Brian Wilson and Pet Sounds….

    by Jim Mello

Cross Center Bangor Maine 10/27/18

   It was raw, cold, had been snowing, was raining diagonally, and there is no real close parking, the exact opposite of Southern Cal, at least The Beach Boys mythic version. Surf wasn’t up.
     Turned my collar to the cold and rain and made my way to the Cross Center…one hour and fifteen minutes early because last week the ticket window person said because I didn’t buy the tickets direct from Ticketmaster I might “have problems” and, “somebody else might have your seat.” Gave me a chance to chat with Freeman, the manager of the local Bull Moose. Silver linings.
   And yes, the sound system was playing muzak version of Beach Boys songs…rather bizarre…even Dylan isn’t welcoming people with Sinatra covers. The couple behind me commented on it. I must confess, because of my love of Beach Boys harmonies, whether the subject matter be cars, surfing, or surfer girls; I was not too troubled by the muzak..kinda restful for the seniors among us. Kinda New Age Surf music. The guy in front of me, who is “into radio”…I was supposed to know him…but, he didn’t know me, the air guitar legend. Anyway, he knew the set list: three parts: Beach Boys hits/Pet Sounds in its entirety (depends on your point of view)…and two or three encores. He said there’d be a 15 minute intermission, but that didn’t happen. Not sure they could have gotten Brian in and out from behind the piano in that amount of time…besides looking lost and anxious, he was sporting a fairly large cast. They plunked him down behind the key board, and there he stayed. looking at times almost comfortable..
Image result for Brian Wilson Bangor

Brian Wilson, photo from the Los Angeles Times

   Then the band came on stage…10 musicians counting Brian who played piano all night…Any ten piece band catches my attention and these guys were good…a thermin (yes!), two keyboards!, two or three guitarists, depending on the song…bass, and a guy who played a huge saxophone..flutes, a clarinet?..and something that looked like an oversize harmonica…they were tight, flexible, at times jazzy…and well oiled…everything centers around Brian and whether or not he, or Al Jardine, can hit the (wonderfully harmonic) high notes.
    They started off with nine, yes, count ’em nine, Beach Boy hits! Only Logan and Ernie would have been moaning. The Fun Fun Fun had begun…Now, I’m not a big fan of some of the tunes, but they are in my DNA…pumped into my adolescent not-yet-finished-growing, reptilian(Pavlovian ) brain and I was dancin’ in my seat, playing air guitar, harmonizing with the wino few. The 15 year old girl next to me knew all the tunes, thanks to good parenting, and me and her dad were doing the high harmonies. What I realized was this was good old Chuck Berry based rock and roll(which you don’t hear very often anymore) with lyrics about living in California…cars…girls…surf…I like it , you can dance to it, its got a good beat. Ill give it a 75! It was great medicine for the melancholy mood I was in. (California Girls, I Wanna Dance, I get Around, Shut Down, Deuce Coupe, Surfer Girl, Water, Don’t Worry Baby (The Best Beach Boy song ever…so sadly romantic!), and Darlin’. The band was playful and loose and harmonically correct. Better than benzos IMHO…
    And, then this character (or caricature) appeared out of nowhere(backstage physically, but spiritually somewhere else), looking like a refugee from Bob Dylan’s “Cowboy Band”…hair like Dylans, a semi-too-tight fitting Nudie suit…kinda like Link Wray on acid. He was Blondie Chapin, and he was like a Shaman…moving about the stage like he was in a trance, while almost everybody stayed in place, and playing the best damn blues based guitar I’ve heard in years.Something transcendent happened and the light show intensified and for three songs Feel Flows, Wild Honey, and Sail on Sailor… we were in a different musical space…Beach Boys on acid…for real…and, just as quickly he disappeared….only to “appear” intermittently for the rest of the show playing mostly lead tambourine (my instrument of choice)…still never stopping, banging the tambourine on his chest, anywhere…sometimes with his hands..pure intrigue. Wild Honey was just that, wild…with burning guitar…great harmonies, and psychedelic lights. Good thing I resisted the THC.
   All that as a warm up to Pet Sounds! Now, I’m not one to claim Pet Sounds is the album of the decade or century or whatever…it did influence The Beatles (McCartney)..and has a few lovely songs on it, including “Caroline No.” Otherwise I’m ambivalent about Brian’s magnum opus “adolescent symphony for God (the West Coast God?). But live! With this band! Well, it came alive and Brian‘s compositional skills were evident. It was a thing to be heard. A blending of jazz, rock, and classical, and Four Freshman harmony that was an aural treat. I even didn’t mind “Sloop John B.”
    Even the adolescent themes, which really are universal themes about relationships, were heard from the perspective, my perspective, of fifty years of difficulty…Brian‘s romanticism banging into the real time pain of relationships but always with the hope of healing and reconciliation. I was flashed back to Friday Night Legion Hall dances (Put your head on my shoulder…) and everything since…all with beautiful musical contexts (except “John B”)…the sax player was great…the drummer was fantastic…
Brian served as an MC kinda…announcing the song, and who would be singing lead…and then there was Blondie drifting in and out like some disembodied ghost…
And, then it was encores and if you weren’t ready to dance then, what can I say? The security people kept people from dancing in the aisles…but some kids broke through..the rest of us boogied in place.
    “Good Vibrations” especially…only the Grinch would have refused to move…
then a quiet shift to “Love and Mercy”, the title track from a Brian solo album…kind of his theme song…he sang the best he did all night, and almost carried the vocal himself…
Love and mercy is what we need.
    All I can say is, Amen…
Waiting for Brian Wilson or someone like him)
the people drip in one by one
snaking into their seats
as muzaked Beach Boy songs
greet them
“Help Me Rhonda”
shifts nostalgia into fourth gear
the cold wet non SoCal Maine weather
blusters outside
dropping torrential rain
diagonal across the street lights:
the surf’s not up
Brian‘s sad saga the unsung soundtrack:
a fable of hope
an inspiration
in darkening times
until Brian appears
behind the piano
a literal figurehead
to his ten piece band
voice missing high notes
covered by the well oiled band
face distantly pained
mind on another plane
mirrored in grimaces
and nervous scratches
he never seems to quite be here
but his music
on the wings of faith
and expertise
soars… surrounds
lifts in exquisite harmonies
and musicians
channeling genius
bring melodies
that unfold into
some just discovered
jazz tapestry masterpiece
enveloping the audience
in this adolescent
Pet Sounds symphony to God
as the wounds of generations
lie open
to a Chuck Berried salve
dipped in wild honey
so sorely needed these fifty years later
leading us to
“Love and Mercy”
jlm 1027/18
Visit Jim’s Facebook page at Jim Mello:  Writer and Poet

About Luann Yetter

"Do you remember lying in bed with the covers pulled up over your head, radio playing so no one could see?" (The Ramones) Yes, I do. And I remember the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. And I believed in the magic of rock ‘n roll. Funny thing is, I still do. Somehow I never grew out of my fangirl phase. In recent years I’ve enjoyed writing local history books. But after three successive publications, I took a break. And then I realized that without deadlines or contracts, what I really want to write about is music.
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