Monday, October 28, 2013

Review - Brian Wilson & Jeff Beck - Paramount Theatre - Oakland, CA - 10/22/13

After having read for a month about the “odd” pairing of Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck, it was interesting and ultimately quite enjoyable to finally experience this tour in person.

This was only my second trip to Oakland’s Paramount Theatre, the other trip coming in early 2007 to catch Brian and Al together on their “farewell” Pet Sounds tour. I honestly had forgotten how beautiful this theatre is, once you get inside the doors anyway. It’s a wonderfully restored (and/or maintained?) theatre, and not too large so that experiencing a show doesn’t keep you feeling too distanced from the stage.

I managed decent but not amazing seats this time around, in the back half of the floor section. I’ve seen Brian and Al both up close over the last 10-15 years, and got surprisingly nice seats (without the VIP package!) to last year’s 50th Anniversary tour, so I’m not preoccupied with getting amazing seats at this stage.

First off, a quick look at the swag on sale at the merchandise stand. It seemed very standard fare, with a selection of hugely overpriced t-shirts and hoodies, a few other miscellaneous bits; key chains and the like, and my usual picks on tours: I procured a program for $20 and a little poster for $15. The main disappointment I had with the merchandise was that nothing other than the t-shirts had the tour dates/cities listed. The program and poster don’t even list the year, let alone any tour dates. I barely went for the poster, as it’s literally the same as the cover of the program, just elongated. The program is the usual for Brian tours: Interviews with each of the principals (Brian, Jeff, Al, and David). The interviews are the usual fluff, but as interesting as this fluff seems to get. Some interesting photos are included as well, especially some fun early David Marks photos. Blondie Chaplin didn’t get a spot in the program, although strangely he is listed in the “Thanks” section.

The stage setup on this tour allows for both band’s rigs to stand side by side, with some shared space as well. For this tour, Brian continues his stage-right position from last year’s Beach Boys tour behind a pseudo-grand piano, with Jeff, Al, and David moving along stage-left. Paul Mertens is situated behind Al and David, with the rest of Brian’s band behind. As expected, Brian’s band retains all of his members from last  year’s 50th tour, with Mike D’Amico moving to drums plus the addition of long-time Brian bassist Bob Lizik.

Brian usually doesn’t let us down in the unintentional humor department, and provided a laugh for fans before the shows started as he not only visibly and openly milled around on stage behind the stage risers, but at one point literally crossed the front of the stage to wild applause and cheering. As only Brian could do, he barely acknowledged the fans, never turning to the crowd, and giving a tiny wave with one hand, as if to say “pay no attention to me yet, I’m not supposed to be on stage yet.”

The band assembled on stage with no announcement, and immediately launched into their set. Presumably because of the time constraints of two full sets, the band rarely spoke and whizzed through their 20-song set as quickly as possible. This was a good thing, as it kept as many songs in the setlist as possible.  Overall, the band sounded sharp. Brian was usual Brian, generally okay. He actually was in good voice; I didn’t hear any sour notes per se. His main issue was occasionally missing vocal cues and/or momentarily forgetting lyrics. He either isn’t using a teleprompter on this tour, or if he has one, he isn’t using it. Either way, it’s refreshing. Al sounded amazing as always; he should have been given a few more leads. Al audibly added a key element to the backing vocals throughout; his voice even in the backing vocals is what gives the sound even more authenticity than the typical Brian solo tour. David sounded perfect on “Little Bird”, and this was one of the more impressive performances from the entire band. We were lucky to get Blondie Chaplin on this date, and he belted “Sail on Sailor” with pure authenticity, and also provided a nice take on “Wild Honey.” I’m far too young to have been able to catch Blondie back in the 70’s, so it’s cool to have finally seen him in person, and with three other Beach Boys no less. Here’s the full setlist (Brian’s sets as well as the tracks he appeared on with Beck):
    1. Their Hearts Were Full of Spring
    2. California Girls
    3. Do It Again
    4. Don't Worry Baby (Jeff)
    5. Little Bird (David)
    6. Old Man River
    7. Cottonfields (Al)
    8. Sail On, Sailor (Blondie)
    9. Wild Honey (Blondie)
    10. Darlin' (Darian)
    11. Marcella
    12. Heroes and Villains
    13. Pet Sounds
    14. God Only Knows
    15. Sloop John B (Brian and Al)
    16. Wouldn't It Be Nice (Jeff) 
    17. Help Me, Rhonda (Al)
    18. I Get Around
    19. Good Vibrations
    20. Fun, Fun, Fun
    21. Our Prayer (w/Beck)
    22. Child is Father of the Man (w/Beck)
    23. Surf's Up (w/Beck)
    24. Barbara Ann (w/Beck)
    25. Surfin' USA (Brian and Al, w/Beck)
    26. Danny Boy (w/Beck)
I went into this show with moderate knowledge of Jeff Beck, and a feeling that I might even have more patience for Beck’s set than the typical Brian/Beach Boys fan. Having said that, Beck is an amazing and unique guitarist. He put on a fascinating show, but some of the bits were tedious. Instrumental guitar-driven material tends to get a bit repetitive, and that coupled with some jazz-ish noodling from his band meant there were some tedious moments. Beck’s set was also much louder than Brian, and at times the bass (both from the bass guitar and the drums) was so overpowering that it muddied the music up for me. Nevertheless, Beck’s set was enjoyable. Brian’s band came on stage with Beck to perform “Our Prayer”, and the bit of “Child is Father of the Man” leading into Beck’s wonderful instrumental take on “Surf’s Up.” The band added backing vocals, including Al reprising his end vocals. A few of Brian’s guys also added some backing vocals on an additional Beck number.
Both bands regrouped at the end for “Barbara Ann”, “Surfin’ USA” (both with unique Beck guitar noodling, including bottleneck slide on “Surfin’ USA”!), and their wonderful rendition of “Danny Boy” with Beck playing the melody backed by Brian’s band on vocals.
A wonderful show all around. Was this as good as the Beach Boys 50th Anniversary tour? No, not at all. There was a magic to all five guys being there, not to mention knocking out around 50 songs per show. This show is as close as we can get though. My only complaints would be the obvious required brevity of Brian’s set, which we knew would be the case from the outset, and a lack of additional leads from Al, whose voice continues to stay amazingly intact. It will also be interesting to see if this touring format continues next year. Presumably, Brian’s album will be out, and it features Al, David, and Blondie. In particular, it will be interesting to see if they add Blondie to more shows, or an entire tour. On the one hand, it seems a waste to bring Blondie along to only appear on stage for a few songs. Yet, he doesn’t seem to necessarily fit in extensively on the old vintage material that Brian’s band performs sticking to original arrangements. But it would be amazing to see Brian, Al, David, and Blondie be able to expand into a full setlist, where they could experiment with more rarities and new songs. How about “Funky Pretty” and “Leaving this Town?”

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