Another Final Show of ‘Pet Sounds’

IMG_6337It’s been two years since Brian Wilson’s 50th anniversary tour of the Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” started doing their “final performances” across the states and around the world. But the masterpiece of rock expression has never worn out its welcome.

Another one of the so-called “final performances” came Monday at the Kennedy Center, this one not only enhanced by the acoustics and decor of the Concert Hall, but with added strings and horns from the Kennedy Center Opera Orchestra (the ones who weren’t being used next door at “Anastasia” presumably).

It gave another dimension to parts of the work, which had already been pretty well handled by the 10 piece band who had figured out ways to perform all of the xylophones, bass harmonicas, flutes, clarinets, banjos, theremin and electric guitar that the endlessly innovative work required.

Violins added an extra emotional tug to “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder),” the horns amping up an additional urgency in “Here Today.” Both pushed the existing, somewhat surprising emotional wallop further.

It wasn’t just the nostalgia of the sweet hopeful naiveté of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” it was hearing Wilson, at 76, starting these songs in his own voice with lines that maybe ring more true for him at the end of his life than they did at the beginning, singing “I know perfectly well I’m not where I should be” in “You Still Believe in Me” (whose title, on the part of the audience, was also still true). Or mournfully singing, “I keep looking for a place to fit in” at the start of “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times.”

Sometimes his staccato approach didn’t work, as on the chorus of the latter song, when he uttered “Sometimes I feel very sad” almost robotically.

In each of those songs, the higher parts were picked up by another band member. In the past, it had been Al Jardine’s son Matt. Only recently has somebody new stepped in for those parts. Keeping in the family, now it’s Wilson’s son-in-law Rob Bonfiglio, Carnie Wilson’s husband, handling acoustic guitars and doing those high parts for the tour.

It’s a nifty hand-off process, from Wilson to Bonfiglio, and sometimes over to Jardine, also 76, who adds more Beach Boys credibility to the outfit than anything in, say, Mike Love’s contractual version of the traveling surf band. There is all manner of vocal help, though, with eight of the 10-piece band behind Wilson adding harmonies when needed. Only bassist Bob Lizik and booming drummer Mike D’Amico are spared microphones.

Still at the heart of the band and making it come to life are the Wondermints, whose Nick Walusko and Darian Sahanaja each took spotlights on guitar and vocals/keyboards respectively. But there are key roles in the group, from Probyn Gregory on French horn and theremin, to Jim Laspesa on woodblocks and bike horn. Like them, seeming band leader Paul Von Mertens, switching from sax to bass harmonica to clarinet, seems happy just to be a part of it; their joy was infectious.

By contrast, Wilson himself is a kind of dour figurehead in some of this. He sits blankly at his white baby grand piano when he’s not actively singing; nothing he plays on his keys is audible. And at the end of Pet Sounds the spotlight silhouettes on his head amid the ovations and the effect is clear: A Beethoven bust atop a piano.

But how lucky we are to not only hear the great album, live from beginning to end and performed with such heart and emotion, but to be able to applaud the genius behind it amid its celestial sounds.

Of course a lot of people come just to hear the Beach Boys hits, so the artful Pet Sounds is sandwiched between a couple of generous sets of favorites. And while fans hear a trio of car classics “Shut Down,” “Little Deuce Coupe” and “Shut Down” at the start, and surefire “Help Me, Rhonda,” “Barbara Ann,” “Surfing’ USA and “Fun, Fun, Fun” at the end, there are also some well-chosen creative high points like “California Saga: California” that Jardine handles so well, and “Darlin.’”

IMG_6334Blondie Chaplin, the short time member of the Beach Boys, came out at key points to add a bit of life and showmanship to the proceedings. Also a traveler with the Rolling Stones, he seems more and more reminiscent of Keith Richards on stage, and thus, the essence of rock and roll. He sang lead on both the ethereal “Feel Flows” and on “Sail On, Sailor” the tune on which he sang lead in 1972 on “Holland.” During “Pet Sounds” he marched out and played some rousing tambourine.

How many fans were unfamiliar with the featured album at hand? It seemed unclear, but when Jardine took up “Sloop John B” in the middle of it, they seemed suddenly invigorated to hear something they knew from the radio.

Wilson still doesn’t have the rhythms of a live show down; he barks out introductions to songs while applause is still going for the previous ones (or the band is still preparing). He rushes what he has to say and is sometimes indistinct. The band never got introduced. But, perhaps owing to a back ailment that sidelined him from the tour earlier this year (and postponed this show from May), at least he no longer pads off stage when his duties are over before intermission. In fact there is no intermission, nor does the band leave the stage before what would normally be an encore, lest Wilson have to get up off the piano bench.

But there he was at the end, with one of the most affecting and time-honored songs, that served as a kind of benediction on Election Eve in the nation’s capital, singing, “Love and mercy, that’s what you need tonight.”

If we’re actually nearing the end of the “Pet Sounds” performances, we’re not near the end of Wilson touring. He and the group will be be back at the end of the month touring” The Beach Boys Christmas Album” in its entirety.

 

The setlist for Brian Wilson Monday was:

  • “California Girls”
  • “Dance, Dance, Dance”
  • “I Get Around”
  • “Shut Down”
  • “Little Deuce Coupe”
  • “Surfer Girl”
  • “California Saga: California”
  • “Don’t Worry Baby”
  • “Salt Lake City”
  • “Darlin’”
  • “Feel Flows”
  • “Sail On, Sailor”

“Pet Sounds”

  • “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”
  • “You Still Believe In Me”
  • “That’s Not Me”
  • “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)”
  • “I’m Waiting for the Day”
  • “Let’s Go Away for Awhile”
  • “Sloop John B”
  • “God Only Knows”
  • “I Know There’s an Answer”
  • “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times”
  • “Here Today”
  • “Pet Sounds”
  • “Caroline, No”
  • “Good Vibrations”
  • “Help Me, Rhonda”
  • “Barbara Ann”
  • “Surfin’ U.S.A.”
  • “Fun, Fun, Fun”
  • “Love and Mercy”

 

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