Brian Wilson Sensational at Jones Beach, NY 6-30-15 w/ Rodriguez

Brian Wilson Sensational at Jones Beach, NY 6-30-15 w/ Rodriguez

It has been quite a journey for one of the most ingenious music composers in modern times, Brian Wilson. Widely known as co-founder and the main songwriting force behind The Beach Boys, Wilson led them to become one of the most storied and best selling Rock-n-Roll bands of all-time. Taking his unorthodox approach to songwriting, producing, and recording to a new level, in the Summer of 1965, Wilson began working on what is now considered one of the greatest albums ever, 1966’s Pet Sounds. Proving that he was, in fact, more than a songwriter that could put together catchy tunes about beaches, cars, and girls, Wilson’s Pet Sounds is also perhaps one of the most influential pieces of music over the past fifty years, inspiring the likes of The Beatles and many more. Like any other story, the road has not been paved with gold, and Wilson has endured a lot of personal pain along the way. Vividly outlined in the Bill Pohlad directed Love & Mercy, many had heard and read about Wilson’s story, but now in 2015 were able to see a full theatrical film outlining some of the most stunning points of his life.

Finding happiness and health over the past two decades, Wilson has been actively recording new music, performing solo, as well as with The Beach Boys, along with justifiably receiving the praise he deserves as a musician. Returning with his eleventh overall solo studio album titled No Pier Pressure in April, Wilson hit the road beginning in June and continues through July 25th, before some recently announced dates for early Fall. Energized with new songs, a film about his life, which is considered one of the best of 2015, the excitement does not stop there. In fact, the buzz continues with Wilson’s touring band consists of former Beach Boys Al Jardine (guitar) and Blondie Chaplin (vocals/guitar), as well as Michael D’Amico (drums), Robert Lizik (bass), David Lee Marks (guitar), Jeffrey Foskett (guitar), Scott Bennett (keys), Probyn Gregory (guitar, horns), Darian Sahanaja (keys), Paul Mertens (horns, musical director), Nelson Bragg (percussion), Nick Walusko (guitar), and Al’s son, Matt Jardine (vocal). Accompanied by an ensemble of accomplished musicians, Wilson arrived at Nikon at Jones Beach Theater on Tuesday June 30th to perform an extensive set of his most memorable tunes. Making this his first visit back to the venue since 2012, when The Beach Boys were celebrating their fiftieth anniversary, Wilson brought a dedicated following to the seats on what seemed to be the perfect Summer’s eve complimented by a breeze and clear skies.

Kicking off the evening was special guest Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, commonly known as simply Rodriguez. From Detroit, Michigan, Rodriguez released two records in the early 1970s, attained success outside the USA. All but quitting music by the mid-1970s, Rodriguez’s songs would go on to inspire generations outside his home country, strike a chord with lyrics speaking of poverty and hardship. Becoming somewhat of a Folk hero in South African culture, in 2012 a Swedish–British documentary about Rodriguez entitled Searching for Sugar Man was released, thus ignited belated fame for the sing-songwriter in the USA. Now getting the rightful attention his talents deserve, a enthusiastic Jones Beach crowd welcomed him to the stage with a round of applause.

Taking his place on a stool, center stage, wearing a hat, dark sunglasses, and acoustic guitar over his shoulder, Rodriguez began with the tracks “Inner City Blues,” “Crucify Your Mind,” “This Is Not a Song, It’s an Outburst: Or, The Establishment Blues,” and “I Wonder.” Provoking a calm and relaxed vibe, Rodriguez’s mellow approach on stage was merely a disguise for songs that are full of impassioned and sincere words. Smiling and truly appreciative to be performing, Rodriguez spoke about life and connected with the audience on a personal level that shrunk the amphitheater down to the feeling of a club-like sized gig. Going into his signature song, “Sugar Man,” everyone was fully attentive and engaged with Rodriguez.  Rounding out his original tunes with “Rich Folks Hoax,” Rodriguez strummed his guitar and sang each word with the intensity deserved.

Continuing to engage with the audience, Rodriguez concluded his set with a series of covers including Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love,” The Flamingos’ “I Only Have Eyes For You,” Vic Damone’s “On the Street Where You Live,” before a standing ovation upon the conclusion of Little Willie John’s “Fever.” The stripped down acoustic performance was a perfect glimpse into the soul of this sensitive musician, and even those unfamiliar with him were thoroughly impressed. Success means something different for everyone, thankfully Rodriguez finally is attaining his rightful time in the spotlight all these years later.

