It was only a little more than two years ago when famed Beach Boys founder and pop composer Brian Wilson made his Israel debut, performing the 1966 masterpiece Pet Sounds in its entirety at the Ra’anana Amphitheater.
Thanks to his stellar band, featuring co-Beach Boys mate Al Jardine and 1970s member Blondie Chaplin, it was a triumph. They covered up Wilson’s deficiencies at the piano and vocals with a gorgeous glossy backdrop of sound and harmony.
Tuesday night at the Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv, the 76-year-old Wilson seemed even frailer and less involved. Recovering from back surgery in May, he needed a walker and assistants to get on stage for a ‘greatest hits’ show. Looking distracted and disengaged, he sang lead on only about half the tunes, and you couldn’t really tell whether he was playing much behind the white baby grand piano.
And yet… the show was a blast. Wilson’s songbook of classics is astounding, and his 10-piece band led by his secret weapon – longtime musical director and keyboardist Darian Sahanaja - did it justice with authenticity and enthusiasm. The slack was picked up by the spry 75-year-old Jardine, who led renditions of “Little Deuce Coupe” and “Help Me Rhonda” and by Jardine’s son, Matthew, whose spot-on falsettos sparked each song, especially his lead vocals on one of Wilson’s finest, “Don’t Worry Baby.”
As great as it was seeing Pet Sounds performed live in 2016, what made this Wilson set list even more enjoyable were the Beach Boy nuggets included in between stalwarts like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “God Only Knows.” There’s a treasure trove of Beach Boys non-hits that offer up their own charm. Chaplin led the group through an obscure but delicate “Feel Flows” from 1971’s Surf’s Up album, the whole band rocked on the 1967 soul romp “Darlin’” and tackled the intricate harmonies of feel-good late ‘60s singles “Add Some Music” and “Do It Again.”
In a ramshackle but fun-filled ending, local favorite Danny Sanderson joined the band center stage for a one-two punch of “Surfin’ Safari” and “Fun Fun Fun.” It looked like he was having the time of his life playing Chuck Berry licks and singing next to the idols of his youth, Wilson and Jardine.
Even if Wilson’s contributions were minimal, they were immense. It was his arrangements, harmony structures and imagination that wove through every note on the stage. Since the maestro couldn’t leave the stage and return for an encore, the entire band gathered around him as he delivered his best vocal of the night on the piano-led, poignant final song – “Love and Mercy.”
It’s unclear why Wilson feels the need to continue to perform in the physical condition he’s in. But maybe the strength and good vibrations that he transmits to his audience are able to reflect back on him. Let’s hope so.
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