And Your Dream Comes True
BRIAN WILSON Live at the Beacon Theater, New York City, June 18, 1999
By: Gary "Pig" Gold
It's always been more than so tough, hasn't it, being a die-hard Brian Wilson devotee. For the last 33 years, even the most committed disciple amongst us has been regularly shaken to the core with a heartbreaking series of unfulfilled promises, unreleased albums, SHOULD-have-remained-unreleased albums and, generally speaking, one long and painful fall from grace by a band who, at one point, were showing no less than The Beatles the way.
Nowhere has this apocalyptic artistic decline been more in evidence than with the ever-increasing cheese factor at play each time The Beach Boys, or parts thereof, dredged their quarter-century-old set list on stage to be routinely displayed - and more often than not harmonically butchered - amidst a twirling bevy of underage cheerleaders parading between "Boys" who long ago became but be-whiskered, bedeviled reminders of their long-lost glory days.
Yet the man singularly responsible for this all - the man who, yes, wrote those songs the whole world still sings - has somehow remained the focal point of this entire American Dream Gone All Wrong, despite years spent under the covers (literally) trying his darndest to avoid the spotlight. Of course, this is not to deny Brian Wilson has written, sung, and produced some of the greatest music ever made by man. But the composer of "God Only Knows" has also been known to fall asleep on stage, eat his own cigarette ashes, and once published a book graphically detailing the size and textures of his various bandmates' bathroom droppings circa "Fun Fun Fun." Or wait: Perhaps it was his evil psychologist-slash-lyricist-slash-manager of the moment who was responsible for that particular literary milestone?
All this, plus a decades-long litany of other, er, peccadilloes which rival even Elvis' in the Pop Star Babylon sweepstakes, makes it more astounding still that Brian Wilson is, at this seemingly very late stage in his game, now crisscrossing the globe recreating over two hours of his greatest-ever musical moments, and is night after night bringing thousands of people - including many who long ago grew more than skeptical of those dreaded words "Brian is Back" - cheering and stomping to their feet like it was still 1964, and the world had yet to hear of a place called "Kokomo."
New York City has long been a Beach Boy kinda town, and sure enough, when The Man Himself recently strode out onto the Beacon's laser-festooned stage, he already had us more than ready in his great big hands. Following a brief introductory film montage cataloging the artist's life and work (during which every appearance therein by Mike Love Not War was heartily booed with near anti-Yoko ferocity), Brian Wilson, dressed all in New York black and perched uncomfortably against a tall stool at center stage, rested his hands upon the keyboard before proceeding to lead his 12-piece, all-star backing band (which, sports fans, included the won-won-wonderful Wondermints!) through two fast-paced sets of certified classics, lost gems, a couple?a new numbers, and even a Ronettes tune to boot.
Clearly arranged with what seemed more attention paid to gender than key, tempo or style (ie: "Don?t Worry, Baby" followed by "Kiss Me, Baby"; "Surfer Girl" by "California Girls"), and with a bevy of veteran falsettos - especially lead guitarist Jeffrey Foskett's - always at the ready for when melodies soared too close towards the heavens, Wilson determinedly paced his show at a Ramone level of intensity throughout, pausing reluctantly between numbers only when the ovations got too long, loving, and loud.
Indeed, these spontaneous outbursts of acclaim erupted with increasing frequency as the night rolled on, and with good reason too. For example, after years of abuse at the hands of soda hawkers the world over (not to mention his own fabled brothers, cousins and friends), "Good Vibrations" probably hasn't sounded this, well, AUTHENTIC since its final studio playback circa September '66. Other delicate material from the era, even the two instrumental passages from the hallowed PET SOUNDS, were reproduced with a level of detail and, yes, respect which has criminally never before been awarded this magic music. Long-time fan(atic) favorites such as "Add Some Music To Your Day" and "Darlin'" (the latter introduced by Bri as "the best song we ever did") left even the most devoted stickler to sonic detail reeling, while full-bodied renditions of "I Get Around," "Do It Again," and especially newer material from 1998's IMAGINATION actually rocked harder - and as a result rang truer - than their comparatively quaint recorded versions.
Why, even a piece of inconsequential fluff like the campfire-ready "Back Home" quickly and confidently came to life, no doubt thanks to instructions from the composer for us all to "clap on the fourth beat, like this: One, Two, Three, FOUR! Good. Now, KEEP IT GOING!" Indeed, not only was it good for the ears, but for the SOUL to witness two thousand once-jaded New Yorkers rigorously clapping along on the four-beat as a beaming Brian sang about feeding chickens and getting ready for breakfast (with, remarkably, the same level passion he?d just minutes earlier given the timeless agoraphobic anguish of "In My Room").
All too soon the festivities sped to a close with a nostalgic wallop ("All Summer Long," "Barbara Ann," "Fun Fun Fun") worthy of The Beach Boys at their cheese-coated finest. But it was during a final encore of "Love And Mercy," one of the man's greatest if least-recognized (as yet) achievements, that Brian Wilson finally, truly connected with not only the ears, but the HEARTS of all in attendance, and in a way he has until now only been capable, it seems, of accomplishing on record.
With just the gentle accompaniment of producer Joe Thomas' piano, Brian delivered a rivettingly stark reading of this magnificent song which threw each and every on-looker into sheer, silent reverence. As the increasingly timely refrain of "Love and mercy, that's what you need tonight / So, love and mercy to you and your friends tonight" rang around the majestic old hall, one couldn't help but admire how the sometimes halting, admittedly uncomfortable man on stage had, after two solid hours of state-of-the-art bombast, bequeathed us gently back onto the mean Manhattan streets with a reassuring musical hug as opposed to a big rock and roll rigmarole.
For you see, like his finest work always has, Pop Music's once and future Adult Child had once again cleverly lured us inside with a promise of endless sunny summertime, only to send us home a few hours later newly filled with the simple, reassuring glow and power of, well, positive (yes, Good!) vibrations. We don't get enough of this sort of spirit in 1999, do we? Thank God that Brian Wilson somehow realizes as much, and is busy bravely doing his fair share - against ALL odds - to add some music, love, and much-needed mercy to our days.