When I was asked the question ‘Do you want to cover Brian Wilson at the Royal Festival Hall?’ Pet Sounds started to flicker in front of my eyes. Like a musical ticker tape in neon yellows, sunrise oranges, deep atlantic blues.
Without missing a heartbeat I said ‘YES’. I then went back to shivering at my desk in my 60 deniers debating what soup to have for lunch.
Had I realised before jumping in with both feet that the full title of the event was ‘Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin and Performs His Greatest Hits’ I would of course still said yes. However I am unsure if Gershwin has an equivalent of ‘Sloop John B’ and would of accepted with a more muted/panicked response and spent the next few hours Googling Gershwin, trying to uncover if he has a YouTube channel and not spent so much time on the eternal soup question.
“But of course I know Gershwin” my brain sirens. The moment Brian Wilson and his fourteen strong band launch into Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, Porgy & Bess and They Can’t Take That Away From Me, I found myself singing along with the majority-retired audience. The originals have a sweet but melancholy sound. Brian Wilson’s reimagining is exactly what you would expect from him, upbeat California surfer covers that have everyone’s toes tapping.
It did beg the question “How many people are here to hear the hits though?” Everyone was on his or her feet the moment Beach Boy melodies filled the Royal Festival Hall. Even those I’d seen struggle in on walking sticks earlier in the evening. It really was the hits. Wouldn’t It Be Nice, Good Vibrations, Don’t Worry Baby & Surfin’ USA. Heroes & Villains, showed off just how talented everyone on stage was, there really is something spine tingling about a live orchestra if you’re a music lover.
For me personally, his rendition of God Only Knows, all pale blue spotlights focusing solely on him, was the most heartfelt moment of the evening. The standing ovation from the whole venue after echoes my feeling.
It’s well documented that Brian Wilson has struggled with his health due to drug abuse. His shuffling entrance and gait on stage clear evidence of his battle with illness. But what stood out most is that I was clearly watching a hugely talented, genius songwriter with a well-loved, vast back catalogue.
Perhaps his über talented band helped raise the performance to the energetic level needed for a 2.5 hour set (a mixture of veteran and fresh faced musicians) but all eyes were still on the Beach Boy.
They somehow evoked the spirit of kitsch Christmas and never-ending summer all in to one, and they just don’t write melodies like that anymore do they?