To borrow the football parlance, this was very much a gig of two halves, the first given over to Brian Wilson's ill-judged "reimaginings" of Gershwin, the second featuring Beach Boys classics played in note-perfect detail by his band, occasionally augmented by the Stockholm Strings sextet.
The Gershwin arrangements are an exercise in musical archaeology that takes wrong steps at every turn. "They Can't Take That Away From Me" has a certain galumphing charm, but the hints of lounge muzak in Wilson's favoured vibes, flute and backing vocals teeters, too often, into schmaltz. "It Ain't Necessarily So" has all the blues drained out of it, while "I Got Rhythm" is like the kind of cheesy "rocked-up" orchestration used in ballroom dancing, despite all the clever little interpolations of "Rhapsody In Blue" inserted into the arrangement. And hearing the sleigh bells and other characteristically percussive effects added to "Someone To Watch Over Me", one starts thinking how much more preferable it would be to hear them in an actual Beach Boys song, where they belong.
Thankfully, that's what happens in the second set, as the intro to "California Girls" casts its familiar summery spell. The Beach Boys' catalogue is one of pop's most vast and varied, but Wilson clearly enjoys mining its more abstruse seams too. The result is a set incorporating such under-regarded gems as the ballad "Please Let Me Wonder" and the rolling, exultant "Sail On Sailor". Other highlights include Jeff Foskett's falsetto on the street-racer ballad "Don't Worry Baby", and the extended version of "Pet Sounds" employed as a showcase for Nicky Wonder's vibrato guitar.
Wilson himself remains firmly behind his keyboard for the most part, waving his arms around in a mixture of conducting, semaphore and sign language, except for "Barbara Ann", where he stands up to plunk away on bass. His vocal skills haven't been up to scratch for some time now, but he battles on manfully, hitting a particularly bum note on "Catch A Wave", and struggling to keep up with the fast torrent of words in "Dance, Dance, Dance". But as the triple-crown finale of "God Only Knows", "Heroes And Villains" and "Good Vibrations" brings the set to a close, it's impossible not to marvel again at just how far, and how joyously this melancholy man once stretched the boundaries of pop.Reuse content