2000 Brian Wilson “Pet Sounds Symphony” Show Review

[More nostalgia: Copied from an e-mail I sent Oct 18, 2000.]

Brian Wilson and the “Pet Sounds Symphony” perform the entire classic album “Pet Sounds” at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, FL.

1st half had crowd-pleasing hits, a few covers, and some (I guess) solo BW stuff which was, um, sadly mediocre. All the Beach Boys stuff sounded great, but too much of the big, end-of-rock’n’roll-show buildup endings, but it was acceptable.

Intermission, then entire Pet Sounds including both instrumentals, which were actually very accurate and great sounding. Only places to worry was the faded outs, but besides a couple pointless sax solos it was handled well. Highlights were “Don’t Talk Put You Head On My Shoulder” which was perfect and where there were imperfections in his voice it was still incredibly beautiful & moving and I couldn’t help but sob. It’s not one of my favorites, but really the standout was “Sloop JB” – breathtaking vocal arrangements and Brian sang the best and where he had to sing loud and forcefully at the edge of his range to get the note it was still good. He sang on everything and he got better as the night went on, best during the album showcase, but this gtr player on the right caught any high notes or falsettos and he was perfect and a dead ringer for young BW’s falsetto. They handled it very respectfully for the sake of the music; When the melody went way up Brian just sort of backed up from the mic and let the younger guy handle it and often Brian would make “melody finger motions” then catch the rest of the melody on the way down.

Brian did a lot of funny interpretive hand/arm gestures the whole time, but he was bubbly, excited, funny, and seemingly happy to be a part of the whole thing. He did a lot of thanking, a lot of bragging (funny) and gave the perfect brief introductions to the songs and made lots of promises of quality. It was obvious at times that he was, um, not all there, but just having him there expressing his own voice in his songs and being proud of his own accomplishments was charming. He had a keyboard in front which served as more stagefright-protection, but he did play bass on “Surfer Girl” which was very good. If he was still suffering from stagefright it was completely unnoticeable.

All the singing was fantastic and mixed pretty high – unfortunately the strings you could barely hear unless the whole band stopped. They were all miced, just not turned up at all.. Well, the whole album really did sound great and had every detail. The 10-piece backing band was very good and the mixing good enough so you could hear everything. During “Caroline, No” he missed his cue coming in after the bridge and he made everyone stop and restart from the bridge, and you’d think that would sound horrible, but it was handled so perfectly that you might suspect it was staged, but I don’t think it was. The musicians just quieted down and everything came in perfect. It definitely didn’t feel like a nostalgia exercise – the performance was exhilarating and it was obvious that the music was timeless.

After the album, the rest of the set was as an encore and they did a bunch of BB hits pretty well. “Good Vibrations” was great all the way through and incredibly accurate, if not better, than the recording. You had to get a little used to sound there because the vocals were pretty loud (probably 6 to 8 people singing often) and a bit on the harsh side. Although it wasn’t all that loud I wore earplugs and it helped, but by the time Pet Sounds came around my ears were more, um, damaged, and I could do without them. If anything the show probably could’ve been better with just less people playing instruments – and indeed during the album it was handled very well like that and it completely stood out as the best arranged section of the night. Umm, anything else.. Gladly there was not much singing/clapping along at all until the end hits. The audience was either very respectful or just hadn’t heard the album.

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