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Concert review: Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck team up—with mixed results

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Brian Wilson took a backseat to the rest of his band, and as a result his Pearl set was pretty disappointing.
Photo: Chase Stevens
Jason Harris

Three stars

Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck October 18, Pearl

Brian Wilson sat behind his piano at stage right, the other 11 pieces of his band sprawled across the large platform. If Wilson had moved over any more, he’d have been backstage. Metaphorically, this setup summarized the evening. This might have been the Brian Wilson Band, but the genius Wilson was a very small cog in what at times appeared to be a tribute to his music.

This was the show I never wanted to see. The one where Wilson appeared as the fighter who’d fought one too many, paraded onstage for name value but with none of the vim or vigor that once made him a world champ. After his critical and commercial successes with his Smile tour and The Beach Boys’ reunion, it was heartbreaking and awkward to see his act on this night.

What the Pearl show needed much, much more of was Jeff Beck.

What the Pearl show needed much, much more of was Jeff Beck.

The man who created, produced, recorded and sang some of the world’s most perfect pop music put together a dream setlist—“Heroes and Villains,” “Good Vibrations,” “God Only Knows”—but it turned into a dream from which I wanted to wake up. Wilson’s voice, which has been stronger in the past, was serviceable at best. The other Beach Boys in this version of the band, originals Al Jardine and David Marks and 1970s member Blondie Chaplin, held up better. Chaplin stood out, injecting life into the set while taking the lead on “Wild Honey.” Unfortunately, he was only onstage sporadically.

While age might have finally caught up with Wilson, Jeff Beck remains every bit the guitar virtuoso he’s always been, turning in a fit and masculine performance featuring a game backing band that laid a solid foundation for his blistering solos to stand upon. Most interesting was his work in the encore, when both his and Wilson’s bands appeared together. As Beck took on Beach Boys standards “Barbara Ann” and “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” his guitar licks in the context of tightly constructed pop masterpieces were enthralling. If only the two legends had played together all night.

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