Last November I had an opportunity to speak with Art Garfunkel, one half of the legendary duo of Simon and Garfunkel. As we were speaking, the topic of early ’60s music, naturally, came up. Mr. Garfunkel, removing the spotlight from he and his partner’s numerous accomplishments, said “If it wasn’t for the Beach Boys, none of this today would have happened.”
Here’s a bona fide musical legend, deflecting the spotlight from his lengthy career and focusing on another group that he felt to whom we owe this humongous debt of gratitude.
It’s also been said that without Pet Sounds, the album whose anniversary brought about Brian Wilson‘s stop at the Hard Rock Rocksino, The Beatles wouldn’t have had the courage to lay down their masterpiece, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. As a matter of fact, Beatles producer George Martin went as far to say,”Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper never would have happened; Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds.”
So, how’re those for some chops?
The Beach Boys, now a pair of very-fragmented bands fronted by two feuding cousins, still tour, bringing smiles to both aged baby boomers and newly-minted teenagers all over the globe. Wilson, joined by original member Al Jardine, tour regularly while his cousin and primary Beach Boys’ vocalist Mike Love tours with Bruce Johnston, a “late” comer to the band (in 1965, actually, and criminally not enshrined in the Rock Hall as a member of the band).
Wilson, approaching 75 years old and helped to the stage by a pair of assistants, brought Pet Sounds to the Rocksino this past Saturday night. The 1966 album, a masterpiece of sonic and harmonic nuance, was flanked by Beach Boys hits. Saturday’s gig started with “California Girls,” a tune that still puts a smile on my face no matter when I hear it, and then went on to include “Help Me, Rhonda,” and “Surfer Girl,” in which the thin-voiced Wilson said that it was the first song he ever wrote, at nineteen years old.
Four songs into the set gave us Blondie Chaplin, a band member who appeared on one album back in the early ’70s, Holland. Chaplin made staccato appearances on stage throughout the show, playing for a tune and then be-bopping off stage until he’d reappear again twenty minutes later. Giving Chaplin a moment to shine, the band tore into “Wild Honey,” showcasing Blondie’s immense guitar chops.
Al Jardine, a stalwart guitar player diminutive in size but not in stature, slung his guitar to Wilson’s immediate left. This Hall-of-Famer has played these songs literally thousands of times, but brought such an enthusiastic aplomb to the evening as if he’d only been playing these tunes for a few months as opposed to six decades.
After warming up the crowd with a Greatest Hits section tracing the band’s fifty-five year run, the set changed up a bit and Pet Sounds was played in its entirety.
The album’s thirteen tracks, played in the order in which they appeared on the LP, appeared midway during the ninety-plus minute show. Perhaps the highlight of the evening was a fantastic rendition of “God Only Knows, which originally appeared as the first track on the second side of the album. When Jardine announced that we were flipping the album over to side two and we’d drop the needle on the first track the audience got very quiet; those who knew what was about to come held their breath. Combining a sax, French horn, wood-block percussion tapping, and a host of harmonics that blended so beautifully made this a true bucket-lister to hear performed live and with a twelve-member ensemble.
While much has been made in the last several decades of Wilson’s journey through mental illness, Svengali-like psychiatric care, and issues with substance abuse, he seemed to be at home behind the keys. At time narrating our journey and at other moments content to sit back and let Jardine or new vocalist Casey McDonagh (of The Flat Five Chicago) take over vocal duties, the evening went off without a hitch other than a missed vocal cue that both Wilson and McDonagh erred upon. Astonishingly, McDonagh joined the tour on Friday in Columbus, and had no time to rehearse or warm up! He rose to the occasion perfectly, mimicking the mid-’60s cadence and timbre of most of the band’s original lineup.
Perhaps the only complaint of the evening was the show’s length. Based on the setlist for Friday evening’s Columbus show, it appears that about forty minutes of the show was cut from Saturday’s gig. Most of the Beach Boys’ tunes are short-less than three-minute songs; a dozen or so numbers were cut from the previous night’s lineup. What a shame; the audience was on its feet so much that Wilson had to ask the crowd to “please take your seats” on several occasions. The applause after “God Only Knows” was thunderous and it seemed to unnerve Wilson as he wanted to move onto the next track in the oeuvre.
A five-song encore, including “Good Vibrations,” Barbara Ann,” “Surfin’ USA,” “Fun, Fun, Fun” and closed out by “Love and Mercy,” brought the show to an end. The crowd, on its collective feet for the last twenty minutes of the show, ate it up.
I’m getting to the point that I can count the bands that I haven’t seen as opposed to the ones that I have. Although I would have preferred to see this band at the height of its powers in, oh, 1965 would have been impossible as I was still a twinkle in my dad’s eye (However, I was a little over a month old when Pet Sounds was released in 1966), seeing them the other night was a highlight in my concert-going career. A moment, like Paul and Ringo together onstage at the Rock Hall inductions a few years ago, that I’ll never forget. Seeing Brian Wilson, older, a little worse for the wear, and sporting a bright white pair of Nikes as he sauntered to the awaiting piano, was a jaw-dropping way to spend a Saturday night.
This mad, musical maestro who birthed one of the greatest pieces of sonic art in the last hundred years, was less than ten feet away from me and my 200mm lens.
How often do we get to be that close to genius?