Local Current Blog

Review and photos: Brian Wilson brings ‘Pet Sounds’ to the Orpheum Theatre

Photos by Nate Ryan/MPR

It feels like rock ‘n’ roll isn’t supposed to be played at the Orpheum Theatre. Lush, multileveled seating, ornate ornamentation in private box seats, and a dramatic proscenium stage make a setting more fitting for an orchestra than time-honored rock musicians. On Sunday, Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson brought both, on a tour celebrating the 50th anniversary of the classic Pet Sounds.

At times during the show, the 74-year-old inevitably showed his age, though a crowd clearly rich in longtime fans seemed not to mind. Wilson’s years were all the more apparent when playing alongside original Beach Boys rhythm guitarist Al Jardine, whose voice seems to have not aged a day. Wilson, however, was forced to turn over his famous falsettos to Al’s son, Matthew, who acquitted himself well in solo vocal performances on “Don’t Worry Baby” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”

But Wilson, ever the enigmatic genius, commanded the stage from his perch at an upright piano and laid to rest any questions about his ability to run the show. Simultaneously understated, nervous, and all-powerful, Wilson set an energetic pace from the get-go with a rollicking rendition of “California Girls” and his band kept up with him without missing a beat. Even when silent, he is the maestro.

On songs like “Salt Lake City,” the band fills every corner of the theater under his skilled conducting. Later, Wilson proved once again that he commands no instrument better than the human voice, segueing seamlessly between conducting a bevy of instruments and a chorus of voices on “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times.”

He had help as well. The band, Jardines and all, displayed deft handling of Wilson’s elaborate arrangements and received an added boost in the form of a guest appearance by longtime Beach Boys and Rolling Stones jack-of-all-trades Blondie Chaplin. Chaplin’s guitar work on “Wild Honey” was a highlight of the evening and likely introduced many younger concertgoers to the music that influenced a host of modern artists.

Pet Sounds defined music for a generation of Americans and remains relevant to artists around the world today. After the intermission, Wilson seemed to go from 74 to 24 as he launched into his magnum opus, which he played from start to finish. In “That’s Not Me,” it became clear that he’d been conserving his voice and energy for Pet Sounds. In “Don’t Talk,” the clock began to move backwards on Wilson’s voice; and by “I’m Waiting for the Day,” Wilson had clearly drank from the fountain of youth.

Often, though, Wilson’s senior-statesman status added new resonance to the material. His septuagenarian tenderness on “God Only Knows” was both gruff and deeply moving in a way a 24-year-old couldn’t have mustered. The audience felt it, with many tearing up on “I Know There’s an Answer.” Once Wilson announced “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times,” an enthused peer in the crowd shouted, “Me neither!”

The entire band somehow summoned the energy for a rip-roaring encore presentation of upbeat classics, including the indelible “Good Vibrations” and “Barbara Ann.” But when it came time for the finale – Wilson’s solo “Love and Mercy,” which lends its title to the recent biopic on him – the crowd was in the same place as it was both 50 minutes and 50 years earlier. They sought refuge in music. They thought about “A lotta people out there hurtin’.” They begged for some love and some mercy. And then they went home.

California Girls
Dance, Dance, Dance
I Get Around
Shut Down
You’re So Good to Me
In My Room
Surfer Girl
Don’t Worry Baby
Salt Lake City
Sail On, Sailor
Wild Honey
Wouldn’t It Be Nice
You Still Believe in Me
That’s Not Me
Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)
I’m Waiting for the Day
Let’s Go Away for a While
Sloop John B
God Only Knows
I Know There’s an Answer
I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times
Pet Sounds
Caroline, No
Good Vibrations
Help Me, Rhonda
Barbara Ann
Surfin’ USA
Fun, Fun, Fun
Love and Mercy

Ibad Jafri is a senior at Carleton College double-majoring in International Relations and Cinema & Media Studies. He does not have a favorite color.

  • MPLS Joe

    Thankfully, I won the tickets – didn’t feel bad leaving halfway through.

  • Stacy

    I don’t think the author was at this show. The over the top praise for Brian Wilson’s performance is a bit much.
    Here’s the truth.
    The band was amazing, and the harmonies were spot on and filled the venue with incredible sounds. Without Matt Jardine, it’d be a pretty sad set. Seeing the band scramble between instruments, trying to match the sounds and artistry of Pet Sounds was pretty cool.
    Blondie was an unnecessary time-filler and sounded pretty poor. After his few songs he would just appear and disappear from stage whenever he felt like it, like a lost grandpa.
    And on to Mr. Wilson. He deserves an incredible amount of praise for his creation of Pet Sounds, and the crowd showed their love with multiple standing ovations throughout the show, but it should be noted that he doesn’t sing. He talks through his music and almost sings. He would speak a line and then hand it off to Matt to finish. He also didn’t conduct anything. Al Jardine primarily was conducting the band while BW sat and stared.
    The most amusing part of the night (outside of the musical entertainment) was when BW would walk off stage mid-song because his part was done. He did this a couple of time and it was pretty funny. Very much a mic drop moment.
    Overall, I LOVED this night and am very happy that i got to see Pet Sounds performed live.

    • Lanky

      I saw the NYC show and have to agree about Blondie. And Matt was absolutely vital to the performance – surprised that there’s no pics of him…