Friday, July 13, 2012

Musical Genius, Magic, and Fun Fun Fun ... The Beach Boys Live

The famous bandmates: (L-R) Brian Wilson, David Marks, Mike Love, Bruce Johnston, Al Jardine
(Calgary, Alberta) -- It's not everyday that I get to see a true creative genius up close, but on Wednesday, I had such a rare opportunity.

This musician and his band came to Calgary to put on a little concert during the Calgary Stampede.

The man in question is Brian Wilson, and his band of course, is the Beach Boys.

It's hard to believe the guys from Hawthorne, California first got together 50 years ago. Wilson and company were just teenagers when they started playing.  But the music these guys created was indeed genius.

As I watched Wednesday night's three-hour extravaganza (yes, three hours), you could feel that same magic that took the world by storm in the sixties, when the Beach Boys created the “California” sound, with their focus on surfing, cars and the California lifestyle.

Until they performed together at the Grammy Awards earlier this year, the current five long-time members (Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, David Marks, and Bruce Johnston) had not performed together in years.

But from their opening number, Do It Again to the close with Fun, Fun, Fun, hearing their vocal harmonies (arranged by Wilson) again, it was just like it was the 1960s all over again, giving credence to the thought that time is just an illusion.

Two of the band's original members, brothers Carl and Dennis Wilson, have passed on, but they were nonetheless present during the show.

The lights were dimmed on the stage as Brian paid tribute to his brother Dennis, who was then shown on the video screen behind the band singing Forever. Following that, the video tribute continued, this time with Carl Wilson, who took the lead on God Only Knows, as the rest of the band stood in silence for the song viewed by many as one of the greatest tunes of all time, and one that Paul McCartney himself once said was his favorite song.

It was a most fitting way to honor their two bandmates.

In all, the band played over 40 songs over the course of three hours. Of course, with so many hits, it would have been impossible to do a show that was any shorter.

Though Mike Love has always been the most visible image of the band, taking center stage as the frontman for the group (and taking lead vocals on many of their songs), Brian Wilson was the creative driver of the band. He wrote, composed, and produced much of the music that defined the band. (Love himself still refers to his cousin Brian as the leader of the band.)

So while Love took the lead in concert, Wilson ran the show in the studio. By nature, Wilson has always been a more introverted, reserved individual. I found myself often turning my gaze away from center stage, and focusing on Wilson, seated at his piano on the right side of the stage. He wasn't always playing the piano, but he was adding his unique voice into the mix of the band's vocal harmonies.

There was a chilling moment in the second half of the show, when the spotlight shone on Wilson, the rest of the stage in darkness, as he sang the opening bars to Good Vibrations. I could have sworn it was 1966 again, not 2012.

Another great moment for me was near the end, as Wilson emerged from the piano to play bass – his original instrument in the band – on Barbara Ann.

Meanwhile, at center stage, Mike Love was the same force as always, flanked by guitarists Al Jardine and David Marks, two steady, solid performers. And at stage left, on the keyboard, was the other man who's been a very visible face of the band for some time, Bruce Johnston. Love and Johnston have a great repertoire on stage, chatting with each other and the crowd between songs.

As a performer, Johnston adds great energy to the Beach Boys shows.

All in all, it was a rare night. It's not everyday that you get to see one of music's greatest bands perform live, much less in a special 50th anniversary concert featuring the original band members.

I've seen some legendary performers live, but I'm having a difficult time recalling any artists I've seen who can match the performance of the Beach Boys on this night -- not even the Rolling Stones.

Yes, genius is the word to describe the musical creativity unleashed on the world by Brian Wilson and this iconic band from Southern California.

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