Living legend brings his masterpiece to Palace

Brian Wilson leads band through 'Pet Sounds'
Brian Wilson.
Brian Wilson.

ALBANY — At 23, Brian Wilson made his immortal “Pet Sounds” album, a peak of candor and imagination; creating its majestic moods with studio pros but without his fellow Beach Boys until they came off the road to harmonize behind his confessional lead vocals.

Wednesday at the Palace Theatre, Wilson, 74, led a big band through “Pet Sounds,” first juke-boxing an hour of hits and closing with encores that also dug deep into his seemingly bottomless songbag.

In notes for a 1990 “Pet Sounds” reissue, Wilson wrote, “I made each track a sound experience of its own. I was obsessed with explaining, musically, how I felt inside…sounds that would make the listener feel loved.” Playing those sounds, that feeling, presented big challenges. On the album, “Let’s Go Away for Awhile” featured 12 violins, piano, four saxes, oboe, vibes, guitar with a Coke bottle slide, two basses and percussion, for example. On Wednesday, the band carried Wilson like a well-polished limo/time machine, back when the big, mostly boomer-vintage crowd fell in love with Wilson’s music; first the sunny escapism of cars, surf and parties, then the mature, if tormented, musings of a troubled soul.

“Pet Sounds” felt valiant and valedictory. Escapist hits mostly earned defy-the-calendar lift-off: drag-race romps “California Girls,” Dance, Dance, Dance,” “I Get Around,” “Shut Down,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Little Honda,” “Help Me Rhonda” — you get the picture: a sunny, wide-screen view of California as teen paradise. Fellow Beach Boys Al Jardine and (temp) Blondie Chaplin took some first-set spotlight so Wilson could coast. Matt Jardine (Al’s son) sang the high parts Carl or Brian sang in the originals and Jeff Foskett sang in later Beach Boys tours, while Chaplin took “Sail On, Sailor” over the top to close the first set.

“Pet Sounds” dazzled because Wilson had nowhere to hide. On the album and at the Palace, the band followed him. In the first set he sang behind the beat, in the second, all “Pet Sounds,” he sang in front, with staccato phrasing that felt rushed at times, as if to escape the problems the songs portrayed. It felt brave as he faced them. From the romantic longing “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and the majestic “God Only Knows” through pained reflections on love’s passing in “I’m Waiting for the Day” and “Here Today,” confessions of feeling out of step in “I Know There’s an Answer” and “I Just Wasn’t Made for these Times,” plus instrumental detours and the upbeat cheer of “Sloop John B,” the album soared.

Encores went even higher, keeping the crowd on its feet: “Good Vibrations,” “Barbara Ann,” “Surfing USA,” “Fun, Fun, Fun” — Wilson actually smiling, as rare an onstage sight as Dylan doing so — then the sunny blessing of “Love & Mercy,” which felt both hard-won and generously sincere.

For all his frailty on his feet, his reserve at the piano and the mic and the world’s saddest eyes scanning his teleprompter, Wilson’s indestructible songs reflected a beat-up but still resilient spirit.

Categories: Entertainment

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