Monday, April 27, 2015

An Exhausted River-The Rio Grande From Headwaters to Mouth by Peter Reum

In the Southwestern United States, the rivers that run through that region are vital life-ways and the key to economic prosperity and ongoing survival. The Colorado River is often cited as the most endangered river in the Southwest, and there is no doubt that it's flow is exhausted long before it reaches The Gulf of California in Mexico. The cities of Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and countless smaller cities depend on the Colorado.

Summit of Stony Pass 4 Wheel Drive Road - Colorado

Growing up in Northern New Mexico, I spent countless hours near, in, and on the banks of the Rio Grande. The river has its beginning at Colorado's  Stony Pass, nearly 14,000 feet above sea level.  It is a clear, sparkling stream, yet even a few miles from it's headwaters, the abuse of the river has already begun. Over a dozen environmental organizations are unified in their efforts to rescue the Rio Grande from becoming a dead river. The World Wildlife Fund has declared The Rio Grande to be one of the planet's 10 Most Endangered Rivers. To quote the essay on the imperiled Rio Grande published by Wild Earth Guardians, one of the organizations working to rehabilitate the river:

"Today this Great River is in dire straights, primarily because there are too many demands—agricultural, municipal and industrial—tapping its limited supplies. In addition to water diversions and ground water pumping, pollution, development and habitat destruction are threatening the Rio Grande and its bosque. As a result, many of the more than 400 species of fish and wildlife that depend on the river - including the Rio Grande silvery minnow - are in danger of extinction."

The Grenadier Range - Near Stony Pass Colorado

The Rio Grande is the primary source of water for the San Luis Valley of Colorado, a sparsely populated area sustained by agriculture. The Rio Grande Reservoir stops the Rio's flow some 12 miles from the headwaters to provide water to the San Luis Valley's agricultural needs. In Northern New Mexico, the Rio flows through a vast and beautiful National Wild and Scenic River Area as well as a National Monument recently designated as such by President Obama. The river is crossed by only one bridge over the spectacular Rio Grande Gorge, known to Taosenos and Northern New Mexicans as "The Box." As it passes out of the Gorge at Velarde, New Mexico, it again serves a large valley, the Espanola Valley, as well as several tribes of Indigenous people in small towns called "pueblos."

The Rio Grande Gorge-Rio Grande Wild River National Recreation Area -New Mexico

According to the WildEarth Guardians, agricultural interests in the San Luis Valley and in the State of New Mexico use 80% of the flow of the Upper and Middle Rio Grande regions. These two regions encompass the San Luis Valley in Colorado and all of the river's flow in New Mexico. A recent draft plan by the State of Colorado proposes further restriction of the Rio Grande's flow above the New Mexico/Colorado border. This step is noted by WildEarth Guardians as being a large impediment to the preservtion of the Rio Grande as a National Wild and Scenic River in Northern New Mexico, and potentially injurious to several species in the river's riparian habitat.  A letter dated March 31, 2015 from 11 New Mexico organizations to Senator Udall of New Mexico requests increased funding in the Bureau of Land Management 2016 Budget to complete a full analysis of the proposed Colorado Plan to determine it's effect on the flow of an already over-allocated Rio Grande. Also diverting the Rio Grande's flow is the urban water use by a number of communities. There are also large cities like Albuquerque, New Mexico, El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. These competing interests have, at times, completely dried up the flow of the Rio Grande, killing wildlife in and around the river. Over 400 different species depend upon the river to keep them alive. Perhaps the most debated species is the Rio Grande Minnow. This tiny fish has been the subject of extensive negotiation and litigation for the last two decades. Agricultural interests term the minnow the "spotted owl of the Southwest."

The Endangered Rio Grande Silvery Minnow

What goes without saying for anyone who treasures the wildlife of Southern Colorado, New Mexico, Northeast Mexico, and West Texas is that wildlife over the nearly 1900 mile length of the Rio Grande need someone to speak for their interests. That so many organizations involved with the environment and wildlife have stepped forward to do their part to save the river is a tribute to the numerous and diverse array of fish, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects that live around, over, and in The Rio Grande. The importance of the river to New Mexico is staggering. That state has the lowest percentage of surface water of all fifty states. The Rio Grande and it's main tributary, the Rio Pecos, are the main waterways on the Eastern side of the Great Divide, which runs through the whole state, north to south. Like Northern Colorado, water is diverted from the Western Slope of the Great Divide into Northern New Mexico by long diversion tunnels under the Divide. 

