My legs and lungs were still hurting from running all over Boston in freezing weather yesterday morning to wait to get Brian Wilson's autograph. I had gone from my home in Melrose, Massachusetts to drop my daughter off at her school in Newton, and then into Boston. At the end of my work day, I had to go from Boston to Newton to pick up my daughter at the end of her afterschool rehearsal for A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court at 6:00pm, drive back out to Melrose, and then head back into Boston for the Brian Wilson concert. Time was against me, as the concert was slated to begin at 7:30, and my ticket was being held at the Will Call window. Unfortunately, traffic was against me, too.
By the time I got my daughter home, my best bet was to take the subway into the city. Easily accomplished, since the line ends in Melrose. I had eight stops to travel to get to Downtown Crossing, from where I would run to the Orpheum Theatre with almost no time to spare. The subway ran smoothly; when I got to Downtown I ran somewhat less so (it's uphill from the subway to the venue). When I got there, the Will Call line was very long. I was tired, out of breath, and just about out of time. Fortunately, the box office people, seeing that there were too many people outside to start the show on time, sent someone out with all the Ticketmaster-ordered tickets to go down the line and distribute them. Thus, I got my ticket, ran into the theatre, got to my seat, and had about five minutes to catch my breath before the lights darkened.
The Orpheum is one of the last eyesores hosting live entertainment left in Boston. For years as a teenager, every concert ticket I bought for there noted that a 25-cent restoration fee was included in the price. I don't know who made off with all the money, but I'm sure no carpenters, painters, or upholsterers were ever called. Still, it's a nice, intimate venue with good acoustics. And even though it's notorious for being stingy with legroom, I was in the first row of my section (center Orchestra, behind the first small section of rows) so I had more space. Excellent seat.
Brian Wilson sports a crack 10-piece band, eight of whom sing. The number of instruments played is rather astounding. In addition to the standard rock arsenal, there's a vibraphone, baritone sax, flute, theremin, various guitars and keyboards, percussion, and while it wasn't needed last night, a banjo has appeared when needed. Despite the studio tricks and overdubs Brian is famous for, he has the personnel to perform his music perfectly and precisely as recorded, even in a concert setting.
The first set of Beach Boys hits opened with California Girls and included such uptempo classics as Dance Dance Dance, Do You Wanna Dance, Sail On Sailor, Do It Again, All Summer Long and Marcella, the latter a track from an obscure, mediocre 1972 album that is much better live today than the original recording. Interspersed were some of Brian's best ballads, such as Surfer Girl, In My Room, Please Let Me Wonder, and God Only Knows. The first set ended with Good Vibrations.
The second set comprised the entire new album, That Lucky Old Sun. An autobiographical work, TLOS presents as a whole better than it does on a track-by-track basis. Therefore, even though I had played the album a few times prior to the show, spending more time on the better tracks, the emotional richness and elegant musical and narrative arc that guides the piece only came to life for me in concert. I will listen to it differently now. It's a wonderful work, nearly as emotionally substantial as Pet Sounds but from a much more mature perspective. Musically, it's not as adventurous as his masterpiece SMiLE, but it demonstrates that his compositional and vocal arrangement powers are still in a league of their own.
After two wonderful sets, you'd think you'd heard it all, but then comes the encore set, comprising Johnny B. Goode, Fun Fun Fun, I Get Around, Barbara Ann, Surfin' USA, and Help Me Rhonda. All singalongs and dancealongs. By this point, you realize Brian has some kind of unfair advantage. He can rip off a couple of dozen of all-time classic pop masterpieces and still only scrape the surface of his catalog. Then he comes back to perform his mellow latter-day anthem of healing, Love and Mercy.
It was a two-hour, fifteen-minute show, a busy night for him. I should add that at this point in his life and career, Brian doesn't do many of his original vocal parts. He has a guy, Jeff Foskett, who handles the bulk of the falsetto work, as well as a very hot female vocalist, Taylor Mills, to handle the upper register parts (in fact, Foskett sang lead on the whole of Wouldn't It Be Nice except for the Mike Love part: "Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray, it might come true...", which Brian sang). But not for In My Room. Foskett and Taylor provided support, but Brian dug down and put out a good lead vocal on this song with serious care and effort. Clearly, In My Room is a special song for Brian and it's something that remains very meaningful for him. It was an emotional highlight that brought moisture to my eyes, as that was the song that first made me a Brian Wilson fan 35 years ago.
Once the show was over, many people were overheard to say it was the best Brian show they'd ever seen. Respected local music writer Brett Milano, an acquaintance of mine, said as much to me directly. I would have to agree, although seeing SMiLE live a few years ago has to trump TLOS. But Brian (66 years young) and his band were simply on fire last night. It was a great, great experience. As I exited the theatre, I walked slowly and leisurely back to the subway. In spite of the cold, I was content to finally take my time and savor my feelings of gratitude and contentment, rather than rush around all stressed as I had been twice that day already. A day like yesterday is rare. It should be savored. It certainly puts me in the mood for Thanksgiving because I am truly grateful that Brian Wilson and I are alive and functional at the same time.