Since it was announced last summer in the wake of Brian Wilson's triumphant staging of his masterpiece, the Beach Boys' 1966 Pet Sounds album, this event has been anticipated like no other in rock. For not only is this the first night of this particular event, this is the first time anywhere that this music has been played complete in public.
Smile became the great casualty of early 1967, much like Wilson himself, whose failure to finish the follow-up album to Pet Sounds that winter (the record company had even produced the record sleeves in readiness for release) led to a personal and creative crisis that took him decades to overcome.
When you consider that this album had not only "Good Vibrations", "Heroes and Villains" (in a much more elaborate version to that eventually released as a single), "Wind Chimes" and "Vegetables" on it, but also "Cabinessence" and "Surf's Up", then you begin to realise just what a disaster it was that the original concept slipped from Wilson's control.
But this evening at the Royal Festival Hall he was here to put it right. Wilson had even been back in touch with the lyricist Van Dyke Parks, his collaborator on the original album project, in an effort to tidy up the loose ends and keep the integrity of the original vision. So things boded well.
Even before a note had been played, you were aware that this was a special evening. A few moments of darkness and then Brian Wilson and the band were revealed, gathered in a semi-circle on stage. A few hits, including "Good Timin' " and "In My Room", followed in acoustic fashion, then the full show was launched.
Wilson and his nine-piece band delivered a first-half set that gave exact replicas of a series of Beach Boys' classics, from "Catch A Wave" to "God Only Knows". What impressed most was the perfection with which each song was delivered. Wilson even had a small string section on stage for a couple of numbers.
Smile took up the entire second half of the concert. It was an overwhelming performance because all the disparate pieces of this amazing work that people had known and treasured, scattered as they were across so much of the Beach Boys' output, fitted together in a perfect mosaic.
This was a huge panorama that can only be compared to Bach in the way the intricacies interwove in wondrous counterpoint, spinning a web that embraced an entire vision. There were three suites of music, with the most touching part arriving when "Surf's Up" was revealed to be preceded by "Child is Father of the Man", anticipating its miraculous recapitulation at the song's end.
Smile finished with "Good Vibrations" and a standing ovation. They came back for encores, but these were only collective shouts of exultation at what the musicians had pulled off.
This series of concerts runs until 27 February, but don't bother trying to book - they were sold out months ago. But maybe the difficulties preventing the issue of the original recordings, with all its flaws, will be overcome and we'll have a real embarrassment of riches on our hands in 2004. Only 37 years late. Worth the wait? How can you even ask ...Reuse content