Goals of most of the environmental organizations at times converge with the urban and agricultural interest Rio Grande water users, but the role of agent of change primarily rests with the environmental organizations. The agenda of the various environmental organizations, according to WildEarth Guardians is:

1) Securing a constant flow of water in the Rio Grande's course from Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico, Such flow should use the natural hydrographic characteristics as much as possible, letting the river flow freely within the floodway of the river. Natural erosion and redepositing of alluvial patterns within the river's flow patterns should be encouraged. Where wetlands exist along the river, bosque (cottonwood) and other trees should be protected or replanted;

2) Advocating for the survival and replenishment of endangered species, both designated and  not yet designated;

3) Establishing new paradigms of water  use in urban areas through public and civic education, thereby connecting citizens' commitments to water conservation and wildlife habitat;

4) Development of a new model of agricultural water use, including less water use for irrigating low priced crops such as hay or alfalfa, and pricing water at a more realistic price closer to it's actual value, and rewarding farms that develop water saving methods or abstain from overusing river water;

5) Encouraging the interests in the Federal Government to develop a comprehensive strategy that ends the competing purposes of agencies such as The Bureau of Reclamation and The United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The riparian ecology should be as continuous as possible, with as minimal disruption of ecosystems as possible. Riparian vegetation with indigenous species should be protected, extended, and enhanced. Foreign and non-native vegetation should be kept from invasive establishment;

Because so much of the Rio Grande's watercourse  flows through wild, sparsely populated country, there is a tendency for some people to doubt the severity of the river's ecological circumstances. The combination of overuse, Climate Change, and severe drought has ravaged the Rio Grande. The average temperature of the Southern Colorado and New Mexico areas through which the Rio Grande flows has risen 2.8 degrees over the past 40 years, and could raise another 4 to 6 degrees by 2100, according to New York Times journalist Michael Winesapril, in a story in the April 12, 2015 edition of the Times. In the same article, Winesapril covers the ongoing battle  over Rio Grande water between Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas under an agreement called the 1938 Rio Grande Compact. The essence of the conflict comes down to upriver Colorado not living up to giving New Mexico the agreed portion from the 1938 Compact, and then New Mexico not being able to give Texas their agreed share of the water as specified in the Compact.  As Mr. Winesapril states so succintly in his Times article:

"An untamed, flash-flooding home to sturgeon and eels a century ago, much of the Rio Grande today is little more than a magnificently engineered pipe — diverted, straightened, dammed, bled by canals, linked by tunnel to the Colorado River basin in the north, surrendering its last trickle in the south to a ditch that supplies farmers near El Paso. Only miles later do Mexican tributaries renew its journey to the gulf. Its raison d’ĂȘtre is to sustain the booming society along its banks."

The ingenuity of large municipalities in reducing their water consumption, especially Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and El Paso, has counteracted some of the deleterious effects of 40 percent less snowfall in the mountains of Colorado and New Mexico in the last 15 years, when compared with the last 20 years of the 20th century. Albuquerque has won several awards for reduced water consumption, and accord to Mr. Winesapril's article, El Paso is developing several projects to increase available drinking water in the near future. Despite the various municipalities and their water conservation, the states of Texas and New Mexico are legally fighting over the Rio Grande... Texas/New Mexico Rio Grande "Rumble"  The condition of the Rio Grande in 2013, when the drought was not as severe as it currently is, is shown in a video taken by a fishing guide at the Radium Springs Bridge just below Elephant Butte Reservoir and Caballo Lake in Southern New Mexico. The text under the video informs the viewer that the Rio Grande would only be a small trickle if not for this release of water which lasted for 6 weeks that year...  Annual release of water for 6 weeks into Rio Grande in Southern New Mexico  

The State of Colorado also has alleged that Mexico has not lived up to the commitments it has under the International Boundary and Water Commission Treaty. The State of Texas has divided The Rio Grande into several sections for administration of water rights. The International Boundary and Water Commission has been the bilateral organization for allocating the waters of the Rio Grande and its various tributaries from El Paso/Ciudad Juarez all the way to the Gulf of Mexico for the last 75 years. Beginning in 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, then the Gadsden Treaty of 1853, with a further treaty in 1882, and the 1889 establishment of the International Boundaries and Water Commission, with the first international water allocation agreement being done in 1906. Other treaties were done in 1933, 1944, the Chamizal Agreement of 1963, and in 1970. The 1906 Agreement allocated 60,000 acre-feet of Rio Grande flow into the Acequia Madre just above Ciudad Juarez. The Agreement covered the section of the Rio Grande from El Paso to Fort Quitman, Texas, an 89 mile distance.

