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Fun, Fun, Fun

June 29, 2010

I am notorious for starting projects (musical, verbal, home repairs) and never finishing them, for whatever reason (too long ago, too lazy, got blocked and didn’t know what to do next). Some of these aborted projects have some merit, so rather than let them die a quiet death, I will post them online here so the whole world can see these stories tragically cut down before they had even really started.

The first is a review of Brian Wilson’s band. They played at House of Blues in Jan. 2009. A Christian rap band opened for them. I didn’t think there could be anything I disliked more than rap music or contemporary Christian music, until I heard Christian rap. Two cocky vocalists yelled in belligerent tones that people needed to love each other and respect each other, all in that clipped, aggressive gangsta style. If ever the word of the Lord was delivered in an inappropriate way, this was it. Praise God I could order a Sierra Nevada to dull my pain. Soon the Christian homeboys strutted off the stage to not be heard from again, their departure being the closest experience I have ever had of God’s infinite love. What follows is what I rediscovered on my hard drive, 18 months later:

The stranger staggered over to me and leaned in close. His eyes were bloodshot and bleary, and his words stumbled out engulfed in a treacly, invisible fog of rum and corn syrup. “They say Brian Wilson is a legend.”

I replied, “Yes, he is.” As if I didn’t hear him the first time, he repeated it to me, and I mumbled my assent once more. The drunk had a good 50 pounds on me, so I put up with his banter until he finally wobbled back from whence he came.

This sort of thing never happens to me at classical or jazz concerts, but I was standing in the middle of a small crowd in the upper level of the House of Blues, listening to Brian Wilson and his band knocking off a rocking version of “Do It Again,” and I suppose avoiding a fist in my face came with the territory of reviewing a band in a bar.

This encounter, however, was a small price to pay to witness Brian Wilson and a 15-piece band perform thrillingly tight versions of pop music treasures such as “California Girls,” “Heroes and Villains,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “God Only Knows,” and “Good Vibrations” (the latter easily one of the greatest 45’s from the 1960’s). These and 14 other songs made up Wilson’s first set, and what’s amazing, when you step back from it all, was that there was not a single stinker in the lot.  Apart from Lennon and McCartney, or Stevie Wonder, what other pop composers could give you 19 beautiful songs like that in a row?

Recognition of Wilson as a genius—yes, that word is appropriate here—probably took longer than it should have. After the Summer of Love, Wilson and the Beach Boys were readily dismissed by many listeners as irrelevant pop music fogies.  Their lyrics are a stumbling block for many, too simple-minded or juvenile to merit serious consideration, yet has there ever been a better anthem to teenage optimism in the face of frustration than the simple but real sentiments expressed in “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” Such feelings have certainly never been treated with such sonic gorgeousness as Wilson did in this song.

His band did a remarkable job of capturing the richness of Wilson’s harmonies and arrangements. Most of them doubled on two or more instruments, enabling them to duplicate or approximate the wide range of timbres that Wilson used in the recording studio. How many musicians do you know that can play guitar, French horn, and Electro-theremin? That’s what Probyn Gregory did. I lost count of the number of brass and wind instruments (plus harmonica—not your typical blues harp, but one of those overgrown, low harmonicas that Wilson was so fond of) that Paul Mertens played, all of them flawlessly.

My unsolicited conversation at House of Blues with the drunk behemoth ended with him slurring, “You know, we’re very fortunate to have Brian Wilson perform here in our town.”

He was so inebriated that I couldn’t tell if he was trying to be sincere or a smart ass.

I replied without the slightest scintilla of irony, “Yes. We are.”

Brian Wilson, lead vocals

Scott Bennett, vibraphone, keyboards
Nelson Bragg, percussion, vocals
Mike D’Amico, drums
Jeffrey Foskett, guitars, lead vocals
Probyn Gregory, guitar, horn, Electro-theremin
Paul Mertens, winds
Taylor Mills, vocals
Darian Sahanaja, keyboards
Brett Simons, bass
Nick Walusko, guitar

SET LIST

California Girls

Girl Don’t Tell Me

Dance, Dance, Dance

Surfer Girl

And Then I Kissed Her

Salt Lake City

When I Grow Up

The Little Girl I Once Knew

Add Some Music

Don’t Worry Baby

Do You Wanna Dance?

I Get Around

Heroes and Villains

Wouldn’t It Be Nice

God Only Knows

Sail On, Sailor

Marcella

Good Vibrations

INTERMISSION

Complete performance of That Lucky Old Sun

Encores:

Johnny B. Goode

Help Me, Rhonda

Barbara Ann

Surfin’ U.S.A.

Fun, Fun, Fun

Love and Mercy

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