Words & Images by Tony Stack

Brian Wilson :: 08.26.05 :: Universal Lending (City Lights) Pavilion :: Denver, CO

Brian Wilson :: 08.26 :: Denver
In my world, extended improvisations and instrumental technical prowess are king; however, from time to time I come away feeling unfulfilled. It was nice to get a little order to my universe on this summer Friday night in Denver when Brian Wilson performed his recently reincarnated Smile album.

Conceived as a follow up to the ground-breaking Pet Sounds, this was to be Brian Wilson's masterpiece. Just as it could have been scripted out of a "VH1 Behind the Music" episode, the project was shelved amongst rampant drug use, band infighting, and shaken self esteem. Fast forward thirty-seven years and Brian Wilson let the world catch up with him, as 2004 finally saw the release of Smile. The collection of songs on Smile follow the blueprint of Brian Wilson's pocket symphony, "Good Vibrations" - a gathering of different vocal and musical fragments stuck together to form a cohesive song.

The Smile concert literally transports you to the studio where a phalanx of eighteen musicians effortlessly conjures up any Beach Boys classic as well as Smile's musically challenging sections. The real hero of this band is guitarist Jeffrey Foskett who started singing the "Brian Wilson falsetto" parts with the Beach Boys as far back as the 1980's. His voice is responsible for the band's ability to duplicate the difficult and trademark vocal arrangements.

Brian Wilson :: 08.26 :: Denver
To open the show, Brian Wilson and crew (minus strings) warmed the crowd up with a twenty song first set covering Beach Boys classics such as "Catch a Wave," "California Girls," and a beautiful back-to-back reading of "In My Room" and "Surfer Girl." In a nod to a future Christmas album, Brian introduced "Little Saint Nick." The long set ended with a four song Pet Sounds interlude consisting of "Sloop John B," "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "Pet Sounds," and "God Only Knows." Hardcore Beach Boys fans were treated to 70's rarities such as "Breakaway," "Sail On Sailor," and "Marcella." The collective earned kudos, as their first set was a completely different selection of songs from when I saw them in October. I am glad they are embracing their roots by fully exploring the Beach Boys songbook.

The second set consisted of the band playing the Smile album in its entirety. They led off with the incantation "Our Prayer," featuring its church-choir harmonies. Next, with "Heroes and Villains," the band thrust the crowd into the wild west, taking flight with a rollicking tale of cowboys fighting Indians in an archetypal, if not misguided, battle of good versus evil. The horn section then took center stage as its symphonic sound pushed the next passages towards Brian Wilson masterpieces "Cabinessence," "Wonderful," and "Surf's Up." These three songs make up the soul of Smile as they are deeper and fuller expressions of what was deemed possible with the advent of "Good Vibrations." One can't help but wonder what might have been in 1967 if these songs were given their due by the Beach Boys themselves.

Brian Wilson :: 08.26 :: Denver
Smile is divided into three sections, and truth be told, the last section is a little scattered. This was the weakest part of the performance, but it did not diminish the show. How "Mrs. O' Leary's Cow," a psychedelic instrumental, won a Grammy award this year is beyond me.

After concluding with a crowd-standing version of "Good Vibrations," the band came back for a feel-good six song encore including "Johnny B. Goode," "Surfin' USA," and "Fun, Fun, Fun."

The Smile concert is part nostalgia trip and part head-trip as the second set gives you a glimpse of Brian Wilson's fragile but brilliant psyche. This is truly a one-of-a-kind performance that should not be missed.

JamBase | Denver
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[Published on: 9/12/05]

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