The 1933 Convention Treaty covered the management of the Rio Grande through the El Paso/Ciudad Juarez region, by straightening the river and placing it between concrete embankments for most of the valley, rough;y 155 miles. In 1944, the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) developed a second water distribution treaty, covering the remainder of the Rio Grande's flow from Fort Quitman, Texas to the Gulf of Mexico. This treaty committed both countries to resolving issues that would arise through the IBWC. The 1944 Treaty also establishes the IBWC as an international organization with U.S. and Mexican sections, headed by Engineer Commissioners for each country. The allocation of the Rio Grande's flow, along with specified tributaries were allocated as:

"Of the waters of the Rio Grande, the Treaty allocates to Mexico: (1) all of the waters reaching the main channel of the Rio Grande from the San Juan and Alamo Rivers, including the return flows from the lands irrigated from those two rivers; (2) two-thirds of the flow in the main channel of the Rio Grande from the measured Conchos, San Diego, San Rodrigo, Escondido and Salado Rivers, and the Las Vacas Arroyo, subject to certain provisions; and (3) one-half of all other flows occurring in the main channel of the Rio Grande downstream from Fort Quitman.  The Treaty allots to the United States: (1) all of the waters reaching the main channel of the Rio Grande from the Pecos and Devils Rivers, Goodenough Spring and Alamito, Terlingua, San Felipe and Pinto Creeks; (2) one-third of the flow reaching the main channel of the river from the six named measured tributaries from Mexico and provides that this third shall not be less, as an average amount in cycles of five consecutive years, than 350,000 acre-feet annually; and (3) one-half of all other flows occurring in the main channel of the Rio Grande downstream from Fort Quitman." ( website, United States Section of International Boundary and Water Commission Section)

Even a cursory reading of the history of the allocation of the flow of the Rio Grande and it's tributaries reveals a history of conflict and mutual blame of various parties to the Rio Grande Compact of 1938, consisting of Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas, and the U.S. and Mexico as managed under the IBWC. Historically, New Mexico blamed Colorado's overuse of water for New Mexico's inability to meet the agreed water allotment to Texas under the Rio Grande Compact. As recently as late 2014 and early 2015, Colorado was blaming Mexico for failing to meet the amount allotted to Texas by IBWC treaty obligations. The overuse of the river's flow, as stated above in this article, has been aggravated by climate change and severe drought throughout the Southwestern United States and Northeastern Mexico. 

The problem of sewage treatment further complicated the Rio Grande's ability to support native species south of Albuquerque and El Paso/Ciudad Juarez.  Other municipalities on both sides of the Rio Grande have struggled to discharge clean water into the Rio Grande despite agreement of the two countries, predominantly due to the population growth on both sides of the river, and the rights of agricultural water users predating the rights of municipalities. As municipal demands for water increase up and down the length of the Rio Grande, agricultural interests are increasingly having to go to court to protect their interests, especially in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. The wild Rio Grande south of El Paso/Ciudad Juarez is highlighted by the Big Bend Region, including Big Bend National Park in Texas. Prior to Big Bend, the Rio Pecos meets the Rio Grande. The Rio Pecos has it's source in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico, and flows south through the Pecos Valley in New Mexico and West Texas.

As the Rio Grande flows south of El Paso/Ciudad Juarez, the so-called Trans Pecos region is dominant, lying between the Pecos and Rio Grande. The only major town in Texas is Presidio. Also notable is Terlingua, which was immortalized by Texas troubador Jerry Jeff Walker. The Chihuahua Desert, the largest in North America, dominates the landscape of this dry and dusty part of Texas, with three National Parks within the Rio Pecos/Rio Grande drainage area. In New Mexico, the breathtaking Carlsbad Caverns National Park preserves a number of the largest and best preserved caverns in the world, including Lechuguilla Cave, a wilderness area underground. Texas's highest point, Guadalupe Peak, is the centerpiece of spectacular Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

Lechuguilla Cave - Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Guadalupe Peak - Highest Point in Texas

