There are some shows one just does not miss. And if this sounds like an odd pairing, well, it was. And it was magical in all sorts of ways.
First up: Brian Wilson, or rather 11 musicians performing a tribute to Brian Wilson with Brian Wilson in attendance. Opening softly with an ethereal 10 voice a cappella version of the Four Freshmen’s “Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring,” the set made a compelling case that Wilson is in the pantheon of great American composers/arrangers, alongside Copeland, Bernstein, Rodgers, etc. Or would have been had he kept it together. Which, obviously and famously, he didn’t. There’s something both disconcerting and bittersweet about watching this obviously damaged genius be a near non-participant in his own performance. But no matter. Until the orchestral ensemble (augmented with original Beach Boys Al Jardine and David Marks, who both sparkled) devolved into running through the thumpy and treacly early Beach Boys hits to close the set, we were treated to an odd and adventurous set full of beauty and wonder. The 1-2 punch of “Heroes and Villains” and “God Only Knows” (which Wilson mumbled was “my greatest achievement as a songwriter”) was simply devastating.
And then it was hello, Jeff Beck. Yowsa. With monsto-drummer Jonathan Joseph and former Prince bassist Rhonda Smith in tow, the band opened with Billy Cobham’s “Stratus” and raged through a set of raw funk-fusion that was jaw-dropping. Do hipsters know about this kind of music? I think not. Damn. Beck’s guitar was, as always, totally loud and in yer face, which was refreshing given that Brian Wilson’s sound mix was . . . well, shall we say it was appropriate for a PBS fundraiser? The set was loose and Beck was on fire. Crazy brilliant. Effortless. No one plays with more humanity, playfulness or passion. I can almost forgive him for breaking up the second Jeff Beck Group back in ’72. Bastard.
And then the bands merged. It kind of worked. First they played what I’m guessing were tunes from Wilson’s upcoming album: slow, bluesy numbers with Beck soloing furiously and the Wilson camp adding all sorts of 4-5 party-harmony oohs and aahs in the background. The back-screen showed lots of sun-soaked church windows, which was about right. Then a gloriously sloppy take on the Delta blues classic “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” straight out of one of those 2 AM blues jams in a corner bar, back when we all used to drink. What? Then Beck’s unnecessary but crowd-pleasing version of “A Day In The Life,” and a couple more stupid Beach Boys songs (blown up by hysterically inappropriate Beck solos).
Then “Danny Boy.” Freakin’ Danny Boy. As beautiful as anything you’ve ever heard. Nite.