Thursday, September 15, 2011
Brian Wilson @ Birmingham Symphony Hall
Brian Wilson is a legend. He's right up there with the greats. No question. Equally indisputable is the fact that he's had severe mental health issues for decades (some self inflicted through the drugs, others the result of that unique brain of his), so the mere fact that he's able to turn up and function at all is pretty miraculous. The first time I saw him live (at Glasto a few years back) I had to walk away. He looked downright confused and the backing band (actually a fine group in their own right...The Wondermints) were doing at least 98% of the work. Tonight he seemed a little better, a bit more with it, but still showing serious signs of the wilderness years, the need for the teleprompter, that glazed shark eyed expression and a lack of much meaningful interaction with his band. I only mention these things because there's a nagging concern in my head about who's driving him to tour these days. He seems vulnerable to me but, who knows, maybe he's a bundle of laughs backstage? I spoke to one chap who'd been to see him this evening and Brian happily signed a guitar for him so perhaps he's a bit more with it than he sometimes seemed on stage.
That's the negative stuff out the way (and I'm not criticising the guy by the way, merely reflecting what's pretty clear for all to see). On the positive side, hell...this is Brian Wilson, one of the few people I've seen who got a standing ovation before he'd even sung a note! The writer of some of the most beautiful songs ever. BRIAN WILSON! We had to wait a while for his stuff though, the first half was given over to his latest project, the Wilson-isation of another fine songwriter, good 'ol George Gershwin. It's a bit of a weird concept at first but some of the tracks lent themselves pretty well to a bit of a surf twist or some lush strings. I Got Rhythm, It Ain't Necessarily So, S'Wonderful, Summertime...you can't go far wrong with songs like these. "If you don't like it, yell at us and we'll stop" read Brian from his teleprompter (at least it looked like he did...he seemed unable to function without it). No one did, so I'm guessing the fans were happy enough.
After an intermission the faithful got the real fix they were looking for, one full on Wilson classic after another. You just can't knock the songbook and, to be fair, Brian can still sing 'em pretty well, albeit often with the safety net support of his co-vocalists Jeffrey Foskett and Darian Sahanaja firmly in place. The crowd were up and dancing for most of the second half, a furious run through many of the big hits and favourites, Surfer Girl, Do You Wanna Dance?, Darlin', Sail On Sailor, Sloop John B, California Girls, Good Vibrations. It's all great fun, I just wish Brian looked like he was enjoying himself a bit more. The real highlight,God Only Knows, has to be one of the greatest songs ever written and, given Brian's obvious frailty, it takes on added poignancy this evening with perhaps a flicker of life sparking up in his eyes as he sings "my best one". The encore rolled out more musical gold including Jonny B Goode, Barbara Anne and Help Me Rhonda before Brian Shuffled off into the wings. Should you go and see him? Absolutely. The band are superb, Brian can still sing and, let's face it, there aren't many legends of his stature left these days. Shut your eyes and the show's a blast, open them and, if you're anything like me, you may feel a little uncomfortable from time to time though...