When The Beach Boys’ seminal album Pet Sounds was released in 1966 it was hailed as a game-changer. It catapulted writer/producer Brian Wilson into the realms of pop genius and took him to the edge of madness. So it was inevitable that the 50th anniversary performance of the album was going to be tinged with a degree of sadness. Beneath the harmonies and sonic textures that encapsulated a carefree era, there lay a darkness that was all consuming.
To huge applause Brian Wilson shuffles on stage taking his place behind a black piano, surrounded by his band, with original Beach Boy Al Jardine by his side. The first half of the performance gallops through the early Beach Boys hits, with the bonkers but brilliant Heroes and Villains, California Girls, I Get Around, Little Deuce Coupe and Surfer Girl filling the sold out Symphony Hall with a warm and fuzzy feeling of nostalgia. A spotlight shines down on Wilson as he sings In My Room, his vocals are a little off kilter but this doesn’t detract from the blissful simplicity of the song. For Don’t Worry Baby, Jardine’s son Matt takes up the lead and proves that he is more than capable of hitting those high notes.
When ex 70’s Beach Boy Blondie Chapman comes on and rocks out to Wild Honey and Funky Pretty, there is a change in momentum. His energy seems at odds with the rest of the band as he prowls the stage brandishing an electric guitar, but a rendition of Sail On Sailor pulls the performance back on to an even keel. When Wilson gets up to leave for the interval he finds his path blocked by Chapman and there is an awkward pause as he re-adjusts and then shuffles off.
The gentle sway of strings of Wouldn’t it Be Nice, signals the start of the second half and a master class of song writing and composition, as Pet Sounds is brought to life in all its’ technicolour glory. A plethora of instruments are used to weave this rich tapestry together from brass, strings and percussion to the more eclectic theremin, on the poignant I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times. Combined with Wilson’s lyrics that speak of love and heartbreak (Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)) and the search for inner meaning (I Know There’s An Answer) you have a timeless piece of music that defines an era. The vocals may not be as honeyed as they used to, with Matt Jardine deputising for Wilson in the higher range and Wilson sometimes wandering off key, affecting the dream-like quality of the songs, but to see the maestro perform his masterpiece is what the evening is all about. The chance to hear God Only Knows played live by its creator is worth the ticket price alone.
The evening comes full circle with another burst of feel good Beach Boys hits, the likes of Good Vibrations, Help Me Rhonda and Fun Fun Fun getting everyone to their feet and dancing in the company of a true musical legend.
Words: Andrew Gutteridge