The reason I bought the audio cassette of Brian Wilson's self-titled debut solo album in 1988 (yes, kids, back in the day, we listened to music on these things called "tapes") was because Electric Light Orchestra mastermind Jeff Lynne produced one of the songs, the delightful pop confection, "Let It Shine." I've followed Wilson's post-Beach Boys career since then, equally admiring of his inarguable musical genius (Pet Sounds—in yo face, Beatles!) and fascinated by his well-documented bouts with mental illness (the film, I Just Wasn't Made for These Times, covers that topic).
Well, a pair of tickets to the Brian Wilson concert last night at the Wiltern in Los Angeles fell into my lap (thanks to dedicated blog reader, Lucy G., whose generosity apparently knows no bounds—holla!), so Loren and I were thrilled because we've been listening to Wilson's new album, That Lucky Old Sun, repeatedly for weeks now.
Backed by a ten-piece band (with a five-person string section and an accordion player appearing about a third into the concert), the first set and encore were chock full of Beach Boys hits. It was a bit overwhelming. I mean, you name it, they played it—and beautifully at that.
And I do believe last night was the first time I've heard an actual theremin live. (By the way, have you seen the good and strange documentary, Theremin: An Electric Odyssey?)
The highlight, for me, however, was Wilson's second set, in which he performed That Lucky Old Sun from beginning to end, with barely enough pauses to give the audience time to clap in between songs. Goddamn, I thought, this is a man who still believes in the idea of the "album"—in the idea that, sure, you can enjoy a choice track or two on its own, but the culminative effect of all the songs put together in order is something transcendent.
That Lucky Old Sun is a concept album about living and dreaming in California and, more specifically, in Los Angeles. Many will appreciate the album for its lovely melodies, beautiful harmonies, and layers and layers of brilliant instrumentation, but residents of Los Angeles will find special resonance, will probably absorb it on a deeper level.
But Wilson is also dealing with universal themes of love, longing, and the pursuit of happiness that are sure to strike a chord with anyone.
On one of the final tracks on the album, "Goin' Home," Wilson gets personal. It was hard not to choke up a bit when—referencing his psychological problems— he sang, "At 25 I turned out the light/'Cause I couldn't handle the glare in my tired eyes/But now I'm back/Drawing shades of kinder sky." Can you fucking believe that?!
Take a listen to "Morning Beat," the album's second track:
(Of course, I do feel a tad like a douchebag for attempting to write something intelligent about Brian Wilson, given I know people who are like actual worldwide authorities on the man—you know who you are—holla! But, hey, I write for the common people!)