Saturday, September 6, 2008
Lucky Old Sun: Brian Wilson at the Paramount
"Up in the mornin',
Out on the job,
I work like the devil for my pay.
I know that lucky old sun, has nothin' to do,
But roll around heaven all day."
—by Haven Gillespie & Beasley Smith
Although I was born after the Beach Boys hey-day, for the second time in as many years, an opportunity to see Brian Wilson perform has dropped into my lap. Last year, I saw him after playing at Harmony Festival as he was the headliner of the multi-act event. Last night, I attended Wilson’s tour kick-off at the Paramount Theater with my current drummer John Maurer, who shared an extra ticket.
I attribute at least part of my somewhat law-of-attraction pull to Wilson shows, despite my relative neutrality about him, to growing up near the beach. Raised near sand and sun, all that the Beach Boys represented —pop and the hope of summer love and the simple perfection that is the joy of the ocean — has been a touchstone over the years. Another part of that pull is simply being music lover & songwriter. And then, there’s the quirk factor, as I got last night, sitting in the beautiful Paramount Theater, why I was seeing and hearing Wilson, in all his complex, pop glory, if not completely enjoying his show: The guy is a certified brilliant crazy artist: his songs and performance display childlike naivete, musical savvy and an ability to tap into the zeitgeist all at once. And hence, he’s worth paying attention to.
After a brisk first set that started promptly at the scheduled show time and featured most every Beach Boys hit I could recall, Wilson took a 20-minute break and returned to present not a selection, but the entire song cycle that is “Lucky Old Sun. ” This half of the show felt almost operatic relative to the 3-minutes-or-less prescription of the first set’s songs, a sort of running narrative of his life with projected photos and the addition of a string section.
The band was marvel to hear and watch. Three guitarists, two keyboardists, a drummer, a percussionist, a saxophone/flautist, with nearly everyone on mic and contributing multi-part harmonies. Talk about arranging! But when the script went awry in the form of a technical malfunction, the Wizard behind the curtain was revealed as very, very human. There was a very uncomfortable few minutes where the stage was stripped of any show lights, the lead guitarist and singer, flat out blamed a ‘new guy’ for the fuck up and Wilson’s keyboardist and co-writer made very professional, if somewhat desperate attempts to keep the crowd engaged, while a roadie peered at the keyboard and film projector with a flashlight. Earlier in the show, another song was stopped when the band began in the incorrect key ‘for the evening.’
Nonetheless, after the gaffes, the show got up to speed and it was clear why Wilson’s “Lucky Old Sun’ title is apt. Wilson’s latest endeavor adheres to Beach Boys form: another ode to all that is Southern California living, if more complex and adult in it’s adulation of that life: acceptance is as much a theme as unabashed love. It’s no secret that Wilson has suffered from mental illness, a slippery slope of depression in the past, and indeed he now sings of 'wasting time' himself. But it the form of his delivery demonstrates what has been his (and perhaps many of his fans' ) salvation: highly orchestrated, perfect pop. So while I can’t say I’m a true Wilson fan, the man & the music, nonetheless, have my complete respect.