Reviews of music shows I've been to. Maybe you've been there too…

Brian Wilson @ Wolf Trap (6/6/11)

Brian Wilson retired from performing with the Beach Boys in 1964.  Based on his recent performance at Wolf Trap, he probably made the right decision.  Under a perfect summer night, Wilson performed to a half-filled arena of aging surfers and hard-core fanatics (myself included).  Sitting front and center in front of a keyboard he never touched, focusing on what appeared to be a teleprompter, Wilson mumbled his way through a collection of Beach Boys favorites, beginning as always with “California Girls.”  While great to see live, Wilson sadly bequeathed his vocal portions to his bandmates, settling instead to sing harmony and occasional low-pitch leads.  Losing his trademark falsetto was understandable; but to not even bother singing “Darlin’” or relegating himself to singing Mike Love’s parts on “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” and “Surfer Girl”? Depressing.  On the other hand, the band sounded phenomenal, making me almost consider going to see whatever version of the Beach Boys Mike Love is currently calling his touring ensemble (thankfully I caught myself before running to the box office).  Wilson redeemed himself by tackling “God Only Knows” and pushing his way through “Heroes and Villains” and “Good Vibrations,” though not without a few stumbles.

            After a brief intermission, the band returned to perform Wilson’s latest album, on which he performs a series of George Gershwin songs.  Amazingly, Wilson’s vocals and arrangements fit Gershwin’s songs perfectly (the night sky also helped with the atmosphere).  “Summertime” and “Rhapsody in Blue” were immaculate, though I prefer hearing Nina Simone singing “I Loves You Porgy.”  Witnessing the juxtaposition of one legendary composer performing works of another made me appreciate Wilson for what he is: a conductor, an arranger, a bandleader.  He won’t make any one forget Mick Jagger with his performing, but that’s beside the point.  Jagger’s talent is showmanship- he owns every inch of that stage and connects with every pair of eyes in the building. Wilson’s talent lies behind the scenes: he connects with you, but in an indirect way, through his music.  Both can make your heart jump, but Wilson does it in an incredibly subtle way.  Just hearing those first few chords of “California Girls” transports you back to some wonderful memory, whether it’s your first love or the first time you heard the song on the radio.

Wilson closed the show by actually picking up a guitar and strumming a few chords as the band ripped through a handful of classic sing-alongs: “Help Me, Rhonda,” “Barbara Ann,” “Fun Fun Fun,” and “Surfin’ USA.”  The crowd was happy, the band was happy, and everyone left not with a memory of a lackluster performance by an over-the-hill rocker, but reminiscing on a lovely summer night to the best soundtrack anyone has created.  Ahh Brian…

Set List:

  1. California Girls
  2. Dance, Dance, Dance
  3. Do It Again
  4. Then I Kissed Her
  5. Salt Lake City
  6. I Get Around
  7. Surfer Girl
  8. Don’t Worry Baby
  9. Darlin’
  10. Little Deuce Coupe
  11. Catch A Wave
  12. All Summer Long
  13. Do You Wanna Dance?
  14. Sail On, Sailor
  15. Sloop John B
  16. Wouldn’t It Be Nice
  17. God Only Knows
  18. Good Vibrations


  1. Rhapsody in Blue (intro)
  2. The Like in I Love You
  3. Summertime (George Gershwin cover)
  4. I Loves You, Porgy (George Gershwin cover)
  5. I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’ (George Gershwin cover)
  6. It Ain’t Necessarily So (George Gershwin cover)
  7. Wonderful (George Gershwin cover)
  8. They Can’t Take That Away From Me (George Gershwin cover)
  9. Love Is Here to Stay (George Gershwin cover)
  10. I’ve Got a Crush on You (George Gershwin cover)
  11. I Got Rhythm (George Gershwin cover)
  12. Someone to Watch Over Me (George Gershwin cover)
  13. Nothing but Love (George Gershwin cover)
  14. Rhapsody in Blue (reprise)

Encore 2:

  1. Johnny B. Goode (Chuck Berry cover)
  2. Help Me, Rhonda
  3. Barbara Ann
  4. Surfin’ USA
  5. Fun Fun Fun

Encore 3:

  1. Love and Mercy

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