Following a brief set change, fans broke for refreshments, and with the sun beginning to fully set, the time had come for Brian Wilson to take the stage. Casually walking out from stage left, with his band, the cheers began to pour down as each member took their position under the lights and Wilson sat behind his piano, beginning with a haunting rendition of 1969’s The Beach Boys cut, “Our Prayer.” Initially intended for the abandoned Smile album, the song’s beautiful harmonization of voices was a fitting glimpse for what was to come. Flowing into another Smile original, “Heroes and Villains” picked up the tempo and everyone was swinging as Wilson took lead vocals. Having everyone in a happy mood, Wilson and company went into The Beach Boys classic “California Girls” before “Shut Down” where Al Jardine joined in on vocals. This was prelude to hit after hit of The Beach Boys’ storied history with songs like “Little Deuce Coupe,” “I Get Around,” and “You’re So Good to Me” which followed.

Continuously highlighting the talents of the band around him, Sahanaja shared lead vocals with Wilson on melodic masterpiece “This Whole World.” With more flawless harmonization in the backdrop, fans rejoiced as they took in each and every song. Handing the spotlight over to Jardine, the original Beach Boy sang The Crystals cover “Then I Kissed Her” before Lead Belly’s “Cotton Fields (The Cotton Song).” With a balance of songs covering all corners of The Beach Boys discography, the tranquil “In My Room” continued the journey before “Surfer Girl.” Captivating everyone with the two ballads, with ever so subtle inflections, the band were sharp and tight, bringing them to life. Calling on Al Jardine’s son Matt to take on “Don’t Worry Baby,” it was unity of generations, as father and son shared the stage together. Not only did Matt make his father proud, hitting the notes with ease, his falsetto singing went straight to the heart of the audience.

Asking if the crowd if they had seen Love & Mercy yet, Wilson went on to explain the next track, “One Kind of Love,” was about his wife of twenty years, Melinda. A new piece off 2015’s No Pier Pressure, the mix of piano and heartfelt words of affection sung by Wilson showed his songwriting abilities have not diminished through the years. Keeping the mojo coming with newbies, “Sail Away” came on with Al Jardine and Chaplin joining Wilson on vocals. Showing appreciation for Chaplin’s presence, Wilson spoke highly of his bandmate and  gave the stage to him for 1967’s “Wild Honey” and 1973’s “Sail On, Sailor” before Sahaja sang on “Darlin'” and Jardine on “Wake the World.” Considered a fan-favorite from 1968’s Friends album, Wilson sang the beautiful “Busy Doin’ Nothin’,” and had the fans’ undivided attention for the rare live performance of the track. Keeping the feel mellow, Jardine and Wilson then shared the vocals for “The Right Time.”

Winding down the more introspective part of the set, filled with deep lyrical ballads and smooth melodies, Wilson re-introduced Matt Jardine to sing Pet Sounds hit “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” Having everyone on their feet and dancing, “Sloop John B” even had many singing aloud each and every word. Explaining he has written some four hundred songs in his life, Wilson stated the next song is perhaps the best he has ever done, and that would be none other then “God Only Knows.” Originally written by Wilson for his younger brother Carl to sing, it was easy to see by the emotion on his face that he dearly missed him still years after Carl’s passing. Concluding the legendary song, Wilson kept the Rock-n-Roll sensations coming with set closer “Good Vibrations,” which had everyone cheering for more.

Making sure not to disappoint a soul in the theater, Wilson and the band returned for a tremendous encore that defined the true meaning of Summertime fun with “All Summer Long,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” The Regents cover “Barbara Ann,” and “Surfin’ U.S.A.” Taking the time to introduce each and every member of his musically colorful band, they wrapped matters up the hits with “Fun, Fun, Fun” before Wilson apologized the final song would not be a rocker, as they went into his 1988 solo piece “Love and Mercy.” True to character of the gentle-spirited man Wilson truly is, no apology was necessary as the emotional well-composed song hit all the right notes closing out the evening in tremendous fashion.

Brian Wilson’s No Pier Pressure Tour is one that comes with impeccable timing. While dedicated followers have been well aware of the songwriter’s brilliance, the latest biographical film about him has shined new light on Wilson for future generations to absorb and appreciate.  The performance at Nikon at Jones Beach Theater was second to none, the songs were wonderfully selected, and the mood was delightful. “The Beach Boy” Wilson has reestablished his career through he years, but more importantly his piece of mind as well as life, proving all anyone really needs is love and mercy to triumph.

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Frank Malerba
frank@crypticrock.com
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