Brian Wilson, Royal Festival Hall, London

Good vibrations greet the Beach Boy who is now a living legend  
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The Independent Culture

It's not often a musician gets a standing ovation before he has even played a note, but Brian Wilson, erstwhile Beach Boy, composer, arranger, singer and living legend, gets just this as he arrives on stage.

Then he gets another following his opening number "Brian Wilson", with its refrain "Lying in bed like Brian Wilson did" alluding to three dark years spent in his bedroom, then another after his pre-Beach Boys ballad "In My Room" and another after "California Girls". And so it goes on for a whole two hours and 30 minutes.

It's only to be expected. In his long and turbulent career, Wilson has written some of the sunniest and the saddest songs pop has ever known.

There cannot be a musician in existence who hasn't longed to reach the heights of genius that Wilson attained when he was still in his teens. As his guitarist reminds us: "When this man was 23 he was giving us his tenth album."

That album was Pet Sounds which, now regarded by aficionados as the greatest album ever made, is played in its entirety through the latter half of tonight's show.

The first half is made of what you might call his greatest hits – "I Get Around", "Surfin' Safari", "Don't Worry Baby". He attacks the complex, multi-layered beast that is "Heroes and Villains", with all its key changes, not so much effortlessly, but with admirable enthusiasm.

In falsetto mode, Wilson is still almost pitch perfect and recognisable as a Beach Boy. Elsewhere his vocals can be breathless and lacking in texture in the same way that a child's can. Similarly child-like is the way he carves shapes in the air and plays out the words with his hands.

There is a sense wonder at every word, a slightly gauche demeanour that belies the maturity and sophistication of his songs. And did I mention the band? There may be ten of them but they play a whole orchestra's worth of instruments. The flautist doubles up as the clarinettist, saxophonist and harmonica player while the lead guitarist is a dab hand at the banjo.

After decades in limbo, during which time Wilson has struggled with drug addiction and a series of nervous breakdowns, Wilson still knows what his public wants. "Good Vibrations", written when Wilson was still only 24, is completely intoxicating and has some members of the audience standing on their seats and punching the air.

Wilson calls to mind a retired president as he sits, crinkly-faced and smiling benignly in his knitted Stars and Stripes sweater. Installed centre-stage behind a keyboard which he doesn't touch all night, he cuts a frail figure.

Nevertheless, it's clear that he's enjoying himself. "Hooray for us!" he yells excitedly at the end of "I Know There's Answer." Damn right.

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