Before the Rio Grande enters the magnificent Big Bend Region, the primary tributary of the Rio Grande enters the river. The Rio Conchos replenishes the flow of the Rio Grande, making river running possible in Big Bend.  The Rio Conchos rises in the Sierra Madre Occidental, with the river being a major source of agricultural water use for much of the State of Chihuahua in Mexico. Over 90% of the water in the Rio Conchos is allocated for agriculture. The cities of Chihuahua, Hidalgo de Parral, and Delicias, as well as several smaller towns, are major users of Rio Conchos water. The projections of water use for the years 2020 and beyond leave large questions as to whether there will be enough water to maintain the flow of the Rio Conchos into the Rio Grande. A 2004 article by Arias, Wood, and Alanis in a book entitled Development and Application of Computer Techniques to Environmental Studies X indicated that heavy metals and other toxic elements were present...  

"Water samples at Ojinaga (mouth of the Rio Conchos), in the Rio Florido and in the Rio Parral exceeded the Maximum Permissible Levels with respect to turbidity. Total Dissolved Solids were highest in the Ojinaga and Rio Florido samples, exceeding the maximum permissible limit. The pH varied from 7.71 in Ojinaga to 9.47 in Rio Florido. The most contaminated point was Ojinaga.  Helminto, Cryptosporidium, and Giardia eggs were not detected in any sample, but total coliform and fecal coliform were present in all samples." 

The prospects for a relatively clean Rio Grande in Big Bend and below depend on the overall health of the Rio Conchos. The Rio Grande north of the confluence with the Rio Conchas is often dry, and the environmental forecast for the Rio Conchas is murky at best. A study of the Rio Conchas reflects only a few species of fish thriving in that river, and 4 species either endangered or compromised. The Rio Grande itself has historically had 47 species of fish identified, of which only 6 were found as of 2008. The Lower Rio Grande Valley is very dependent upon the flow of the Rio Conchos, and the population of the Rio Conchos Basin is expected to grow from 1.4 million people in 2010 to 2.7 million in the year 2050.

Rio Conchos Valley - Chihuahua, Mexico

Rio Conchos Basin -Estado Chihuahua, Mexico

Along the Rio Grande, abutted by the Davis and Chisos Mountains, is the Big Bend. Big Bend National Park in Texas is an area preserved in nearly pristine high desert wilderness. Two roads within Big Bend National Park offer access to the Rio Grande, at Castolon and Rio Grande Park Village. The Rio Grande has cut 3 spectacular canyons in the Park, Santa Elena, Mariscal, and Boquillas Canyons. River running is available here, and a highlight of Santa Elena is the Hot Spring, which historically has been used by Indigenous People and regional settlers and visitors for countless generations. The entire 69 miles of the Rio Grande in the Big Bend area of the canyons has been designated as the second area on the Rio Grande that is a National Wild and Scenic River. In addition, 137 miles of  the Rio Grande below Big Bend, often called the Lower Canyons, is also part of the 196 mile National Wild and Scenic River in Texas.  Speaking of the Rio Grande in Big Bend, Supreme Court Justice William O.  Douglas said... 

"I always leave the Rio Grande reluctantly. The swiftness of the rapids, the beauty of the canyon walls, the solitude of the chasm are too quickly passed. The urge is to return again and again in order to have a more intimate look, to explore the high caves, to search out the wealth of agates and fossils that these canyons reveal. It is hostile country in a sense, not even the water being safe to drink. The bushes mostly have spines; the walls are precipitous; the rocks are either dangerously brittle or dangerously sharp.... But the call of adventure is strong, and those who run these canyons once will return, drawn by the twin magnets of beauty and danger."  

The Rio Grande south of Big Bend enters a varied landscape which is highlighted by the Lower Canyons. The Reagan Canyon and San Francisco Canyon areas are designated as Wild and Scenic, with the remainder of the  area being Scenic, but not Wild. 

The "Tight Squeeze" in Boquillas Canyon - Big Bend National Park

Magnificent Santa Elena Canyon- Big Bend National Park

Boquillas Canyon - Big Bend National Park

In the Lower Canyons, there is a first class river trip for canoes from La Linda, Mexico to Dryden Crossing, Texas. Cliffs rise from 500 to 1500 feet above the Rio Grande. The trip is a multi day excursion, and there are no amenities available. This 83.5 mile section of the Rio Grande is called the Lower Canyons, and the U.S. side of the river is abutted by the Black Gap Wildlife Management Area. The drop in elevation is 450 feet over the course of the trip. and is relatively gentle.


