Brian Wilson & Jeff Beck Bayou Music Center October 1, 2013
God only knows the kind of byzantine William Morris-type negotiations that led to Jeff Beck and Brian Wilson hitting America's large-theater circuit this fall. Oh, to be a fly on the wall at that meeting.
Sure, Beck supposedly loves those Beach Boys car songs that cranked America's rock and roll engine in the early '60s, but who doesn't? Almost anyone under age 40, it turns out. Tuesday's Bayou Music Center crowd was half full, and almost entirely absent anyone in their twenties and thirties. Meanwhile, the Wilson/Beck pairing made for a most disjointed two and a half hours, but all parties involved managed to right the ship by the end, just like a proper Hollywood production should. There was even a surprise cameo by a very famous hometown rock star.
The evening opened with Wilson, who is again estranged from the bandmates who retain the rights to the Beach Boys' name, but brought Al Jardine and David Marks and a large ensemble Tuesday. Make no mistake, this was a Beach Boys show all right, or a revue anway. It was a little bit of a mess, too.
It's difficult to pin down what made Wilson's set feel less than the sublime exercise in orchestral pop it could have been, but the show's opening hour didn't pick up any momentum until it was almost too late. Maybe it was just too many cooks -- after Wilson sang "California Girls," lead vocals passed from Jardine ("Shut Down," Phil Spector's "Then She Kissed Me"); Marks ("Little Bird"); female vocalist Taylor Mills, a member of Wilson's band who walked out to sing "Marcella" and walked right off again; backup singer Darien Sahanaja, who did a fine job on "Darlin"; and guitarist Jeffrey
Voskamp Foskett, who managed to set the whole thing back on course with "Wouldn't It Be Nice."
Song selection might have been the bigger factoe. Sweet as the harmonies were, who told them "Old Man River" was a good idea, even as spunky as the "Great American Songbook" medley's second half, ("Cotton Fields") turned out to be? Saving some of the Beach Boys' biggest tunes for the encore also meant too many lesser-known songs cluttering the set list, like the Pet Sounds title track (a hard-jazz instrumental, no lie), "Heroes & Villains," and the title cut from last year's "reunion" album That's Why God Made the Radio. Of these, only "Sail On Sailor" -- also a rare moment when Wilson seemed fully engaged in the proceedings around him, by the way -- gained any real traction.
But, and this is a big but, a melody as transcendent as "Sloop John B" will cover a multitude of sins, and did. So here's the remainder of Wilson's set: "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "Help Me, Rhonda," "I Get Around" and "Good Vibrations." 'Nuff said.
Asking Beck and his band to take the second half turned out to be a smart move. It didn't even matter that nobody sang a word until his tall violinist Lizzie Ball stepped up to sing the old hot-swing standard "How High the Moon." The five musicians demonstrated the same kind of instrumental mastery also seen in jazz and classical, where the technique is so dazzling it almost doesn't matter how familiar the material is.
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The bulk of Beck's set was his astral-rock instrumentals, see-sawing from space jams ("Eternity's Breath/Stratus"), Meters-ish funk ("Even Odds"), Mideast-tinged electro-classical ("Yemin"), Hendrix's "Little Wing," and one brawny blues-rocker called "Big Block" that came with video footage of Beck enjoying his extremely high-end car collection in the British countryside. He even pumps his own gas.
Then Wilson's band had reappered to join Beck and his mates for three of the Beach Boys' more sacred-sounding songs ending with "Surf's Up"; it was chorale-like and very pretty. As he proved on his last song, the Beatles' "A Day In the Life," which demonstrated how exquisite the Beatles' melodies really were when the lyrics are stripped away. Right at that moment, just because, Billy Gibbons walked onstage out of nowhere to be saluted by Beck with just a hint of "Rough Boy."
So that was the prelude. Beck's band took a brief bow, Voskamp introduced each member of both ensembles, and the encore began. After warming up with "409," the minute Beck hit that opening lick to "Surfin' USA" -- saturated with 100 percent pure California sunshine -- the show became the kind of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction-style jam that whoever conceived this tour no doubt had in mind. The good vibrations that carried right on through "Fun, Fun, Fun," and that was it.
So yes, it might have been asking a lot of anyone watching Tuesday's production to expect that sort of greatness across two and a half hours. But for a song or two, it was perfect.
Personal Bias: Music fan.
The Crowd: Fifties and sixties almost exclusively, except for the two teenage Beach Boys superfans standing at the edge of the room loving every second of Wilson's set. That was kind of gratifying.
Overheard In the Crowd: The audience broke into applause when upon recognizing "Little Wing."
Random Notebook Dump: Is Brian even playing?
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