EmptyHollywood Bowl (Friday, Sept. 12)
Few pop acts have the material to follow pieces by Mozart, Bach and Gershwin performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, but then again, Brian Wilson isn't just any pop act. Wilson's self-described "teenage symphonies to God," written and performed with the Beach Boys, have evolved from the soundtrack of Southern California to bona fide American classics. So to hear those songs alongside such storied compositions made sense on the opening night of Wilson's three-show stand at the Hollywood Bowl.
Unfortunately, the three-song collaboration among Wilson, his band and the L.A. Phil was better in theory than reality. Wilson, seated at a keyboard, appeared stiff and uncomfortable.
But things improved dramatically midway through the second set, featuring Wilson and his 10-piece ensemble, which is, quite simply, the world's best Beach Boys tribute band. Wilson warmed considerably during "Our Prayer" and "Heroes and Villains," the opening tracks from "SMiLE," a long-lost Beach Boys album that haunted Wilson until he rerecorded it in 2004.
From there, Wilson and company continued a cavalcade of hits that concluded with a nostalgic double shot of "Surfin' U.S.A." and "Fun, Fun, Fun" while fireworks shot from atop the Bowl's shell.
After the fireworks subsided, Wilson delivered the evening's highlight. Throughout the set, his band and army of backup singers had performed with such precision and vigor that it often was difficult to determine what Wilson was contributing. However, during the somber, set-closing "Southern California," from his recently released album "That Lucky Old Sun," Wilson sang of dreaming of his late brothers and living his dreams, at times backed only by a piano. It was pure Brian and pure genius.