Brian Wilson brings an impressive evening of sunny sing-a-long Beach Boys tracks to Digbeth, music writer Tom Jones reviews.
The dull-grey Digbeth sky provided an altogether unusual, but ultimately enhancing backdrop for the genius of Brian Wilson to shine before. The Beach Boys virtuoso, backed by an impressive ten-piece band, including two other Beach Boys (Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin), brought California to Birmingham via Lower Trinity Street for one night only; possibly one of the most surreal nights of my life.
Brian, staggeringly 76 and still performing, ambled on to the stage at around 9 o’clock with the aid of a Zimmer frame. This entrance, as you can imagine, did not fill me with the greatest hope for the evening ahead: all things considered, this was to be a marathon set with huge hits and the entirety of Pet Sounds to sail through, we would be verging dangerously close to two-hour territory. I am delighted to say, however, that my naïve doubt of this musical behemoth before me was quelled almost as soon as Wilson sat down at the piano. With a quick ‘Hello Birmingham, thank you for making it tonight!’, the Digbeth Arena crowd was launched into Beach Boys classic ‘California Girls’.
Whilst Brian’s vocals are understandably not what they once were, with a little help from his harmonious cohort, not least of all Al Jardine, whose voice doesn’t sound to have aged a day, Wilson’s vocal finds a place to rest just where it should; atop a melodic bed he constructed some 53 years ago. After this the audience is treated to an embarrassment of riches, as Wilson and co. barrage the crowd with an onslaught of hits: ‘I Get Around’ inevitably stirs a crowd of all ages into collective frenzy, whilst ‘Don’t Worry Baby’, sung by Al Jardine’s son Matt, ensures that souls still swoon despite the exposure to occasional rain due to the outdoor venue. Beach Boy and long-time touring member of The Rolling Stones Blondie Chaplin ensures that this half of the set is closed out with real vigour, injecting an unparalleled energy into the final two rousing renditions of ‘Wild Honey’ and ‘Sail On, Sailor’.
‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’, surely one of the greatest opening tracks on any album ever, leads us all singing along into the Pet Sounds section of the show. Getting to experience this album, a work I have listened to again and again and again, live is something I never thought I would be able to do. From the unfathomable vocal line of ‘You Still Believe in Me’, to the inescapable singalong of ‘Sloop John B’, to the sheer majesty of ‘God Only Knows’, conceded by Paul McCartney to be the ‘greatest song ever written’, everything I could want is present in this performance. ‘Caroline, No’, the final track of the album, is delivered by Wilson who sounds to be struggling with his breathing whilst singing, but this does not detract from the charm of the performance, it rather enhances the achievement which I have seen before me; to perform at this level, at his age, is quite genuinely awe-inspiring.
The encore, for which Brian does not move from his piano, as he has not all show, is, again, hit after hit. The expanse of the back catalogue from which masterpieces such as ‘Good Vibrations’, which kickstarts the final part of the set, are plucked is almost unbelievable. The audience is treated to infectious works of genius pop such as ‘Help Me, Rhonda’, ‘Barbara Ann’, and ‘Surfin’ USA’ before the band, except for Wilson, surrender their instruments for one final display of heavenly harmony on Wilson’s solo track ‘Love and Mercy’. The final song of this, the final performance of Pet Sounds, and possibly – though certainly not hopefully – Wilson’s last big tour, genuinely moves some of this crowd, so diverse in age yet united in appreciation of this living legend, to tears. Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, Blondie Chaplin, and the rest of the band put on a display that cut through the gloom of the day and delivered a breath-taking performance of amazing musicianship that will stay with all those who managed to witness it.