by Barnaby Smith, first published in LondonTourdates #007 ,5th October 2007
When Brian Wilson last toured Britain in 2005, the poor dear seemed in such bad shape that a return any time soon was out of the question.
Now, recuperated thanks to the motivation of a commission from the Royal Festival Hall, he is, if not quite vigorous, at least approaching his maximum levels of sanity. The wardrobe remains pretty sorry though – black and white rugby shirt, Adidas track bottoms and gleaming white trainers. To see him on the street, one would assume unemployed plumber from Crouch End trying to remember how many children he has.
This commission, Lucky Old Sun, came at a time when Wilson was enjoying an extended period of creativity. With the help of Scott Bennett of his gifted band The Wondermints, he has crafted a quite beautiful opus that made up most of the second half of tonight’s performance. Accompanied by projections of southern Californian scenes, this piece echoes the coherence he finally found on his 2004 revisit of Smile, with themes of both hope and confusion at the now antiquated American Dream. Possibly Wilson’s finest solo offering to date.
The first half, and first encore, was a Beach Boys extravaganza. Most exciting was the dusting off of songs such as ‘I’d Love Just Once To See You’, ‘Girl Don’t Tell Me’ and ‘Sail On Sailor’. The encore was heavy on the boogie-woogie with ‘Surfin’ USA’, ‘Get Around’ and those other plastic, pre-LSD Beach Boys numbers that sent beer guts and bingo-wings into action thanks to middle-aged bopping. Wilson closed with ‘She’s Leaving Home’ - a Wondermints reworking of the harmonies taking this song beyond mere reverential cover version. Rumours of Sir Paul joining him on stage proved to be nonsense.
From a man who was once supposedly so unhinged he could not leave his bed for weeks on end, he is now a veritable regular in some of the world’s most illustrious concert halls. His ‘legendary’ status is therefore compromised, given the continuing live renaissance of the silver-haired icon has made him more and more accessible over the years. However, his genuine surprise - even after all these years of performing at the Festival Hall - that people remain fanatically interested, ensures he probably won’t mind one little bit.