Silber Canyon Rapid Lower Canyons -Rio Grande in Texas
Photo by Tom McGrath 2014

Panther Canyon Rapid - Rio Grande in Texas
Photo by Tom McGrath 2014

Below the Lower Canyons, the Rio Grande has expended 12,000 vertical feet from it's source in Stony Pass, Colorado. Now at roughly 1100 feet, the river gradually enters what is called the Lower Rio Grande Valley. This area is relatively highly populated, and the river's water is the main source for agricultural and municipal water use in the region.  In Langtry, Judge Roy Bean, the "Law West of the Pecos," presided. Langtry is a small town that is the first small village after the Lower Canyons. The Amistad Dam is located near Del Rio, Texas and Ciudad Acuna, Mexico. The resulting Amistad Reservoir backs the Rio Grande up to Langtry.

The Rio Pecos is the 16th longest river in the U.S., and rises in the Pecos Wilderness of New Mexico, surrounded by mountains topping 13,000 feet in elevation. The Rio begins at Pecos Falls, and flows through sparsely populated country, albeit with several reservoirs and diversions for agricultural use and also smaller cities, the largest of which is Roswell, New Mexico. The flow of the Rio Pecos, like the Rio Grande, is interrupted during it's course, with dry stretches frequent.

Pecos Falls, New Mexico

Rio Pecos - Pecos Wilderness, New Mexico

The final miles of the Rio Pecos at the confluence with The Rio Grande are a part of Amistad Dam and Reservoir, completed in 1969 and having hydroelectric capability as well. The primary purpose of Amistad was water conservation and flood control. The Amistad Reservoir offers some recreation.
The international boundary runs through the center of the Dam.

Informational Slide on Amistad Dam and Reservoir-Rio Grande  Texas and Mexico

The Rio Grande slowly makes a transition from canyon topography toward sub-tropical climate conditions as it flows through Del Rio, Texas to Eagle Pass, Texas. The river is still quite suitable for rafting and canoeing in this section, and people recreate on the river regularly. From Eagle Pass to Laredo, the river flows for 125 miles, and many rafters float the distance to Falcon Lake (Reservoir). Laredo is a principal international border crossing into Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, which is a larger city. The condition of the Rio Grande environmentally is compromised in this section... 

"Historically, this reach of the Rio Grande has had very low quality water, but in recent years much has been done to remedy that situation. BECC (the Border Environment Cooperation Commission), based in Juarez, and NADBank (the North American Development Bank), based in San Antonio, design and finance environmental infrastructure for the Border. Joint U.S. - Mexican financing has built billions of dollars of wastewater infrastructure in virtually every city along the Rio Grande. Raw sewage discharges have been reduced dramatically. Hot spots remain at some of the larger cities (Nuevo Laredo most notably), but the vast majority of the Rio Grande is bacteriologically safe..." from, Eagle Pass to Laredo webpage

In Laredo, the conditions of the Rio Grande are particularly vulnerable to pollution, and the wildlife is diversified. Conditions are changing into a more highly agricultural area, with municipalities becoming far more frequent along both banks of the river. Mexico has made a concerted effort to upgrade the processing of wastewater from cities on that side of the Rio Grande. Because the major source of drinking water is the river itself, it is in the interests of both countries to keep the river clean.  Falcon Dam is located at Roma, Texas, between Laredo and Rio Grande City, Texas, with the reservoir backing up the river toward Laredo. The reservoir is a major source of irrigation water for the farms further down the Rio Grande Valley.  There were a number of towns flooded by Falcon Lake, most notably Zapata.

Falcon Dam and Reservoir - Texas and Mexico, Lower Rio Grande Valley

Below Falcon Dam, the Lower Rio Grande Valley becomes the subtropical passage of the Rio Grande until it reaches it's mouth in the Gulf of Mexico. From Rio Grande City to the river's mouth, the river's flow is used for farming and municipal water consumption.  The Lower Valley is a major center of growing citrus fruit, watermelons, and other crops that need an extended growing season. The area is also a center of so-called snowbirds, who have retired and moved from harsher climates into the Lower Rio Grande Valley. The area is a major cultural center for Mexican-Americans, and colleges in the Valley enable Mexican-Americans to move into a variety of high paying occupations. The reduction of the river's flow in the last 100 years may be apprehended by the sign below commemorating the Rio Grande Ferries that could once go upriver...

