So, the wife, who rubs elbows in with some of the white elite here in the Good ‘Ol Boys Belt, got us tickets last week to see Brian Wilson do Pet Sounds.
She’s in insurance and the company she works for is about 100 years old, something of a family affair. I imagine every guy in the office has *that* golf club membership.The tickets were amazing; Bell Auditorium, second row. I’d scoped out the prices on the tickets last month and they were well over a hundred apiece and nowhere near the pit; typically I won’t go when prices are that high for any artist so I forgot all about the tour. It’d have to be one hell of a near-bucket list show to get me to come off for well over a hundred.
Anyway, her Richie Rich employers who aren’t set back at all buying a $150 ticket or satisfying whatever other whims they might have, were evidently unable to attend seeing someone play track-for-track one of the greatest pop records ever made. My wife heard that the tickets were up for grabs and snapped them up because she knows better than I not to put a price on amazing. After all, if I have a “jam” that I share with her at all, it’s Pet Sounds. We both learned to adore it at the same time and we understand what makes it and Brian Wilson so special. At the time we were taking in its magic, our relationship was young and awkward but it had legs and that’s just one of the many themes in Pet Sounds.
So not only was I going to see Brian Wilson, I was going to see him do Pet Sounds, and I was nearly close enough to shake a proffered hand or exchange a gimme five from the performers! Oboy!
After emptying our pockets and getting wanded, we made for the merch table. As always, I grimaced at the prices. Yet, there was that stupid urge to advertise that we were there, so we bought two green tour shirts with a record player on the front with a likeness of a young Brian “spinning” on it. That should have told me a little something, because that ain’t Brian anymore and hasn’t been for almost a half a century. The picture was more than an image; I felt that his face was/is a symbol or an icon of a sort in this context, a placeholder for a time long gone by full of sun, sand, cars and LSD. On the shirt, Brian seemed more like a brand than a person. Seventy dollars later and speaking of brands, we went to get our booze-there were no good choices for beer. It was either Bud Light (weak), Mich Ultra (why), full strength Budweiser (America) and Yuengling. Which do I wanna boycott, Bud or Yuengling? I made a snap decision to protest Yuengling, who if I remember right, their CEO is a hardcore wingnut Trump enabler. Yes, that’s it. So fuck Yuengling for tonight even though Pennsy is like my old backyard in the North and I’m as provincial as the next guy, I guess. The wife had a double gin and tonic.
The opening act was charming, they were a little folk duo with a lot of charisma from Ireland. Beat Root Revival, if anyone is into that stuff. Ain’t my thing at all, but it didn’t cause me any existential pain or make me angry. No, that was to come later. It wasn’t long before Brian’s band took the stage, promptly at eight, followed by the legend himself who was wearing a full leg brace and needed to be assisted onto the stage by a pair of roadies. OK, whatever, guy got hurt, he’s old, no biggie. Anyway, Brian is on the tour with one and a half of the original Beach Boys. Al Jardine was there, and Blondie Chaplin as well. The band began to rattle off some oldies, and damn it if Brian did not sing until like three tunes in, on “California Girls”. This was really not a good sign. His son-in-law, who is married to Carnie Wilson, did much of the heavy lifting on vocals, trading with Al when Brian did not/could not/would not sing. The vocal presence was so seamless, as if the band knew already where Brian’s voice would drop off. I am positive that everyone’s monitor was tuned to Brian’s mike so they could be prompted to take lead.
What happened as the night went on I’d rather not remember. But I can tell you this much; Brian is finished as a performer and he is shitting all over his legacy by continuing to appear on stage. For two hours, I watched the band do their best at what it came to do, and then there was Brian, who looked like he had no idea why he was there, because it certainly wasn’t to sing. It was a little sad, because I was up front far enough that I could see he was unhappy and uninterested. He just sat there. Occasionally he’d brush stray hairs from his gaunt face with a hand that shook like crazy. The wife and I thought he had a stroke, or was about to have one if they kept getting creative with the light show.
All in all, I’d say Wilson sang maybe 20% of the gig and that is being fucking generous. If memory serves, Brian chimed in on most of “California Girls”, “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times”, and sang us a tune from his 80s solo album “Love And Mercy” at the end of the show, which was probably the only time I was touched the whole night. Everything else was tragic. He was more interested in biting his fingernails and spitting them out, or flicking boogers after exploring his nose. I cannot believe I wished I was not so close. When everyone cheered at the end of “Sloop John B”, he told everyone to be seated. It was clear that he wasn’t going to stay on that stage a second more than he had to. I wasn’t listening to Brian so much after a while, preferring to sing instead to the Pet Sounds record that is in my head. I actually went to that proverbial happy place. After Brian and Co. finished ruining my album, he was escorted again off stage and I was so relieved that it was over.
But he actually came back for an encore. Wow. I couldn’t believe the crowd wanted one, but they had a different perspective than I did being up so close to this depressing spectacle. I certainly needed no more of it. They ran through a few more oldies, and it got all the rich cougars dancing and the doughy old fanboys got out of their chair for stupid shit like “Help Me Rhonda”. The older people to my left looked confounded by Pet Sounds, but when the surf crap was on, they knew all the words to those hoary songs. I got the feeling I was here to see Brian for one reason and they another. I was changed by Pet Sounds; I think a lot of the audience just went because he’s a Beach Boy…not the Beach Boy.
As you can tell, I’m a little mad and a little sad. More mad than sad, if I reflect a little. The wife says she’s never going to be able to listen to Pet Sounds anymore. I am not sure who I should hold responsible for using Brian Wilson in such a nakedly cynical way to sell shitloads of expensive tickets and merch, but they should have a curse laid upon them. Is Brian in on this scam, using himself and his name and fame? Fuck, I hope not. I have always thought of him as a gentle and forthright soul, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a greedy materialist trying to extract as much money as possible from people who still think he can perform. My favorite parts of the evening were watching Blondie Chaplin mugging and mincing and having a blast being on stage. His countenance is similar to Keith Richards’, looks to me like he partied hard for a while. Maybe still does. But he was more entertaining than anything else I saw at the Bell that night. He was surely happiest to be up there.
In the end, I don’t even think Vegas would say yes to this hustle if they tried it again, because this was certainly no performance to speak of. A lame trifle of a tribute, perhaps. And Brian doesn’t and shouldn’t have to be there for any of it. It’s over, buddy. I don’t know what it was like to be ripped off by Elvis Presley as he too did not always do what people came to see him do at the end there, but this feels analogous. So fair warning for those of you on this tour: Brian has left the building. Sell your seats to someone you don’t know well enough to like. Here, I’ll post a few pics and videos so you know a little what to expect if you take this ride.
Al and Brian
Blondie soloing his ass off
Brian mauling “I’m Waiting For The Day”
God Only Knows why this tour exists.
Brian getting lost in the lights while the band played arguably his most brilliant song
Definitely not made for these times
This was the best part of the show, the only non-Beach Boy tune.