By Chris Moore:
A quick Google search of Brian Wilson these days will yield first and foremost the release date and information about his upcoming album That Lucky Old Sun, which will hit stores on September 2. This is exciting news, extending a decade of increased productivity on the former Beach Boy’s part. In 1998, he released an excellent if somewhat overlooked album titled Imagination; this yielded the adult contemporary hit “Your Imagination.” Six years later, he released not only an album of new recordings, Gettin’ In Over My Head (which was received similarly to Imagination), but also released an album called SMiLE. Since 1966, this album has been considered perhaps the most anticipated new rock music album that was never released. Wilson managed to overcome the demons that once haunted him during the initial recording sessions in the mid-sixties and released this US #13 and UK #7 charting album! Now, word that he is releasing new material could not be more exciting than for the fans who have waited with bated breath to see if Wilson’s period of productivity, both in the recording studio and on the stage, would continue.
You may be wondering what all this wonderful background information has to do with the concert that Brian Wilson and his band performed at the Warner Theatre in Torrington, CT on Thursday, July 16, 2008.
The key connection here is what follows lower on the first page of Google results, namely a blog article titled “Brian Wilson refunding Hammerstein Ballroom ticket money…” According to the article, fans complained that the show was only 75 minutes long and performed by a smaller band than Wilson is typically known for. Reading this for the first time the afternoon before I was to attend this concert, I suddenly wondered if disappointment lay ahead. After all, a quick glance at the posts on BrianWilson.com’s message board suggested that there was a significant amount of tension surrounding the recent concerts. When the time came to leave for the concert, I did what any self-respecting Wilson fan would do; I gathered a collection of Beach Boys and Brian Wilson solo albums, got in my car, and kept my expectations somewhere between medium and low.
It should at least be explained briefly here that this show probably did have a lot to live up to. After all, I have seen Brian many times in my brief six years as a loyal and interested fan of his work. The most memorable and incredible concert I attended was, without hesitation, a SMiLE show in New York City. Not only did I go with my friend and fellow Laptop Sessions acoustic cover songs music video blog founder Jim Fusco, but he had enlisted me to help him film his honors’ college thesis project. Due to his legwork, we were graced by the presence of a handful of Brian Wilson’s touring band members right in our very hotel room! After recording enough footage, we enjoyed the rest of the stay in New York for what it was — an opportunity to meet, in a casual environment, such Beach Boys figures as writer David Leaf and band members Probyn Gregory and Taylor Mills. This was probably the most memorable music experience of my entire life; it certainly was up to that point!
So, this being said, the concert at Warner Theatre on July 16th had a lot to live up to. Still, I came to terms with the fact that this was billed as a “Greatest Hits” show, meaning I wasn’t expecting rarities or even tracks off the new album. (I’m not sure what the aforementioned show at the Hammerstein Ballroom was billed as…) I had read elsewhere that Darian Sahanaja, a major contributor to the sound and structure of the band, was unable to attend this tour, as well as Taylor Mills. Two other regular members had recently left the band. I wondered what it would all sound like, and whether or not it would be worth my $50.
It most certainly was. Even with the aforementioned absences, the band was spot-on and sounded remarkably clear and crisp, most likely owing to the acoustics of the small venue. Although the show only lasted for 90 minutes (which was brief compared to some previous shows I have seen), he played 28 songs spread out over a main set and two encores. The set list was somewhat predictable, but then, isn’t that the nature of a greatest hits show?
What struck me was the energy in the room. Applause broke out the moment background vocals were sung during “In My Room.” Within the first few notes of “Do You Wanna Dance?,” every single person with a floor seat was on his or her feet and shaking around. Finally, and perhaps most unusual for this concert veteran, was the fact that not a soul went for the door until the final song of the second encore was over and the lights had fully come up. This was exciting, as I am often frustrated to find that people would rather get out of the parking garage before the traffic builds than stay and watch the band perform their final song or two.
What I couldn’t understand to any degree was why the couple in their early thirties sitting in front of me got up during “Do You Wanna Dance?” and never came back. What did they expect to hear? As far as greatest hits concerts go, this was just about the best you could ever ask for — well-known songs, lively performers, and faithful arrangements.
Perhaps the best aspect of the concert was Brian’s talkative nature. I wondered if he was considering the bad press he had recently received or if he was simply in a good mood. Regardless, he engaged the band and the audience throughout the show. He began with a brief statement before the show, something like, “It’s great to be in Torrington.” He explained the origins of songs — “I wrote this one when I was 19 in my car” — and later asked the band, then the crowd, to make the noise a coyote makes.
Before the final song of the main set, he asked, “You didn’t come here for bad vibes, did you?” No! the crowd responds. “Did you come here for medium vibes?” No! “Good vibes?” YES!!
I think the set list speaks for itself; these are the quintessential Beach Boys songs, mostly tracks that he wrote in the 1960s and 1970s that still have importance to us today. We still love to hear them, and the band did an excellent job (as they always do!) of performing them. The two curve balls of the night were the tracks from the upcoming release That Lucky Old Sun, “Goin’ Home” and “Southern California.” The former sounded great; it was catchy and employed powerful harmonies, although Brian’s lead vocal was difficult to distinguish in the mix. In the second new track, he clearly took command of his part. Suffice it to say that, if I wasn’t excited about the new album before now, I was after listening to these performances.
Other highlights included Scott Bennett’s absolutely scorching electric guitar solo, not to mention Brian’s opening piano riffing, on the seventies Beach Boys track “Marcella.” (He had tapped the keys of his keyboard just before “Sloop John B,” and then continued to ignore the instrument behind which he sat as the night went on.)
All in all, this was a great show and I’m glad that I went. I can’t say it was my favorite Brian Wilson show, and how could it be when compared to the others I have seen in the past? No, I took this for what it was — a greatest hits show with a couple of sneak peaks of new material to come. I truly couldn’t have been happier to find that Brian was in high spirits and incredible form, on the eve of yet another new album. While you wait, make sure to check out all of our Brian Wilson and Beach Boys cover songs here on the Laptop Sessions acoustic cover songs music video blog!