Historical Plaque Highlighting the Rio Grande Ferries

You know you are in the tropics when the Rio Grande has gators

The Rio Grande between Brownsville and the Gulf of Mexico

The Rio Grande only reaches the Gulf of Mexico only in robust years of rain.  The river is a shadow of it's former self. Like the Colorado, the Rio only flows to the Gulf when river managers decide to allow it. Some years, the Rio flows through the sand to the Gulf, and some years it does not. 

Looks like that year, it made the Gulf of Mexico but....

That year it didn't.

Projections for the future use of the Rio Grande only get more heavy. The river is exhausted, a river caught between conflicting interests and two countries. The future of Western International rivers like the Rio Grande and Colorado rests with people who care enough to respect the rivers and what they realistically can do. The World Wildlife Fund has named the Rio Grande one of the planet's 10 Most Endangered Rivers. Here is a link to their page: World's 10 Most At-Risk Rivers - Rio Grande/Rio Bravo  Make the Rio Grande a river again, one that the world can be proud your grandchildren can admire.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Review of the PBS Soundstage Video-"Brian Wilson and Friends" by Peter Reum

On December 12th last year, a number of musicians came together at The Venetian in Las Vegas to perform selections from No Pier Pressure and other Brian Wilson tunes for the PBS program Soundstage, which is produced and directed by Joe Thomas, co-producer of No Pier Pressure, Brian Wilson's new album.  The program premiered this last week in Chicago and other PBS stations that normally air it. The guest list included several folks who performed on No Pier Pressure, a first tier collection of vocalists, past Beach Boys, and young artists who co-wrote or sang on the new album.

A number of fortunate Brian Wilson followers got the chance to pick up a package of the program and to donate to PBS simultaneously this debut week. I sent PBS money, and they sent back an autographed Brian Wilson insert card that accompanies the two disc set, Blue Ray and conventional dvd. A copy of the No Pier Pressure cd without any bonus tracks is also included.

Brian Wilson No Peer Pressure CD Cover Art

In front of an audience of Brian Wilson/Beach Boy fans, the start was a pair of tunes from Smile, Our Prayer and Heroes and Villains. Prayer was gorgeous, as beautiful as it was in 2004 at Smile's debut in Royal Festival Hall. Heroes was a bit ragged, but came together after the Cantina interlude. Brian's pre-concert jitters seemed to evaporate as the program continued into Sloop John B and Dance Dance Dance, Both of these tunes sounded strong, with tight band vocals highlighted by the rock steady presence of Alan Jardine. As Brian himself has noted, Alan's voice is still as clear and great as it was 50 years ago.

Good Vibrations followed, and the version done was the single version rather than the Smile version. The group was tight and carried off the song well. The initial song performed from No Pier Pressure was the album's debut track, This Beautiful Day. Brian's lead vocal was energetic and the group behind him was a perfect harmonic blend. The song was a wonderful introduction into the reason people had gathered, to hear the music of No Pier Pressure.

Next, Sebu Simonton came center stage to perform what has turned out to be the lightning rod track of the new album, Runaway Dancer. The first version of Runaway Dancer that I heard was from Brian's Vimeo site, this very performance.  This version really highlights the energy of the song, something which is less obvious on the studio version. Because of where the song is placed on No Pier Pressure, it has been blasted by many reviewers in several publications. This version vindicates Brian's artistic judgment. Brian also invited Sebu to sing his favorite Beach Boys song, which turned out to be Don't Worry Baby. His passion for the tune is easy to hear, and the band backs him perfectly.

Cover art for the Brian Wilson and Friends Soundstage Set

The band does a rocking version of Marcella, the first of two tunes from the little known but very soulful Carl and the Passions-So Tough album. The tunes was a favorite of Brian's from the early 2000s, and it sounded just as solid and punchy here. Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar are introduced for a trio of lead vocals by Blondie, beginning with a killer version of Wild Honey that Brian introduces as a being a great song. Probyn Gregory and Blondie trade guitar solos, and the tune is as good as any live version this writer has ever heard dating back to the late Sixties. Blondie's lead vocal on Sail On Sailor is positively spine-chilling, especially given the passage of years and life events. Brian and Blondie then sing Sail Away, and the tune's feel deepens, as if time on a sailboat would heal the wounds time has inflicted.

