Brian Wilson is a man making up for lost time. After decades of shunning the public eye and having no desire to tour, over the past decade or so, he has begun to shatter the myth that he’s a recluse still ‘lying in bed.’
Thursday night, his latest tour made a stop at The National in Richmond and, it was more than just your average concert experience, full of emotional moments, goosebumps and the overwhelming sensation that what I was witnessing was only a dream.
For me, Mike Love and his ego had ruined The Beach Boys, and until recently, I couldn’t listen to their back catalog without thinking about the fact that their lead singer was an asshole. He sealed his fate in 2013 when, after a very successful reunion tour with Brian Wilson, he unceremoniously fired Wilson and Al Jardine from the band and chose to continue to tour under the moniker The Beach Boys.
Thursday night, none of that mattered. Opening with the a cappella ‘Our Prayer’ and ‘Heroes and Villains’ from the ‘Smile’ album, I knew the night would be very, very special.
Wilson’s touring band includes Al Jardine, who looked spectacular in his trademark white suit, and former Beach Boys member Blondie Chaplin, who looked like Keith Richards’ younger brother. Also thankfully, Al’s son Matt Jardine was on hand to handle all of the falsetto vocals, and he was stellar. The classics ‘Surfer Girl’ and ‘Little Deuce Coupe’ were just two of the many classics that were performed with a renewed energy and vigor.
As I sat there, not twenty feet away from the stage, watching Brian perform, laugh and smile, I realized how extremely lucky those of us in attendance were to be at this show, and also that Brian was having fun. Even as little as five years ago, if you had told me that I would have the opportunity to see Brian Wilson, the genius, the recluse, perform live, I would’ve thought it very unlikely. And, would he ever bother coming to Richmond, VA? Not in a million years, I would’ve said.
On another level, this show had me thinking about my father a lot. In 1987, when The Beach Boys (minus Brian) had a #1 hit with the God-awful ‘Kokomo,’ they made a stop at King’s Dominion and, my dad decided on a whim to buy tickets for himself, me and my brother. I don’t remember much about the show, except Al’s trademark white suit, the fact that I thought they looked a little long in the tooth to be singing ‘Be True To Your School,’ and that the concert was the most fun I had ever, or would ever see my dad have away from a baseball diamond. He clapped, danced and sang along like he was a teenager and, even though I was only 13, I knew enough to let him have his fun and not make any smart-mouth comments. Last night, hearing ‘Fun Fun Fun’ and ‘California Girls,’ my mind flashed to pictures of my father having one of his best times ever.
While Matt Jardine was fantastic when handling the falsetto vocals (especially on ‘Don’t Worry Baby’), the moment that I will take away from the evening, above all others, is Brian singing ‘God Only Knows,’ which he introduced as his ‘best song.’ His sincere, quirky vocal drove home the lyric. I am so happy that Brian sang this himself instead of relying on someone else to sing it and hit the notes. Brian doesn’t hit the notes anymore, but the emotional delivery far exceeds any need to be ‘perfect’ vocally.
Here’s the setlist. In closing, I’ll simply say, if your setlist includes a one-two punch of ‘God Only Knows’ and ‘Good Vibrations’ I don’t care who’s touring as The Beach Boys, they will not top anything Brian Wilson is doing. Ever.
Heroes and Villains
Dance, Dance, Dance
Little Deuce Coupe
I Get Around
You’re So Good to Me
Then I Kissed Her (Male version of Then He Kissed Me)
California Saga: California
In My Room
Don’t Worry Baby
One Kind of Love
Sail On, Sailor
She Knows Me Too Well
The Right Time
Wouldn’t It Be Nice
Sloop John B
God Only Knows
All Summer Long
Help Me, Rhonda
Fun, Fun, Fun
Love and Mercy
Thank you for reading. Extra special thanks to my friend Jonathan for sharing this experience with me. You needed to be there my friend, and I am glad you were.