Brian Wilson, Roundhouse, London
Drowned in surfer pop
Monday 07 September 2009
I'm a massive fan of Brian Wilson. I've spent hours boring people about how Pet Sounds is one of the best albums of all time. I snapped up tickets as soon as they came out to ensure I had the privilege of witnessing the first night of Smile (yes folks, I cried). So to go to a gig touted as Mr Beach Boys' "greatest hits" is, as they say, a no-brainer. The genius that is Wilson at the Roundhouse should be by far the best show of the year. No contest. But, sadly, tonight's gig left me just a little disappointed.
With Wilson ensconced behind a keyboard centre stage in a salmon pink shirt, flanked by his 10-piece band, it's straight into "Do It Again", a track that topped the charts back in 1968. The audience clap along, but that's as animated as they get until the end of the first half when "California Girls" elicits the biggest cheer of the night so far.
Yes, it's a gig of two halves – as is the norm since we have been lucky enough to catch Wilson in the flesh after his well-documented battle with his inner demons. But tonight there's more emphasis on the hot rod/surfing songs of old – the tracks that made The Beach Boys the best selling band they were – rather than Wilson's soul-baring mini symphonies. Personally I prefer the latter. A flawless "In My Room" is my first-half highlight; it has the hairs on my arms standing on end.
The second half starts with an impromptu singalong of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" before the band launch into "Little Girl I Once Knew", the next single released after "California Girls". Wilson seems happier and more animated; invigorated by the break.
We're treated to more songs about cars and girls including the classic "All Summer Long" – "Sittin' in my car outside your house, remember when you spilled coke all over your blouse" – and "Little Deuce Coupe". They are all politely received, of course, but the energy is a little flat.
"Sloop John B" stirs the crowd back into life, before Wilson delivers what we've been patiently waiting for – "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "God Only Knows" back-to-back. For the first time in the night Wilson's voice dominates – "So what good would living do me" soars over his backing band. He follows this with a quartet of tracks from 2008's That Lucky Old Sun, starting with a spine-tingling "Midnight's Another Day", Wilson's voice to the fore, that has the audience transfixed. A rousing version of "Good Vibrations" rounds off the gig proper before the band bound on stage for a seven-song encore that blows the roof off the venue. All of the pressure to perform seems to have been lifted and instead they're there to just have some fun. It's almost like being at another gig. A stripped down "Love And Mercy" closes the set to rapturous applause and we all head off knowing we have been in the presence of a master. A success, yes, but I would like to have heard more of his introspective masterpieces than his frothy surf-and-girls pop.
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