Mark Isham steps forward to play the gorgeous instrumental from No Pier Pressure, Half Moon Bay. His trumpet on this tune is mesmerizing, and the tune's subtleties translate perfectly to live performance. It is a tribute to Isham and the Brian Wilson Band that the live version here is every bit as moody and tropical as the recorded version. The Pet Sounds tune, Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder), is played next sans vocals, and Isham's fluegelhorn replaces Brian's vocal, yet has a warmth that conveys romance more than the sorrow and fear that Brian's Pet Sounds studio vocal seems to convey.

Nate Ruess comes onstage next to sing Saturday Night, and the song has all of the playfulness of No Pier Pressure's studio version. The track is a successful collaboration between Brian and Ruess, and the version of this track on the album may be the most successful marriage of Brian and his Milleneal counterparts. The concert takes a hard turn with Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar's Hold On Dear Brother, a beautiful, soulful version which combines Nate and Blondie's vocals in a synergistic combination that works very well. Nate's final contribution is a terrific version of Darlin', which rocks and is reminiscent of Beach Boy concerts gone by with Carl Wilson singing lead.

The musical focus of the program then shifts to the recording studio, where Brian and Zooey Deschanel are recording On the Island. This video segment has been released as a promotional video for No Pier Pressure, and can be viewed on youtube or Vimeo. The interview segment later in the bonus features of the video adds M. Ward, the second member of She and Him. God Only Knows follows, with the version here not breaking any new ground. Alan Jardine shines on The Right Time, and the live version here is just wonderful. Alan's vocal is as clear as a bell, and his vocal chops continue to be the best of the surviving Beach Boys. He also takes the lead on a nice version of Wouldn't It Be Nice which is the beginning of the closing tunes of the show. Help Me Rhonda also features an Alan Jardine lead vocal, and his singing sounds like it is being sung by his 23 year old self. It is a tune which casual fans can hear which is as clear and good as the original recording.

All Summer Long, the next selection, is a group vocal, and the fun in the sun theme somewhat counteracts the somber tone of many of the tunes from No Pier Pressure. The concert video concludes with a pleasant version of Fun Fun Fun, the number that has ended the Beach Boys' concerts for the last 40 years. The studio version of I Guess You Had to Be There plays over the closing credits. Two bonus tracks are simply gorgeous. First comes a performance of Pacific Coast Highway from the last Beach Boys album, followed by a beautiful rendition of Summers Gone, also from That's Why God Made Radio. Interviews with Kasey Musgraves, Nate Ruess, M.Ward, Zooey Dechanel, and Mark Isham fill out the rest of the bonus features. For those with 5.1 Surround Sound, there is a mix available for play.

The Brian Wilson Band again are the unsung heroes of this concert. They play flawlessly, and remain anonymous to most of the people who attend shows like these. It was great to see Scott, Nick, Darian, and Mike (Wondermints), as well as Paul Von Mertens, Nelson Bragg, Scott Bennett, Probyn Gregory, and Bob Lizik. The Brian watchers will be pleased with Brian's obvious enthusiasm in presenting his new music after his initial stagefright dissipates. The visuals are simple, and the cameras shoot what should be highlighted in the show. Overall, this show is the best Brian Wilson show I have seen since Smile in 2004. If you can't make it to a show on Brian's tour this summer, don't miss this concert video. It's a keeper.

Copyright 2015 by Peter Reum-All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

No Pier Pressure - review by Peter Reum

It is 2015, and we are living in a time when cynicism and acerbic wit are valued and sincerity is boring and is discounted. There is fear which is palpable in the headlines, and heroes are hard to find. It is a time when people crave truth, and are offered political spin. Relationships are centered in a debate over who can marry instead of asking what marriage can be. As much as the 20th Century was defined by the shadow of nuclear destruction, the 21st Century is being defined by life being taken easily for a cause, almost any cause, however stupid or ill-defined.

Those of us who have lived life long enough to predate Brian Wilson/Beach Boys music remember the time of pop music being different than rhythm and blues. Then came Elvis, Chuck, Buddy, Little Richard, Fats,  and the slide into Frankie Avalon and Fabian. After that, along came Brian Wilson. His compositions reflected Sixties and then Seventies life in a manner that perhaps could only be rivaled by a few other composers.

