Live at the Roxy Theatre
What is left to be said about one of America’s premier musical geniuses? With The Beach Boys existing only in theme parks and courtrooms, it’s only the endless reissues and box sets to sate the ravenous Wilson fan, who vainly waits for the complete Smile album to be released, or another Capitol Records repackaging of material we’ve long ago engraved in our minds.
Even though he released some rather good solo records in the early nineties, Brian Wilson has been largely ignored by the currents of mainstream pop culture. Instead of investigating the work he has done both on his own or with artists such as Van Dyke Parks, they rehash the decades old tales of his mental decline, the sandbox, etc., which is a shame. But finally, a product exists that should quiet the naysayers and enthuse his longtime fans. Live at the Roxy Theatre is a stellar example of both age and wisdom. From classic Beach Boys cuts such as “Good Vibrations” and “Darlin'” to solo moments such as “Love & Mercy,” Wilson and his band from hell (featuring members of Poi Dog Pondering and The Wondermints) sound fresh, with Brian’s lovely falsetto still intact. Granted, he doesn’t sound like the man who sang surfing songs all those years ago, but in his place is a more mature, easy-going performer who hears, and is able to replicate, a sound in his head that few others can. To hear “God Only Knows” or “Caroline No” again is to have your heart both broken and warmed anew, just as it was when Pet Sounds first found your turntable.
Brian seems to have put many of the demons that plagued him behind him. He laughs at his own image — singing a bit of Barenaked Ladies’ “Brian Wilson” and giggling, and leading the small crowd by the hand through classic after classic. He speaks with honest affection about the loss of his brother Carl, whose death signaled the end of The Beach Boys to Brian.
This release features extra material not found on the version sold on Wilson’s Web site, including a version of “Sloop John B” and an interview with Brian. Glad I waited to buy it. The time and the place that spawned Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys might never have existed, except in the grooves of long ago vinyl. But for a few nights at the Roxy, Brian Wilson proves, again, that a master craftsman can build most anything, given the right tools. From his songwriting ability, to his unique musical voicing and unmistakable voice, Brian Wilson has the tools. Only difference nowadays is, he’s not playing with them in the sandbox.