Brian Wilson brings Gershwin to the Jube
At his Regina show on Friday night, legendary Beach Boys impresario Brian Wilson – he who once lay in bed for three years — reportedly took to the stage in sweatpants and a dress shirt. He played, he talked, he rambled and mumbled a bit disconnectedly.
Fans loved it. But that’s the nature of fandom. It’s short for “fanatic” for a reason.
Wilson, 69, has struggled with emotional ill-health and mental illness for years, as well as years of drug abuse, as well as being drugged and controlled by a Svengali psychotherapist/manager.
Over the decades, much has been made of his musical genius, of Pet Sounds and Good Vibrations and his contribution to the California sound. Of course, 40 years later, his revolutionary use of multitracking and reverb is all a bit quaint; we live in an era where a workstation running pro tools can render 64 tracks simultaneously and mix them down to 7.0 surround sound in less time that in takes to hang a serious wave into shore. Just as “I get around,” is about as provocative now as a Perry Como Christmas Special, the California sound is little more than the background track in an old rerun. People have forgotten that he influenced a generation of musicians, which is why he’s the subject of Hollywood’s latest big biopic project.
And that says something about tonight’s show right there: as with Ray Charles before him, Brian Wilson is not of this generation. The relevance is far more cultural to the wider audience than it is musical. You can expect a good percentage of tonight’s concert-goers to be as silvery domed as the chrome on a ’62 Vette, and for these folks, Brian Wilson isn’t a man out-of-time, or a rock trivia question, or even a Behind The Music episode: he’s the man behind the band that built California.
When the Beach Boys came up, California was still relatively untamed compared to today. Sure, the big cities were still big cities. But rural California, places like Big Sur country, were still sparsely populated and the hippies had yet to move in from the east. By the time the band’s hit-making career was on the wane, its members had gone the route of the long-haired free thinker, and Wilson was downing enough LSD and barbiturates to topple the Jolly Green Giant.
But by then, everyone was surfin’ USA. Combined with Sandy Koufax, Hollywoood, skateboarding, and – a little later – Cheech and Chong , surfing music was one of the keys to “California cool” among kids around the world.
So now, years later and after piles of self-abuse and mistreatment by the kind of people who use the emotionally sensitive for their own ends, Wilson shambles around a bit, and dresses strangely, and does weird audience participation numbers like Row, Row, Row Your Boat occasionally, and still appears way more concerned with his own creative vision – these days, he’s reinterpreting Gershwin – than with public or media perception of his efforts.
And maybe that’s just because he really is preoccupied with bigger things. Oh sure, California was big before he got there. But it was never as grandiose as it was in the years right after the early Rock and Roll era, when Brian Wilson helped build modern pop culture.
On stage, at this point, he can wear whatever he damn well wants.
Brian Wilson plays the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium tonight at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available from Ticketmaster here.