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