, the sound was muddy, improving the further you were from the stage: small comfort for those who shelled out $125 for prime seats.
The fact remains, though, they got to witness one of pop music’s true geniuses perform one of his most revered opuses, an album that still sounds fresh and innovative a half-century after it was whelped into existence.
Now that’s staying power.