Thursday, November 01, 2007

Brian Wilson

[news piece / review from MOJO]

September 12th saw Brian Wilson return to the freshly-refurbished Royal Festival Hall – where he had previously debuted Smile and Pet Sounds – for the world premiere of his newest work, a song-cycle written with Wondermint Scott Bennett and long-time collaborator Van Dyke Parks. Entitled That Lucky Old Sun (A Narrative), conceived while Wilson was “in the middle of a real creative trip”, it is a musical tribute to Southern California, a location enshrined in so many Beach Boys songs.

In typically excitable, enthusiastic mood, dressed in a black and white striped top and accompanied by his ten-piece band and the Stockholm Strings And Horns, Wilson treated his audience to a joyous opening set of Beach Boys favourites from ‘Surfer Girl’ to ‘Heroes And Villains’, slipping in a snippet of ‘That Lucky Old Sun’ as a tease; that the audience were clapping along by the fifth bar was an encouraging sign.

Following a twenty minute interval, Wilson and his musicians returned to perform the nine songs of That Lucky Old Sun, with periodic interjections from Van Dyke Parks’ dippy, loving, poetic narration, accompanied by projected animations. Brian’s most ambitious new work since returning from the wilderness, the song cycle recalls Pet Sounds and Smile, not least in its playfully baroque arrangements – a playground riot of glockenspiel, tympani, strings and harmonies all played with a smile – and melodic nods to the Beach Boy canon, complementing the autobiographical bent of the lyric-book.

That Lucky Old Sun revisits familiar Wilson themes, albeit from a newly nostalgic (and sadly wise) perspective; ‘Forever You’ll Be My Surfer Girl’ gazes back on first love forty years after the fact, grateful for the memories – and melodies – she yielded. ‘Midnight’s Another Day’, referencing Wilson’s darker days, opened with footage of the Wilson brothers in their heyday projected on the backdrop (to wild applause), giving way to a cold white moon. “Lost my way, the sun grew dim,” Wilson sang, accompanied only by his own piano; as he charted his quest to find again the warmth of the sun, the white disk behind him slowly changed to a golden glow.

Southern California’ closed the cycle on a triumphant, redemptive note, recalling his dream of “singing with my brothers in harmony / supporting each other”, and declaring “I’m glad it happened to me / Nodded off in the band room, woke up in history”. An extended standing ovation greeted the song’s final notes, preceding a giddy medley of Beach Boys hits, and an aching cover of ‘She’s Leaving Home’ dedicated to Paul McCartney; a similarly rapturous reception is expected when the studio version of That Lucky Old Sun surfaces next Spring.

(c) 2007 Stevie Chick