Photo by Steve Cross.
For more photos, check out the slideshow.
We went into Monday night's Brian Wilson show at The Ryman with a pretty good idea of what to expect: a living legend sitting at the front of the stage making hand gestures and crooning away while his band of consummate professionals flawlessly executed his new record, That Lucky Old Sun in its entirety, plus a set of Beach Boys classics.
As proceedings got underway promptly at 8 p.m., the band came out and the man of the hour was announced, appropriately, as the "Mozart of rock." Off the bat he surprised us with his extreme enthusiasm as he talked to the crowd and did his best to seem like a performer—which he really is not. This was reassuring, as it wiped away our fears that he would just go through the motions or seem generally unaware that he was even onstage, as has been the case at other Wilson shows in the past.
Opening with "California Girls," he and the band proceeded through a repertoire of classics including "Surfer Girl," "Don't Worry Baby," "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "God Only Knows" and "I Get Around," among others, each retaining the resplendent beauty they had upon conception. This was made possible by the 11 aces up Wilson's sleeve that are the Wondermints—a Beach Boys cover band par excellence with authenticity provided by Brian Wilson himself, who lends them both his name and iconic voice. With almost every member of the band singing impeccable harmonies while utilizing a music store's worth of equipment to re-create the Beach Boys recordings to a T, they are what makes the price of admission worth it. Pop symphonies played this perfectly simply can't be heard anywhere else.
With Wilson sitting behind a keyboard that he never actually plays, there really is no other performance aspect to hang onto aside from the shock and awe of hearing such familiar auditory bliss come live off the stage. The best way to enjoy it is to sit back, close your eyes, and let it wash over you. Luckily, the mix at The Ryman was near perfect for this show, as it would have been a travesty had it not been.
After a brief intermission we headed back in for the predictably anti-climactic performance of That Lucky Old Sun. As in the previous set, the recording was impressively replicated—string section and all. While the TLOS material pales in comparison to indelible classics of the first set, it is worth noting that it was performed with a greater sense of purpose by both the band and Wilson—who really did seem to revel in the midst of his own creation. That being said, The Van Dyke Parks narrative sections and the short videos that accompanied them were a little awkward.
Nevertheless, the overall display did warm the cockles of our cold, cold heart, and we weren't alone, as overall this was about as warm an audience reception as you'll ever see, at least in this town. After the conclusion of the record the band played a sock-hoppin' victory lap of classics including "Barbara Ann," "Surfin'
Safari USA" and Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode." This got the crowd—white people of all ages and fashion inclinations—up, dancing and ready for the holiday season that is soon upon us.