A Fan’s Notes: Brian Wilson & Jeff Beck – Wang Theatre, Boston, MA.
A few months ago we learned that Jeff Beck was in the studio with Brian Wilson, working on Wilson’s new album. It seemed like an odd pairing to say the least. What was the common ground between the pop maestro and the guitar god, and what would a collaboration between the two sound like? Then there was the announcement of a tour featuring the two artists as co-headliners, and while it remained unclear how the pairing would work musically, there was a sense that it was a show that should not to be missed.
Last week the tour rolled into Boston’s Wang Theater. Reports from earlier shows on the tour indicated that the show was working very well indeed, but I still had to see it for myself.
Brian Wilson and his amazing band were up first. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again … this is the best live band on the road these days. These guys are accomplished multi-instrumentalists, and they sing like angels. Adding original Beach Boys David Marks and Al Jardine to this crew has only made them stronger and rendered the vocal mix more authentic than ever. They didn’t waste any time showing off that vocal blend either, opening with a stunning a cappella version of “Their Hearts Were Full of Spring.”
The first few songs after that auspicious beginning were ones that are often heard in the live show, but always appreciated nonetheless. I will never be able to hear “Don’t Worry Baby” enough and Jeffrey Foskett’s soaring falsetto really does the song justice. The first curveball of the night, and what a curveball it was, came when the lead vocal mic was turned over to David Marks for a lovely version of the little-heard Dennis Wilson song “Little Bird.” Then Al Jardine got his chance to shine on a medley of “Old Man River” and “Cotton Fields.”
Then, as if out of a dream, Blondie Chaplin appeared from the stage right wings to sing “Sail On Sailor,” just has he had on the Beach Boys Holland album all those years ago. As if that wasn’t enough he followed it by adding even more soul to the already soulful, and rarely heard in the live setting, “Wild Honey.” It dawned on me that the last time I had seen Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin on stage together was with that Holland-era Beach Boys lineup in the early ’70s.
Then the proceedings moved to the next level with a great performance of the full SMiLE version of “Heroes and Villains.” Four Pet Sounds classics followed, including the instrumental title track, on which Nick Walusko reclaimed the lead guitar part that had been taken away from him on last year’s Beach Boys reunion tour. That was followed by “God Only Knows,” Sloop John B,” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” which featured another fine Foskett vocal.
Jardine stepped up again for “Help Me Rhonda,” which was followed by “I Get Around,” a magical rendition of “Good Vibrations,” and “Fun, Fun, Fun” to close out the set. I was thankful for a chance to catch my breath after a set which had all but taken it away.
Talk about your polar opposites. After a brief intermission Jeff Beck came swaggering out with his rock star glitter and proceeded to slay a crowd that was really unsure of what they were going to get from Beck and how it would fit into the show. Let me just say that I have been listening to Jeff Beck for more than 40 years, and I’ve never heard him play a bad note. He extended that streak at this show, which marked the first time in all those years that I’ve seen him live.
Beck always has a great band, and the one he has assembled for this tour was no exception. Drummer Jonathan Joseph and bass player Rhonda Smith (you’ve seen her with Prince) locked in a powerful groove that allowed Beck and violin player Lizzie Ball to soar above it, while Nicolas Meier provided strong support on second guitar. I can’t tell you the titles of all the songs that Beck played but it was rock fusion of the highest order. There was little jamming. The songs were tightly scripted and well-executed. One song I can comment on specifically was Beck’s take on “Little Wing,” which I think may have been the best I’ve ever heard.
And then things got really interesting. Wilson and his band joined Beck on stage for a stunning version of SMiLE-opener “Our Prayer,” which segued neatly into a take on “Surf’s Up” that featured Wilson and friends on backing vocals while Beck replaced the lead vocal with his guitar. In that moment the question of what a collaboration between these two legendary artists would sound like was answered.
Various combinations of Wilson band members remained on stage to contribute vocals while Beck took on classics like Les Paul and Mary Ford’s “How High the Moon,” “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” which was made famous by Muddy Waters, and the Beatles “A Day in the Life,” which was particularly poignant on John Lennon’s birthday.
For the grand finale there were, by my count, 18 musicians on stage, the full complement of both bands. Together they stormed through raucous, fun-filled versions of the Beach Boys classics “Barbara Ann” and “Surfin’ USA,” before Beck closed it out with a lovely version of “Danny Boy,” which is said to be included on the new album he’s working on with Wilson.
I’ve seen comments from members of Wilson’s band in which even they admit to wondering how this collaboration was going to work. Now that they’ve been out on the road for a few weeks, it’s clear that those questions have been answered. While the music is already great, I have no doubt that this show will continue to develop as the musicians learn more about each other. So if the show is coming to your town, don’t miss the chance to see it. It’s a once-in-a-musical-lifetime thing.
The Brian Wilson Band
Darian Sahanaja – vocals, keyboards, and mallets
Jeffrey Foskett – vocals and guitars
Probyn Gregory – vocals, horns, and guitars
Nick Walusko – vocals, guitars
Bob Lizik – vocals, bass
Scott Bennett – vocals, keyboards, guitars
Nelson Bragg – percussion, vocals
Mike D’Amico – vocals, drums
Paul von Mertens – Music Director, sax, flute
The Jeff Beck Band
Nicolas Meier – guitar
Rhonda Smith – bass
Jonathan Joseph – drums
Lizzie Ball – violin