Brian grew older, and his outlook changed correspondingly. Themes of his writing turned to grief, loss, and years passed, which, upon reflection, caused Brian to wish he could relive those parts of his life over again. There is something about getting older that makes wine age for the better. In a season of renewal, pouring new wine into old skins is deemed to be wasteful. We Boomers have old skins, but somehow Brian has managed to find his way through the last phase of adulthood while living in previous phases at the same time. He has kids who are children of this new century, and his role as a father is important to him. At the same time, his grandchildren from his children of the last century also have him to love and for him to love in return.

Brian's No Pier Pressure album is about his life...feelings that men who have lived most of their life have. Brian was born during World War 2, the war that spawned Existentialism. The theme of Existentialism is about each person being independently responsible for his or her actions as a living conscious human being. The feelings of angst, dread, fear, absurdity, and authenticity all flow from the struggle to bring meaning to our lives. As we age, our perspective toward the future generates anxiety, and our proclivity to look backward in reflection is increased. The challenge to live in the present is harder but more satisfying when it is accomplished. For Brian, this latest album seems to be an opportunity to explore these feelings and express them musically.

In listening to Brian through the years, I have learned to hear the tones of the music first, then to hear the lyrics second. Brian has found a degree of balance in his life, judging by the tone of the music on this album, and clarity of the feelings and their expression in this collection of songs is impressive. The lyrical tone of the album is reflective of the balance he has been able to achieve as a husband, father, grandfather, uncle, and cousin. Brian's Life Suite is embedded in the songs on No Pier Pressure, although they may not be the specific songs he originally envisioned for that suite.

In a recent Billboard interview in the April 11, 2015 issue, Brian touches upon the effect that the adoration from his fans has had upon him. He reflects and states that his harmonies are a way of making a spiritual connection with his fans.  The effect of his music has been to heal the deep hurts and anguish his fans have experienced. That the relationship is reciprocal is intuitively correct, but he comes right out and states that fact in this interview. The balance that is heard in the music and lyrics on No Pier Pressure is also touched upon in the Billboard interview. He mentions that his life has come into a degree of perspective, with loss being countered by gain. When he is asked about his fears, he reflects that although he loves his new biographical motion picture, he feels it dwells "too long in the darkness."

Brian sees No Pier Pressure to be an album about "love and understanding." He indicates that it begins and end with a prayer, naming the two tunes as "This Beautiful Day" and "The Last Song." The album appears to be a Brian Wilson day set to song, based upon the Billboard interview. This impression is born out during the program of songs on No Pier Pressure. In reflecting upon my own recent transition into senior citizenship, and the various routines, emotions, and thoughts that pass through my conscious mind, I found that the songs on No Pier Pressure are not unlike the routines, thoughts, and emotions that pop into my mind.  There is a tendency to look backward, and to feel again the triumphs and failures of years gone by, all the while struggling to live in the present and not fearing the future.

In his invocation for No Pier Pressure, This Beautiful Day, Brian speaks of holding on to "this beautiful day." In "The Last Song," he mentions "there is never enough time for the ones you love." Little children grow and become adults, spouses fall away or die, and we are left alone to reflect and savor this life, this day. The present is all we ever have, yet we think we will live forever when we are young. In 12 step programs, there is an old saying ..."the past is history and tomorrow is a mystery, live for today." This is the very feeling that No Pier Pressure offers, and it is a wise outlook. Another 12 step program adage suggests that we begin and end each day by "Thanking our Higher Power for the gift of life this day." It is no coincidence that Brian ends the interview in Billboard by answering a question about what he would write on a card as John Cusack, playing him does in Love and Mercy, by saying "Thank you, God, for another day."

The songs between the invocation and benediction on No Pier Pressure offer a mix of emotions, mostly based upon different phases of relationships. The playfulness of love is expressed in On the Island and Saturday Night. The beauty of love and trust in a relationship is explored in Our Special Love,  One Kind of Love, and Whatever Happened. Feelings of abandonment, loneliness, and reunification are touched upon in Tell Me Why and Half Moon Bay. The uncertainty of change and escaping life's trials flows through The Right Time, Runaway Dancer, and Sail Away. Guess You Had to Be There chronicles the feeling of how fame is at first wished for, and then rued when the reality of being famous hits hard.

In the end, No Pier Pressure is an album about coming to terms with it is, not how we want it to be. It is the work of a man who has sailed through life's trials, emerging stronger because of the struggles, savoring each day as a gift, a new day to be lived fully despite the painful memories, loss, changes, and storms. Sail on, sailor.