Tuesday 20 September 2011

Good Vibrations at the Festival Hall

Brian Wilson in concert -
Royal Festival Hall, London
16th September 2011

The secret to appreciating Brian Wilson is to look beyond the sometimes fragile voice, accept that he may not always reach those high notes like he used to, accept that he is no longer 23 but approaching 70 and accept that it is his music that matters, not the appearance or the sometimes odd mannerisms that you see on stage. The uncomfortable nervousness and stage fright is there for all to see, but through the darkness and hurt of those tragic drug filled years shines a light, and that light is Brian Wilson's music.

This man, who has created some of the best four part vocal harmonies ever heard in popular music, is actually deaf in one ear. He had a violent, bullying father and a work rate that produced an unbelievable number of classic Beach Boys albums in the early part of his career that resulted in burn out and breakdown. He's gone through the worst kind of drug and alcohol abuse, struggled with obesity, depression and mental health problems and seen his two younger brothers die tragically young. It's not been easy being Brian Wilson. To have survived all that must leave mental scars, some of which may never heal, but he has come through it all and the light that is his music shines as bright as ever, you just have to know how to look for it. When you find it you appreciate it in all its glory and begin to understand this man's musical genius. His back catalogue are the songs of a generation that began in the sixties but are continuing some five decades later. His music is as valid and relevant today as it's ever been.

There is more to Brian Wilson than just watching a former Beach Boy sing old surfing songs, seeing him in concert is a unique experience filled with emotion and love. With vocal harmonies that were created in heaven and songs that are so well written you know that you are in for an unforgettable experience.

He took to the stage at a packed Royal Festival Hall in London to rapturous applause and was given a very warm welcome. Brian was here to perform his personal tribute to the music of George & Ira Gershwin and the opening set was a complete performance of his recent CD 'Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin'. From the opening acapella Rhapsody In Blue we knew we were in for a marvelous evening. Ably supported as always by his excellent note and voice perfect band and backed up by the Stockholm Strings we were treated to Gershwin classics like Summertime, I loves You Porgy, I Got Plenty O' Nuttin', It Ain't Necessarily So, I've Got A Crush On You, I Got Rhythm and the beautifully performed Someone To Watch Over Me. Brian bookended the set with Rhapsody In Blue again and before we knew it the interval was upon us.

The second set was a giant Beach Boys hits fest and it wasn't too long before the audience were up on their feet dancing the evening away. Classic, timeless music that everyone knew and sang along to. From the familiar opening of California Girls through to Dance Dance Dance, Wendy, the wonderful Surfer Girl (the first song Brian ever wrote) and Catch A Watch. We also listened to a vocally perfect rendition of the seldom heard Surfer Moon followed by such classics as Darlin', I Get Around and Sail On Sailor. The highlight for me, as always, was the Pet Sounds section with God Only Knows bringing out a well deserved standing ovation. Ending with Do It Again, Heroes & Villains and Good Vibrations the evening was drawing to a close. The now familiar hits encore continued with Johnny B Goode, Help Me Rhonda, Barbara Ann, Surfin' USA and Fun Fun Fun. The concert drew to a close as it always traditionally does with his heartfelt rendition of Love And Mercy, a wonderful way to end any concert. 

What a fantastic back catalogue of music this man has to call upon. The superb band of musicians that Brian has surrounded himself with only enhance the quality of his music. Listening to these songs again makes you realise just how great a talent Brian Wilson is, he's up there with the best of the 20th century songwriters. George & Ira Gershwin, Lennon & McCartney, Bob Dylan, Burt Bacharach, Goffin & King, Paul Simon, Jimmy Webb and Brian Wilson. The man sure keeps good company.

Given his age and recent rumours, I wondered if this would be the last ever time that Brian Wilson would be touring the UK. If this was to be my final glimpse of Brian Wilson in concert then it was a fitting finale, thank you for the music Brian.

See Brian Wilson's set list at the Royal Festival Hall by clicking here.

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