Brian Wilson – Exhibition Centre, Liverpool, Friday 28th July 2017 – Live Review

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Oh, Brian, why didn’t you bring the sunny weather back from California?
It’s raining cats, dogs and (probably) giant mutant Toads with razor-sharp teeth as envisaged by Stephen King in his short story ‘Rainy Season’ here in Liverpool. Torrential downpours threaten to potentially mar what could be akin to the Transcendental Meditation often preached in the songs of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys back in the sixties and seventies. He’s in town to play ‘Pet Sounds’, his band’s most loved, cherished and critically acclaimed work, in full. Thankfully it’s an indoor gig, so no need to bring a brolly or packable gazebo.

Last time I saw Brian was sometime around 2007/2008 (maybe later) at Camden’s Roundhouse, in the company of former Oxfordian indie psych poppers Fixers frontman (and the planet’s NUMBER ONE Wilson/Beach Boys fan) Jack Goldstein. His dad, a Londoner himself, informed us the Roundhouse was a biscuit factory back in the day. Brian played a greatest hits set, a two hour spectacular taking some of the many highlights of his illustrious career, both as a solo artist and a band member. I remember standing down the front and gazing directly into his eyes, thinking of all the history that lay behind those pupils; the drugs, the music, the bouts of insanity, his influence on The Beatles, his minglings with Keith Moon and Charles Manson. It’s part of the reason why I always buy standing tickets for big gigs whenever possible.
Keith Moon and Brian Wilson

Bearing this in mind, I felt a little shocked when reading comments from several irate punters on the venue’s facebook page concerning the Gary Numan concert the night before, complaining of a layout plan in which the standing area was situated at the BACK of the venue. Granted, the initial shock came from the fact that there were still people willing to pay money for a ropey old Thatcher voting Bowie/Kraftwerk/Widow Twanky tribute act like Numan, but that’s a different story for a different time. In my thirty two years on this planet I’ve genuinely never heard of an arrangement which positions the seats ahead of the standing area, so it was with a little trepidation that I boldly made my way out into the Old Testament style storm in Hell to see the great man himself.

Oh well, I thought, at least I’m prepared for the worst. I went in expecting something straight from the special needs school of architecture, and to be honest I wasn’t far wrong. Thankfully, the spot which I ended up vacating had a fair bit of space surrounding it, so the view wasn’t nearly as bad as I initially feared it might be. The disappointment of not being able to stare directly into the whites of his eyes like before didn’t quite subside, I would recommend that in future the venue makes this seating arrangement clear before a customer buys a ticket for a performance here.

Still, as soon as he launched into ‘California Girls’ all the night’s woes disappeared into thin air. What a song! Written, of course, on a piano during his first LSD trip, it’s a wonderfully evocative snapshot of a bygone era that, strangely, feels as though it’s never really gone away; girls, palm trees, surfers in Hawaiian shirts, root beer stalls and drive in cinemas, the American Dream wrapped up in a candy floss wall of harmony. Its overriding optimism now seems a little bittersweet in light of the tragic circumstances which would later plague Brian’s life (the deaths of Dennis and Carl, drug related psychosis, attempted suicide), however this simply adds to its brilliance. Backed by his longtime backing band The Wondermints (a fine psychedelic pop band in their own right) and Beach Boys co-founder Al Jardine (on rhythm guitar and vocals), it’s a joyous start to the evening.

This is a show in three parts. Other highlights of the first half included a Coconut Magnum melt-in-the-mouth reading of ‘In My Room’ (my brother Bobby of the Liverpool band Espedairs, here with me tonight, declares this his favourite Beach Boys track), introduced by Brian as ‘the first song I ever wrote’, a gorgeous ‘Let The Wind Blow’, and a glorious falsetto lead vocal from Al’s son, Matt, on ‘Don’t Worry Baby.’ The set ends with an appearance from Blondie Chaplin (looking very much the man in a bleach-blond hair/bright yellow jacket and matching trainers combo), letting rip with a spectacular hat trick of ‘Feel Flows’, ‘Wild Honey’ and his signature song ‘Sail On, Sailor’, adding some mad feedback drenched lead guitar for good measure. A thrilling end to the first half.

I have to admit, when I first finally got round to listening to Pet Sounds at the age of fourteen after years of reading about how great it was (these were the days before YouTube), I wasn’t too bowled over. It sounded a little sickly, a little cloying, a little too sugar sweet and Disneyfied. In my eyes it’s far closer to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On (an album I heard about a year earlier) than anything by The Beatles, simply because, like that album, it took a few listens to unravel the complexities, vast gamut of emotions and personal insecurities lurking around the sumptuous arrangements and honey-rich harmonies. Both albums occupy the same peculiar kind of space; sickly sweet, unlovable on first airing yet gently entering your consciousness over time with all the ease of a Dolphin surfing a crystal clear wave.

It’s the album the present day Beach Boys renaissance rests upon. The amount of young, 18 to early 20’s audience members is confirmation of this. Brian and Matt’s duet on ‘Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)’ seems to sum up this boundary smashing, age defying smorgasbord of diversity like a reflection in a mirror, Brian’s gruff interjections to Matt’s strong lunged lead coming across like Old King Cole calling a young servant for his fiddlers three. It’s a compelling watch/listen.
A Young Brian Wilson

Some equally elegiac moments come in the shapes of the hotwired traditional arrangement of ‘Sloop John B’ (‘this is the worst trip I’ve ever been on’) and Paul McCartney’s favourite song ‘God Only Knows.’ Brian’s voice sounds considerably less cracked than the last time I saw him, although perhaps he’s taking leads less frequently this time round. Similarly, ‘I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’ and ‘Caroline, No’ sound almost unbearably personal in a live setting, sounding like songs tailormade for consumption in bedrooms, alone. These are surely the two most nakedly confessional songs of 1966; lost beyond repair, despairing beyond words. They almost seem to anticipate the more confessional songs of Nirvana and Elliott Smith, of the time yet strangely out of time, still being discovered and analysed in the digital utopian wilderness of today.

As great as this half of the show was, it almost comes as a relief when the shining knight in armour of ‘Good Vibrations’ pipes up through the PA. All that introspection was getting a little too much. It’s back to the ‘California Girls’ picture postcard world for now, the eye strainingly sunny likes of ‘Barbara Ann’, ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ and ‘Help Me, Rhonda’ spraying your ears with some much needed fizz, before expertly bringing you down to Earth again with Brian’s signature closing track, ‘Love And Mercy.’ Played without any musical accompaniment, just the great man and a keyboard, it’s a poignant end to the party, the calm at the end of the quest for the golden fleece. It’s an inspired touch; the original recording, on Brian’s eponomously titled 1988 debut solo album, suffered from a typical 80s over-production, unintentionally killing all the emotional gravitas and multi-faceted pathos displayed in the song’s lyrics and melody. Live, much like the last time I saw him play it at the end, it has been given a new lease of life. A perfect encore.

You win again, Brian. God only knows where we’d be without you. Although next time you play here, be sure to pack a case of that good old Californian sunshine. Just in case.

For more information on Brian Wilson please head to his official website

Read 3370 times Last modified on Tuesday, 01 August 2017 19:15
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