Dylan Jones: If you ask me

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The Independent Online

If you ask me, the God-like genius of Brian Wilson is not quite as diminished as you might think, as anyone who saw the 65-year-old perform at the Royal Festival Hall in London a few weeks ago will know. I'd already seen him perform Pet Sounds there in 2002 (yup, I cried) and Smile at the same venue three years ago (how did he do that?); they were two of the best concerts I've ever been to, two performances so heartbreakingly perfect, so moving, both left me sort-of numb for days afterwards.

But my heart sank when it was announced that he'd been specially commissioned to write a piece to be performed there. After all, it's all very well reproducing "Girl Don't Tell Me", "Lay Down Burden", "I'd Love Just Once To See You" and "She Knows Me So Well" live on stage (and the extraordinary thing about the Brian Wilson Construct is the way in which the music is replicated with such precision), but could he write a modern-day song cycle that lived up to the various high bars set by Smile, Landlocked and all the rest?

Wilson's life has been so tragic, so fractured, that even the giddiest of Beach Boys songs now seem to have a dark, maudlin underbelly, every silver lining we know now to have a cloud. Wilson literally suffered for, and because of, his art, which is obviously one of the reasons we revere him so much. And one of the reasons we expect everything he records these days to be tinged with the same sense of pathos, even though we almost always expect to be disappointed (his 2004 CD Gettin' In Over My Head wasn't exactly his finest hour).

Surprisingly, rather wonderfully, Wilson and his 20-strong band have somehow pulled it off, with at least three or four of the new songs sounding worthy of inclusion on your Big Sur iTunes playlist. Written with his old sparring partner Van Dyke Parks (when you say that these days people automatically assume you've been to a spa together) and Wilson band member Scott Bennett, "That Lucky Old Sun" evokes his deep love of Southern California, and at times you can almost feel the mid-afternoon sun bouncing off your forehead (and this being a Brian Wilson concert, there was a lot of forehead in the audience). So when "That Lucky Old Sun" eventually comes out, buy it. After sprinkling some sand in the pockets of your baggies, that is.

Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'

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