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.
Dance, Dance, Dance
I Get Around
You’re So Good to Me
In My Room
Don’t Worry Baby
Salt Lake City
Sail On, Sailor
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
Help Me, Rhonda
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.