Brian Wilson at Vicar Street, Dublin Tuesday 21st of August, 2018
It’s now over half a century since The Beach Boys released ‘Pet Sounds’, an album that – even after ‘Rubber Soul’ and ‘Revolver’ – inspired The Beatles to greater heights and left its indelible mark on pop culture from that point on. The wonder and influence of ‘Pet Sounds’ is profound – but listen, you all know this. We had the good fortune to see its creator, Brian Wilson, perform the album in its entirety on the main stage of Primavera in 2016 as the sun beat down on the Barcelona coast. Galway Arts Festival’s big top marquee contained the smiling vibes in 2017 – same album, different coastline. Tonight it’s one of Dublin’s most intimate venues that hosts Wilson and his many musicians, not just to celebrate ‘Pet Sounds’, but for an all-encompassing greatest hits set from his former band.
Large, sweeping drapes adorn the stage behind the musicians, with Wilson’s white piano the focal point of the set-up. He’s helped slowly out by two stagehands before the show, and there’s a fleeting thought that maybe the road just isn’t the place for Wilson anymore. Once he’s on the stool, though, with this arsenal of songs, his “Hello Dublin!” is full of vitality. They rattle through the first six numbers with barely a pause, and straight away, it’s in with the big hitters – California Girls, I Get Around, Little Deuce Coupe.
Wilson shares vocal duties with Al Jardine, a founding member of The Beach Boys and a constant cheerleader for Wilson’s compositions. While much is made on the gig posters of Jardine being one of Wilson’s ‘special guests’ it’s the other special guest who makes his presence most felt. Guitarist Blondie Chaplin hooked up with The Beach Boys for a brief stint in the early seventies, returning in recent times for…well, for a good fuckin’ time.
Wilson introduces Chaplin midway through the set, and Chaplin – coming on like a composite of Keith Richards, Lou Reed, and Johnny Thunders – takes over on vocals for Feel Flows, body bending along with his notes. He goes wandering for the solo of Wild Honey, resting his head on Wilson’s shoulder, stealing everyone else’s thunder with his green jumper and scratchy solos. He quizzes the crowd on his favourite song, and Sail On, Sailor is proffered to an exuberant “You betcha, buddy!” When Chaplin is onstage he’s the life and soul, and you know what – when he raises a fist and shouts “Rock n roll!” we think he actually means it.
The ‘Pet Sounds’ selection is brief, but shimmers, with Wilson back on main vocal duties and the band’s harmonies soaring around him. The crowd finds its voice through Wouldn’t It Be Nice and Sloop John B, while God Only Knows warrants a standing ovation. It’s almost as affecting as a sublime Don’t Worry Baby earlier in the set, with a vocal turn from Jardine’s son, Matt – stunning falsetto, stunning song. 1970 single Add Some Music to Your Day is another showstopper, baroque and orchestral, and you just get the sense that the musicians onstage feel privileged to play on it.
Blondie’s back out for a good time, savouring the hits and rattling a tambourine while commandeering the stage through Good vibrations and Help Me, Rhonda. The kick drum keeps Barbara Ann pumping straight into Surfin’ U.S.A., and once more into Fun, Fun, Fun, before Wilson rounds the night off on a mellower Love and Mercy from his eponymous 1971 solo album.
As he is helped gently back off the piano, it’s as if a different man from the one we just spent two hours with has taken his place. It’s a sudden dose of reality – this giant of songwriting is a mortal being, just like the rest of us. Tomorrow, though, he will do it all over again. That audience will get what everyone else who has been lucky enough to catch Wilson over the last few years has received, a loving reproduction of some of the greatest pop music of the 20th century.
Tickets for tonight’s performance at Vicar Street (Wed 22nd) are available here.