Friday night tunes; Brian Wilson showcases Beach Boys' soul stirring, joyful hits

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Jul. 4—I remember my buddies and me, when we saw the Rolling Stones for the first time on Halloween 1981 at the Cotton Bowl, quipping how lucky we were to finally be able to see them, saying, "Man, these guys are almost 40. There's no way they can keep doing this much longer."

Ha! Little did we know then that they, and many of their contemporaries, would still be rolling along, and, in some cases, still making good music, long past our 40th birthdays.

At 80, which he turned last week, Brian Wilson doesn't actually do much performance wise nowadays. Led to his piano bench in a wheelchair — the result of recent back troubles — Wilson spent most of his June 24 concert at Dos Equis Pavilion largely inanimate punctuated by occasional bouts of playing and singing. His band, which also consists of former Beach Boys Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin, looked to be having a ball, however, and more than happy to handle the heavy lifting.

By Contrast, Paul McCartney, who also just turned 80, still gets a kick out of touring as evidenced by his recent Fort Worth performance.

What, if any, joy Wilson derives from life on the road at this point is anybody's guess. It must hold some appeal though given that he, like McCartney, could just as easily say the heck with it, kick back in his mansion and count his piles of money instead. Maybe the drive to create and perform outweighs that. Only Wilson knows for sure.

Friday's hits-heavy performance played out less traditional concert and more enthusiastic tribute to Wilson by the band and fans who love him. From the classic intro of "California Girls" to the closing notes of "Fun, Fun, Fun," hit after hit blasted from the stage, a six-decade song catalog so incorporated into our collective DNA that, Beach Boys fan or not, most everyone knows by heart. Friday's — well, frankly pretty magical — performance reminded anew why those songs were so special to begin with and why they remain so decades on.

Wilson's periodic vocals during parts of "God Only Knows" and "Heroes and Villains," elicited the night's most boisterous applause with the latter song delivering the one of the highest of highlights in a night filled with musical peaks. He sounded good too. Certainly age has diminished Wilson's dulcet voice that delivered teenage symphonies to God in the '60s and '70s, but not by much.

Chaplin took the stage several songs in to sing his Beach Boys signature song, "Sail On Sailor," as well two Carl Wilson classics, "Long Promised Road" and "Wild Honey," which soared courtesy of an extended guitar break outro.

Chaplin, in a neat aside, uttered "Hi Bob" at one point no doubt making the day of one fan walking in front of the stage presumably on his way to the bathroom or beer tent.

In another nice touch, Jardine flipped the lyrics of "Sloop John B" from, "This is the worst trip I've ever been on" to "this is a best," offering reminder that even in these confused, divided times ... goodness and hope remain possible.

Three members of Chicago joined in — the band performed after Wilson's show — to add horns during "Darlin.'" Fitting given that the Beach Boys and Chicago toured together in the early '70s and several times since, not to mention that Jardine and Dennis and Carl Wilson sang harmony on Chicago's 1974 hit "Wishing You Were Here."

Elsewhere younger band members Darian Sahanaja and Jardine's son, Matt Jardine, supplied high harmonies keeping the show spirited and fresh throughout.

"Good Vibrations," "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "I Get Around," "Surfer Girl," "Surfin' USA" and other timeless gems rounded out the set. Even at that the band could've played four times as long given the breadth and quality of the Beach Boys' catalog.

Sadly, Wilson performed none of his solo songs. "Love and Mercy," which he's performed elsewhere on the tour would've been a welcome addition. Other than that small quibble, Friday's show came off note perfect, better than expected.

Evident too from Friday's crowd response was that Wilson, probably more so than any other musical legend, is someone fans most love, care and worry over. In part because of his life of dizzying heights and crushing lows from ongoing mental illness challenges to the loss of his brothers, abusive father to the crash and subsequent glorious revival of the "Smile" album. Mostly though it's the music I'd hazard Wilson being, when it comes to true American musical geniuses, a man with few peers.

Not to mention the chance to stand in the same room with the guy who created "Surfer Girl," "Pet Sounds" and so much more of the best, most life affirming music of the past 60 years.

Friday's concertgoers ranged from well past AARP eligibility to high school or younger on the age spectrum, with pretty much everyone knowing the words and singing along to all the songs.

Gazing back from my sweet eighth row seat toward the lawn section of Dos Equis Pavilion, I noticed two 20-something girls dancing to "I Can Hear Music."

In one of those weird curveballs of elasticity time occasionally throws out, I, in a state of wonder, sat briefly unsure whether I was watching girls dance in 1963, '68, '74, '82, 2022 or any of the years in between.

Could just as easily have been two girls grooving to Beethoven's latest symphony in 1800 for that matter. A testament then not only to the timelessness of the Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys but to all great music. Proof, too, I think, that, along with your people and dogs, music — all art really — is probably the greatest gift God ever gave us, though Phoebe Cates and chicken fried steak aren't far behind.

Whether 2022 turns out to be Wilson's — McCartney, the Rolling Stones, too, for that matter — last go-around live performance wise remains to be seen. But the year, and Friday's Wilson concert, also brought assurance that their music will almost certainly live on long after they, and we, are long gone.