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Brian Wilson - City Hall, Sheffield, 2/8/2017

  by Nicky Crewe

published: 16 / 9 / 2017

Brian Wilson - City Hall, Sheffield, 2/8/2017


Nicky Crewe gets nothing but 'Good Vibrations' from Brian Wilson and his amazing band of musicians on this summer’s 'Pet Sounds' tour.

At 10 a.m. on February 3rd I was standing in a queue at Sheffield City Hall box office. It’s been many years since I physically went and bought a ticket as soon as they were released. I looked round at the other customers, wondering about their memories and motivations for going to see Brian Wilson perform ‘Pet Sounds’. I missed the tour he did last year, I missed his performances of ‘Smile’. But this time he was appearing in my home town and I knew I’d be mad not to go. Each tour might be the last, not for any morbid reasons, but he could decide to call it a day after his return to touring and live appearances. I wasn’t intending to write a review. I went to relax and listen. I deliberately didn’t look at other people’s reviews from this tour. My expectations were high, and I knew they would be met as long as there was no last minute cancellation. Back in November 1966, when I wasn’t quite a teenager, I went to see the Beach Boys at the Odeon in Manchester. Brian wasn’t touring with them. They still wore those crazy striped shirts. I knew their music and was carried away on the wave of sunny California surf music. As the decades went by their music was part of the soundtrack of my years. Favourite songs shared with friends and lovers. Long evenings listening to their stoned psychedelic albums from start to finish, both sides. From doo wop and rock’n’roll to baroque, their harmonies were magical. With the benefit of hindsight I can see that their music started my love affair with West Coast artists and musicians, bridging that gap between high energy 60's pop music and the heady sounds of the Seventies. Manchester in November 1966 couldn’t have been more of a contrast with sunny California with its surfer girls in their daddyies T-birds. By 1967 we were all fantasising about the Summer of Love and San Francisco. So I had waited a long time to see Brian Wilson. I’d followed his ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ life story and marvelled at his resilience and his survival as a musical genius. To be honest, I would have been happy if he had just sat at the side of the stage, a presence, a muse, while the amazing band he has gathered around him played his music for us all. I wouldn’t have been disappointed. I also didn’t expect more than a set consisting of songs from 'Pet Sounds'. (I told you I hadn’t read the reviews). The City Hall dates back to the 1930s and the Oval Hall isn’t unlike the Odeon in Manchester, sadly recently demolished. There was something about the set and the lighting that paid homage to those big stage shows with their curtained back drops, beautifully done but nothing flashy. As the band moved across the stage to take up their positions, Brian Wilson was assisted on to take his seat at a white piano centre stage. The audience stood to give him a well deserved ovation. I suspect I wasn’t the only one who had waited a long time. And it just got better. I didn’t make a set list. I can tell you that the set started with early Beach Boys songs, from ‘California Girls’ and all points west. Memories came flooding back. I was twelve years old again, in the stalls of a theatre in rainy Manchester. I was in my teens, buying American imports in the Far East where my parents lived. I was at university, listening to ‘Holland’. It was overwhelming. Being in the same air space as Brian Wilson singing ‘In My Room’ brought tears. It also hit me that he had made that shift from happy pop music to deeply personal lyrics that became such a feature of music from the late Sixties and early Seventies. He wasn’t just singing about love, he was singing about fragility and vulnerability. Unbelievably courageous and brave both personally and professionally. I took it all for granted then. Singers were there to express our doubts and uncertainties and I didn’t think to count the cost. Blondie Chaplin was a mesmerising presence on stage, bringing a soulful approach to the songs he took the lead on. Al Jardine was there at Brian’s side, a familiar figure through the various incarnations of the Beach Boys. His son Matt Jardine took the vocals exactly where they needed to go, supporting Brian’s voice and recreating those unforgettable harmonies. What a gift. There was a story about him appearing onstage in Sheffield with them when he was a youngster. He got the show shut down as an 8 year old tambourine player contravened theatrical by laws! The first half was stunning reminder of the Beach Boys back catalogue. 'Pet Sounds' in its entirety followed the interval. To hear ‘God Only Knows’ was a spiritual experience. ‘I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times’ took on a particular poignancy. The songs just kept coming. Finally, after nearly two hours of music we got to the encores which included ‘Good Vibrations’ and ‘Help Me Rhonda’. After all that nostalgia and high energy, Brian took us back to where we all needed to be with a heartfelt performance of ‘Love and Mercy’. And of course that’s what it’s all about. It was a privilege to be there and I hope he knows how much he is loved and appreciated.

Also at City Hall, Sheffield

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Brian Wilson - City Hall, Sheffield, 2/8/2017

Brian Wilson - City Hall, Sheffield, 2/8/2017

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