11/10/08 Brian Wilson @ The Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, Tenn.

The creative genius is an unusual type to say the least.

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

The creative genius is an unusual type to say the least. I can think of friends and
acquaintances of mine, as well as other performers whose artistic and hyper-attentive eccentricities often alienate and ostracize themselves from their communities . . . but boy, can they write some good music.

The creative genius is an unusual type to say the least. I can think of friends and acquaintances of mine, as well as other performers whose artistic and hyper-attentive eccentricities often alienate and ostracize themselves from their communities . . . but boy, can they write some good music.

This week I had the privilege of witnessing, as he was respectfully introduced, “The Mozart of Rock,” Brian Wilson perform his repertoire of golden hits that have helped serve as the very foundation of American pop and rock music, in addition to his new album That Lucky Old Sun in it’s entirety. Going in, I didn’t really know what to expect from the show, but as it turns out, unless you’ve seen him before, you really can’t imagine.

The first set found Brian and his stellar band dashing through their inconceivable arsenal of hits ranging from “California Girls,” “Catch a Wave” and “God Only Knows” to set closer: “Good Vibrations.” The songs’ immensity rushed off the stained glass windows and the storied pew benches, gently affirming the inescapable spirituality emanating from the hallowed American Hall. However, the most striking theme of the concert was Wilson’s often-apparent removal from the songs–the very songs he used to call “a teenage symphony to God.”

Wilson sat center stage behind a keyboard that shamelessly brandished a black monitor, feeding him his masterful lyrics from years past. As he sat, he rarely if ever touched the keys before him nor the “Brian Wilson” monikered bass guitar a tech had brought out for him. His white sneaker-ed feet almost never moved from their initial position — save to turn around and correct a band member or to take a bow and exit the stage. His left leg was propped on the bottom bar of his bar stool, and his right foot was kicked out, heal to the floor. His arms dangled motionless to his sides except for the occasional rehearsed charade of sung lyrics.

Who now, is this man behind the songs forever engraved in the American conscious?

Was this merely a remnant of the genius who persevered through so many years of difficulty and mental anguish?

These seemed to be the questions that lay hidden in the backs of the audience’s minds as they smiled, danced and cheered jubilantly to the songs of yesteryear. In what very well may be an unintentional defiance of our collective wonder, his performance only deepened the mystery that enshrouds him and his creations. Yet, despite his seemingly alien presence within his own masterpieces he continues to hold fast to his vocal prowess, tackling the tunes amidst the labyrinth of vocal harmonies that surrounded him.

After a brief intermission, Brian and his band returned and performed his latest album, That Lucky Old Sun, from front to back. The performance was accompanied both by a Nashville String Ensemble as well as a video component that cartooned the spoken word interludes throughout the album. Upon completing the album, the band exited the stage, only to be beckoned back by the ubiquitous encore that saw the band play through mega hits like “Barbara Ann,” “Surfin’ Safari” and “Fun, Fun, Fun.” The second encore was solely the beautiful, calm and compassionate “Love and Mercy,” which seemed to appease the ravenous 50-60 year olds that had shown up in droves, agreeing to dance like wild people, high five each other, and hold up “We Love Brian” signs throughout the night. As obnoxious as it sometimes was, it seemed like their joyous madness was the very thing Wilson’s songs were made of, and if I had to guess if anyone really could understand the forlorn fiber underneath these songs, it truly must be Brian’s oldest fans.

After the show I spoke with Mike D’Amico, Brian’s drummer from the L.A.-based grouped The Wondermints. As we talked he alluded to Brian’s exit. Apparently after the curtain call, Brian gave an offhand “good-bye” to his band and exited immediately out the back door. A fittingly mysterious exit for the oddly endearing champion of pop, and all things so beautifully sad–you have to smile.


Leave a Reply

Lyric of the Week | Neil Young > December 8, 2009

Animal Collective at It Again, More Projects Planned for 2009