After nearly four decades of reclusion, lying in bed and sitting in his sandbox, Brian Wilson finally felt the world was ready for his own “teenage symphony to God.” SMiLE, which was to be Wilson’s follow-up to 1966’s Pet Sounds, caused conflict with the other Beach Boys and eventually led to a personal torment and breakdown of the creative spirit behind the band that invented a sound of summer.
Last Sunday, Wilson and a symphony that at times reached 24 members on stage, brought listeners at Washington’s Warner Theatre what was supposed to change love, music and rock-and-roll – but 37 years too late. Circled around one another on stage, “Little Surfer,” the first song Wilson claimed he ever wrote came with complexity and sweetness followed-up with “Wendy” and other songs that would stretch Brian’s aging vocals into an off-tune memory of a once melodic teenage prayer.
This was followed by a set beginning with Pet Sounds’ “Sloop John B” and “God Only Knows,” and following up with songs from Wilson’s solo albums “Imagination” and 2004’s “Gettin’ in Over My Head.” Brian touched his keyboard twice throughout the night, and toggled between gazes at his teleprompter and a hesitant enthusiasm of swinging arms. He followed all this with a perpetual humbleness of a 61-year-old still singing an anthem of hope through the eyes of an insecure teenager:
“Um, I guess this is a song the Beach Boys did, back in the 60’s, yeah.” (Yes, we know Brian – it was called “California Girls!”)
Following this came the SMiLE set -?a tribute to American westward expansion. Songs we already knew. like “Wonderful,” “Heroes and Villains” and “Good Vibrations,” came with a picture of Brian with sun around his face projected above the stage. Wilson finished with the songs audiences love to love (i.e. “I Get Around,” “Help me Ronda,” and “Surfing USA” with Bonnie Raitt). He departed with “Love and Mercy,” which he said was a song of love for the audience.