Monday, June 20, 2011

Brian Wilson @ Massey Hall, June 18, 2011.

First of all, I'd like to wish Brian Wilson a happy birthday today - June 20. Hard to believe he's a year younger than my dad.

Second of all, I just checked back in my blog entries tagged with "Brian Wilson" and "Beach Boys" and I can't believe I never mentioned (back in November 2010 when I bought tickets, no less) that I would be seeing Brian Wilson perform at Massey Hall on June 18! I know I tweeted about it on Twitter and posted about it (somewhat excessively?) on Facebook the day I purchased tickets, but why I didn't post about it on my blog is kind of baffling to me!

So that glorious day has come and gone, and here I am, on Brian Wilson's 69th birthday, updating my blog with a review of his show at Massey Hall this past Saturday.

The show started promptly at 7:30 - as Brian Wilson and his band made their way onto the stage, the crowd applauded wildly and quickly got to their feet. How many artists can boast they've received a standing ovation before even performing a single song? But honestly, I can think of very few artists who would deserve it as much.

Having read so many accounts, biographies and articles of his past reluctance and anxiety with performing, I guess I was a bit surprised at how charismatic and jovial he seemed. There was comfortable banter between songs, quick smiles here and there, and a gracious "Thank you!" after every song. There were also the maybe slightly contrived proclamations of "Toronto, you're the best!" but hey, audiences love that shit, right? He even got the audience to embark on a singalong of "Row Your Boat" (yes, the children's nursery rhyme song) several times with the expectation that it would launch into a Beach Boys/Brian Wilson tune before he waved, grinned and said, "That's it! You were great!" Ha! Good to see he has a sense of humour.

I especially enjoyed the informational introductions of many songs - even historical, if you will! ie. the year in which he wrote particular songs. My favourite intros: that "Surfer Girl" was the first song he ever wrote (I heard several murmurs around me saying, "Really?"), he wrote the instrumental "Pet Sounds" to be submitted for a James Bond film, and the introductions for a bunch of the Gershwin songs (including the educational fact that George Gershwin performed at Massey Hall, I think back in 1934 if I remember correctly - in any case, good researching skills for relevance!).

The show began with crowd pleasers - kicked off with "Do It Again" and followed with a whole slew of Beach Boys hits like "Dance Dance Dance," "Don't Worry Baby," "Please Let Me Wonder" (*dreamy sigh*), "I Get Around," "Do You Wanna Dance" and "Surfer Girl," as I already mentioned. They also did "Then I Kissed Her" (as found on Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) - sort of a response/opposite point of view to The Crystals' "Then He Kissed Me") with guitarist/amazing falsetto vocalist Jeffrey Foskett on lead vocals. Foskett did most of the higher vocals for all the songs - a little sad thinking about how a young Brian would've been singing these notes in his heyday, but Foskett was impressive nonetheless.
From Pet Sounds, the band did the aforementioned instrumental title track, "Sloop John B" and "God Only Knows" which garnered another standing ovation.

The only (slight) disappointment were the mere two songs from SMiLE - "Heroes & Villains" (it gave me chills, though I wish they had led into it with "Our Prayer/Gee") and "Good Vibrations" (more chills!). I wanted "Surf's Up" and "Vega-tables" and "Wind Chimes".... hell, I wish I could've gone back in time and that this was the SMiLE tour instead. But alas.

After a 20-minute intermission, the band came back to perform the Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin album. I gotta say that I truly adore this record, especially with my vocal jazz choir background (back in my high school days) and classical piano training. The audience was somewhat quieter during this portion of the show, and I had my suspicions that it was likely because many weren't familiar with the songs. Unfortunate, in my opinion. I love the "Beach Boys sound" given to these Gershwin standards and to me, that proves Brian Wilson's still "got it" when it comes to composing - even if it's not original material.

After the Gershwin material, the band left the stage again but quickly returned for an encore. As one would expect, the majority of the crowd was fairly older (older than myself and my boyfriend, at least by 20 years!) but at this point, most (if not all) of the audience were on their feet and dancing. For "Barbara Ann" and several songs afterward, Brian stood up from his keyboard stool to play bass (!) with an awesome "SMiLE" sticker on the back (I want this sticker for my guitar case!).

The band left the stage once again and returned for one last song: "All Summer Long." At the end, Brian waved and said, "We'll see you again!" I really do hope so.

I danced, I sang my heart out and maybe I even teared up a bit during a few songs. While it gave me a twinge of sadness to know I will never be able to see Brian Wilson in his youth and heyday, I'm still thankful I got to see one of my absolute favourite musicians, one of my idols perform live.

The set list (plus a meh review I wouldn't bother reading) can be found here via Sun.


  1. Awesome review, Wini! Read it from top to bottom. Even though I'm not familiar with any of his songs (aside from the super popular ones by him and the Beach Boys), I'm happy you had such an amazing time and experience. I can't wait till the day I get to see some of my favourite people perform live (I've never been to a show or concert. Please don't throw shoes at me, ha).

    But yes, I snickered at the part where you mentioned the contrived "Toronto, you're the best!" mentions, at least it proves the artist(s) knows what city they're actually playing in, LOL!