Empty"This is my hometown," Brian Wilson said as he sat behind his keyboard. Indeed. And the Los Angeles crowd 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 gig began with 20 quick hits from the Beach Boys days, ranging from the biggest singles to seldom-heard chestnuts. The rush of nostalgia was intensified by the 10-piece band's sheer musicality, which enveloped the room.
They deployed a slew of nonrock instruments: xylophone, French horn, ukulele, bells. Many 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 little 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-worthy patter. Introducing "Do You Wanna Dance?" he said, "The is the part where we see who's willing to get off their ass."
After intermission, Wilson said the band would play 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, 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's '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 a blonde in T-shirt and cutoffs. And there's a palpable sadness to "Midnight's Another Day," in which he misses his 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 on "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. (partialdiff)