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Concert Review: Brian Wilson

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"This is my hometown," Brian Wilson said as he sat behind his keyboard. "You're our hometown crowd."

Indeed. And the Los Angeles audience was treated to a two-hour soundtrack of the city from its main musical hero, highlighted -- yes, highlighted -- by a new half-hour-plus song suite that's as effective as anything Wilson has created in decades.

The show began with 20 quick hits from the Beach Boys' days in the sun, ranging from the biggest singles ("California Girls," "I Get Around") to seldom-heard chestnuts ("Salt Lake City," "The Little Girl I Once Knew"). The rush of nostalgia was intensified by the 10-piece band's sheer musicality, which enveloped the room.

The players deployed a wealth of traditionally nonrock instruments: xylophone, French horn, ukulele, bells. Many of the lesser-used ones were dusted off for a "Heroes and Villains" rave-up.

Wilson's voice has retained a youthful quality, though the decades passed are clearly present. He sang lead on most of the songs and punctuated several lyrics with gestures -- like a scribbling motion as he sang "girl don't tell me you'll write." There were a few stories behind the songs and some grin-inducing patter. Introducing "Do You Wanna Dance?" he said, "The is the part where we see who's willing to get off their ass." Many did.

Returning after an intermission, Wilson announced that the band would be playing his 2008 album "That Lucky Old Sun" in its entirety. "All I can say is that we worked our behinds off to get this ready for you," he said, "so you better like it!"

The album is a romantic postcard of and to L.A. and its people, places and vibe. But it's also an intensely personal piece that plays out as part joyful expression, part therapy session. It's nostalgic but not maudlin, evocative of vintage Beach Boys but not derivative.

And it's good.

Sure, there are some rudimentary rhymes ("muchacha" and "I want ya") and portions that hew too closely to Wilson '60s glory days; the flowing "Live Let Live," for example, cops its title refrain from "Sail on Sailor." But the melodies, instrumentation and heartfelt lyrics make the record 38 minutes well spent. And the performance brought it to life.

"Forever She'll Be My Surfer Girl," a paean to a first love in the summer of '61, seems aimed at Wilson's then-nascent band, not some bushy-haired blonde in T-shirt and cutoffs. And there's a palpable sadness to "Midnight's Another Day," in which he misses his bandmate brothers. "When there's no morning without the 'u'/There's only darkness the whole day through," he sang. But there's light at the end of the song, and it drew a standing ovation.

Interspersed among the songs in "That Lucky Old Sun" are reprises of the title track and spoken narratives by "Pet Sounds" collaborator Van Dyke Parks. The ambitious project has a keen cohesion, and its presentation further cemented Wilson's place among rock royalty. Here's hoping there are a few more rides before this Beach Boy's creative tide ebbs.

Venue: The Wiltern, Los Angeles (Wednesday, Jan. 28)

SET LIST:

California Girls
Catch a Wave
Girl Don't Tell Me
Dance, Dance, Dance
Surfer Girl
Then I Kissed Her
Salt Lake City
When I Grow Up
The Little Girl I Once Knew
Please Let Me Wander
Add Some Music to Your Day
Do You Wanna Dance?
I Get Around
Heroes and Villains
Wouldn't It Be nice
God Only Knows
Do It Again
Sail on Sailor
Marcella
Good Vibrations

(Intermission)
That Lucky Old Sun
Morning Beat
Narrative: Room With a View
Good Kind of Love
Forever She'll Be My Surfer Girl
Narrative: Venice Beach
Live Let Live/That Lucky Old Sun (reprise)
Mexican Girl
Narrative: Cinco de Mayo
California Role/That Lucky Old Sun (reprise)
Narrative: Between Pictures
Oxygen to the Brain
Can't Wait Too Long
Midnight's Another Day
That Lucky Old Sun (reprise)
Going Home
Southern California

Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

ENCORE:
Johnny B. Goode
Help Me Rhonda
Barbara Ann
Surfin' USA
Fun, Fun, Fun
Love and Mercy