Tuesday, 07 July 2015 08:26

Photos & Review: Brian Wilson at the Fox Theatre

Written by  Rich Tupica
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Brian Wilson
w/ Rodriguez
Sunday, July 5 – 2015
@ Fox Theatre, Detroit

After being lead into the spotlight by stagehands, Brian Wilson sat down at his piano and immediately let his fans at the Fox Theatre know he was happy to be in the Motor City. Good vibrations filled the room.

It was a jovial start to what became a night of over 30 songs from Wilson’s long repertoire of intricate pop songs. Sure, at 73 Wilson’s voice has lost some of its luster, but true fans don’t mind a bit. And his 11-piece band, including some talented singers, more than compensate for any amount of vocal range the icon has lost.

The fact that Wilson is sitting in the same room as his devotees, playing the songs he wrote at the pinnacle of his creative genius, is miraculous on its own. Add to that original Beach Boy Al Jardine is on guitar and vocals and it makes for a extraordinary night. Early in the set Wilson happily said, “Al’s voice hasn’t changed a bit in 52 years!” And he’s right, Jardine’s signature vocals shined all night on a batch of hits. But the band didn’t just stick to the popular singles – the set list was laced with gems for the diehards.

The set opened with a soaring rendition of “Our Prayer,” quickly followed up by a powerhouse take of “Heroes and Villains.” After that, Wilson and his spot-on band wowed the crowd with some of his early surfin’ and hot-rod hits, like “California Girls,” “Shut Down” and “Little Deuce Coupe.”

Later in the set the band lit into more deep cuts, like the brilliant pop tune “This Whole World” – a track from the 1970 “Sun Flower” LP. The short but sweet tune was led by Wilson’s keyboardist and music director Darian Sahanaja, who Rolling Stone recently dubbed “Brian Wilson’s secret weapon.” Another ace in the hole is Matt Jardine (Al Jardine’s son), a vocalist in Wilson’s band. His ability to hit the high notes, in the signature Beach Boys tone, wowed the crowd, especially with his lead on “Wouldn’t it Be Nice.” While his mates delivered the lead vocals on a string of songs impeccably, we’re there to see Wilson – and it wouldn’t have been great to hear the songwriter belt them out, even if he can’t hit the same notes he could in 1966.

Nearing the end of the night, Wilson offers up: “This next song, people tell me it’s my best song. It’s called ‘God Only Knows.’” His delivery on the masterpiece love song was surely a highlight of the evening. The only thing possible of following that up would be his chaotic-pop classic, “Good Vibrations” – and that’s what the band pulled out next. This is where his dynamic batch of multi-instrumentalists shined the most. Performing that song live – considering the amount of studio trickery that went into 1966 studio version – is no doubt a daunting task, but the guys pulled it off and had the venue on its feet. It was that overused word: Epic.

The encore included more megahits, including “Help Me, Rhonda,” “Barbara Ann” and “Surfin' U.S.A.,” to name a few. Wilson closed with “Love and Mercy” – which is also the title of the intense new biopic of his life starring John Cusack and Paul Dano as Wilson. The A+ film doesn’t hold any punches. It candidly portrays the pain and abuse the Beach Boy endured for a bulk of his life. It reminds us to be thankful he survived and is still here to sing for us.

Opener: Rodriguez
Opening the show was Sixto Rodriguez, a 72-year-old Detroit songwriter who, after releasing two brilliant folk-rock albums in 1970 and 1971, flew under the radar until a 2012 documentary, “Searching for Sugar Man,” told of his songwriting genius.

Rodriguez, who’s opening a string of Wilson dates, plays a stripped down set: Just him and his guitar. But that’s all he needs. The songwriter is known for his poetic, street-smart lyrics – and that’s what his fans want to hear most. While the guitar slinger also had an issue with his nylon-string guitar (it caused an awkward delay after the second song), he filled the time with witty, smart banter. At one point during the tune break, the soft-spoken Rodriguez offered up some advice. He said “hate is an emotion …and it’s too powerful of an emotion to waste on someone you don’t like” – wise words from a living underground legend.

Brian Wilson Set list at the Fox Theatre:
Our Prayer
Heroes and Villains
California Girls
Shut Down
Little Deuce Coupe
You're So Good to Me
I Get Around
This Whole World
Then I Kissed Her
California Saga: California
In My Room
Surfer Girl
Don't Worry Baby
One Kind of Love
Sail Away
Wild Honey
Sail On, Sailor
Wake the World
Busy Doin' Nothin'
Surf's Up
The Right Time
Wouldn't It Be Nice
Sloop John B
God Only Knows
Good Vibrations

All Summer Long
Help Me, Rhonda
Barbara Ann
Surfin' U.S.A.
Fun, Fun, Fun
Love and Mercy

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