Could there be any better way to celebrate the 4th July than with Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys’ chief singer-songwriter hailed by both peers and generations of fans as one of the titanic songwriting talents of the 1960s? And indeed, any better place to see him play his Independence Day gig than down south in The People’s Republic Wilson returns to the Cork Marquee after ten years alongside his house band (primarily composed of Daniel Sahanaja’s The Wondermints, though previous Beach Boy Al Jardine also joins him) to play a glory run of previous hits – all killer, no filler.
In fact, there is a large element of no-nonsense about the show from the off; no opening acts, no hype music, just the band walking onstage at the exact 8.30pm show time to assume their positions, with Brian the last to take his place front and centre at his grand piano. Perhaps understandably, the instrument is also furnished with a glass autocue for the 72 year old Wilson, and he can be seen visibly glancing up at it as they run begin with ‘California Girls’ before running through the earliest hits. While the house band and Jardine are undeniably doing their best, Wilson himself seemed hesitant throughout the opening, mumbling into the microphone and more concerned with the piano than fully engaging with the songs.
The crowd itself was also slow to get into the swing of things – though to be fair, most could remember where they were when these songs were originally released. Thankfully by the time the more sombre ‘In My Room’ gets played Brian seems to have found his footing, the well rehearsed harmonies become more evident, and the Marquee begins to be more vocal in their appreciation. Nonetheless, both band and crowd knew that the centrepiece for this concert was always going to be the tracks from the latter half of the ’60s. Complete justice is done to the pop Wall of Sound experiments of Pet Sounds and SMiLE, and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves onstage going through the soul-era tracks of Wild Honey before ‘Good Vibrations’ closes the main body of the show.
For encore, Jardine provides an unexpected high-point to the concert by providing an energetic rendition of their earliest number one ‘Help Me Rhonda’ before Brian joins in with their cover of ‘Barabara Ann’. Half the appeal of this concert is similar to any of the other ’60s acts still going; their vocals may not be what they were in their prime (Brian’s falsettos are taken care of by Jardine’s son) but seeing them perform feels integral to any muso’s bucket list. However, given energy seen in the latter half of the concert, Brian’s continued vitality (he has a new album out late this year) and the musical debt declared from everyone from Dylan to McCartney this concert feels like anything but a museum piece.