The audience stood for a standing ovation as soon as Brian Wilson came onstage and before a single note was played—deservedly so. Wilson is a sacred cow in American music. But, after last night I’m left wondering if his tour should be put out to pasture.
At first I thought it was just the sound mixing—instruments often over powered Wilson’s weakened voice—but the mixing seemed fine when the rest of the band (ten of them!) joined in harmonies. And then I thought maybe it was the weird juxtaposition of listening to surf music while being in a grand hall and seated. It felt strange to not be on my feet and dancing to “Salt Lake City” and “I Get Around.”
The show started with “California Girls” and went through several Beach Boys hits before for all intents and purposes Wilson checked out and former Beach Boys Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin started running the show. They had the added help of Jardine’s son Matthew to hit the high notes, literally, that Wilson could no longer reach. The final song of the first set was a misplaced Chaplin number “Wild Honey,” which stylistically was more of a nod to the guitarist’s time with the Rolling Stones than his time with the Beach Boys, and during which Wilson ambled off the stage mid-song. And it felt like he never fully returned.
The second set of the show was dedicated to Pet Sounds, which is widely regarded as one of the best albums ever made, and the tour is a celebration of the album’s 50th anniversary.
Wilson and Jardine walked the audience through anecdotes about each song as they played, with help from the younger Jardine on vocals for many of the tunes. But throughout the show the band had to slow their tempo to allow Wilson time to catch up with his lyrics—often delivered flat and in a broken cadence. And the Pet Sounds portion of the show is the part I was most looking forward to— and the part I have the most emotional attachment to.
While I was shocked at the difference between the quality of this show compared to Wilson’s show at Red Butte in the summer of 2015, and in spite of all of the observations above, I still cannot give Brian Wilson a bad review. He is still Brian Wilson and I am still just a girl with no musical background who is paid to give her opinion about concerts in a mid-sized American city. He still wins. He’s still great. And if he comes to town again I’ll go see him. But my expectations will be managed accordingly, because as it turns out, even greatness slows down.