Brian Wilson went on tour in the United States in the year 2000 to perform the Pet Sounds album with an orchestra a project so popular that he took the show to other parts of the world in 2001 and 2002. Performances at the Royal Festival Hall in London were recorded, and Pet Sounds Live was released in 2002.
Wilson did a short tour of several dates in small venues during August 2002, which included a stop at the Theater of the Living Arts in Philadelphia. What follows is the advance story that I wrote for the Pet Sounds tour before it began and a review of the concert at the TLA in Philadelphia in August 2002.
After a self-imposed exile of a couple of decades, off and on, Brian Wilson went back out on the road last year to promote Imagination, his first solo album of new material in 10 years. By all accounts, the return of the former Beach Boy was triumphant, even though nobody had any inkling how the singer/composer would deal with his legendary stage fright.
"It was kind of hard to go out on stage at first, but once I got up there, it was pretty cool," Wilson said in a telephone interview. "It's an honor to perform for people, especially when you get a standing ovation."
The response was so overwhelming that the creative genius behind the Beach Boys is undertaking his most ambitious road project since the mid-1960s. On Friday, Wilson will embark on the first leg of the Pet Sounds Symphony Tour, which includes 17 dates through the end of July.
The tour has two local stops on Saturday, July 8, at the Tropicana Resort & Casino in Atlantic City and on Friday, July 14, at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts, at 52nd Street and Parkside Avenue in Fairmount Park. At the Tropicana, Wilson will perform with his nine-member backup band, but there will be a full orchestra at the Mann Center show.
The tour will mark the first time the album will be performed in its entirety.
"My wife and manager got together and suggested that I try it out on stage, so we decided to see how it would work," said Wilson. "I'm looking forward to it, especially with an orchestra. I think the orchestra makes the music sound real good."
Pet Sounds achieved monumental status almost as much for what it wasn't as for what it was. It wasn't a typical Beach Boys album, but it was a turning point for Wilson and the band.
The Beach Boys were formed in 1961 with the Wilson brothers Brian, Carl and Dennis cousin Mike Love and neighbor Al Jardine. (Jardine left for a while and later returned. David Marks replaced him on the first four albums.) After a regional hit on an independent label, the band signed with Capitol Records and turned out seven albums and numerous hit singles from 1962 through '65.
Brian had composed most of the music and assumed the role as the Beach Boys producer with the third album (Little Deuce Coupe). Wilson eventually stopped touring with the band by 1965 and was replaced by Bruce Johnston. While the rest of the Beach Boys were touring, Brian teamed with lyricist Tony Asher, hired the best studio musicians in Los Angeles and created Pet Sounds. The rest of the band later added the vocals to the musical tracks.
Although the 1966 release spawned two hit singles, Wouldn't It Be Nice and Sloop John B, which became staples of the band's live shows, it wasn't the normal uplifting melodies about surfing and cars. It was more about the coming of age of Wilson, who was all of 24 years of age when he created his masterpiece.
"That's what it was meant to be," he said. "I wanted people to feel the things that I felt in my heart."
Pet Sounds supposedly was Wilson's response to the Beatles' Rubber Soul. After a couple of years on the road, the Fab Four had outgrown their mop-top image and began to write more personal, introspective songs on Rubber Soul and Revolver. Wilson responded with Pet Sounds, and interestingly, one of its biggest fans was Paul McCartney, who called the album his favorite of all time and claimed that it led him to the more-creative heights that resulted in Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Wilson acknowledged that there was a creative rivalry between him and his counterparts from Liverpool.
"Very much so," he said. "And it was a good rivalry, a good trip. It was a mutual-inspiration trip. They inspired me, and I inspired them."
But the public might not have been as inspired at the time. Although the album made it to No. 10 on the charts, it was disappointing for a Beach Boys' effort.
"I was a little disappointed, but I kind of knew that it wasn't going to be a smash," Wilson said. "I don't know why. I just had a feeling that it wasn't going to make it because I did it for artistic reasons rather than commercial reasons."
The Beach Boys returned to the top of the charts with their biggest hit, Good Vibrations, which Wilson once referred to as a "pocket symphony," in 1967, but the hits began to fade after that. Although the band continued to enjoy success on concert tours, Wilson eventually became a recluse during much of the 1970s and beyond, although he eventually returned and performed with the group on occasion.
In a 1995 video documentary, I Just Wasn't Made For These Times, he spoke candidly about the abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of his father, Murray Wilson, and of his drug abuse during the late '60s and '70s.
"I was taking a lot of drugs," he acknowledged. "I'd smoke marijuana because it helped me concentrate on my music. I'd sit at the piano and write (music) about the way that I felt."
The accompanying soundtrack to the video was one of several projects that Wilson worked on in the last several years. He also appeared on several tracks on The Wilsons with daughters Carnie and Wendy, who once were two-thirds of the pop trio Wilson Phillips (You're In Love).
Brian divorced the girls' mother, Marilyn, in 1979 after 15 years of marriage. In 1995, he married Melinda Ledbetter and has two more daughters, Daria and Delanie, from that union.
Pet Sounds seems to have received more accolades over the years than it did in 1966, which leads to the question that the album, like Brian, might have been a little ahead of its time.
"I don't know if it was or not," Wilson said. "I think it was appropriate for me at the time, but it was ahead of its time as a production."
Brian Wilson may have regained the kind of adulation from fans that he hasn't enjoyed since the 1960s.
Approached by his wife and manager to take his most memorable music on the road, the founder and creative force of the Beach Boys embarked on the Pet Sounds Symphony Tour in 2000. More than two years later, Wilson is still reaping the benefits of that decision, and local fans had a chance to see him up close and personal on Sunday night at the intimate Theater of the Living Arts.
At 8 p.m. sharp, Wilson took the stage with an 11-piece backup band and sat down at a set of keyboards set up on the front of the stage. As the night progressed, it appeared that Wilson's keyboards were more of a prop to make him feel comfortable, since he rarely played them.
It didn't really matter as the ensemble contained all of the standards of a traditional rock band, including several guitars (up to four at one point), two other keyboards, two sets of drums and a bass guitar. An assortment of other instruments popped up as needed on various songs. There was a banjo, flute, trumpet, xylophone, clarinet and a baritone sax.
One female backup singer had plenty of help as everyone sang harmonies, except the bass player and one of the drummers.
Wilson's opening set contained cuts from various albums some less known than others. After opening with an a cappella number, he immediately went into California Girls and Dance, Dance, Dance, which had fans tapping their feet and swaying to the beat as they imagined blue-eyed blondes dancing on the beach. This was apparently what people had come to see.
However, Wilson had some more messages that were delivered through titles such as Good Timing, Easy Doing Nothing, Imagination and Melt Away. He wound up the 40-minute set with the a cappella Our Prayer, which segued into Heroes and Villains, and finished with a few more Beach Boys tunes, including Surf's Up and Do It Again.
Wilson then left the stage while one of the members introduced everyone in the band. He returned five minutes later to begin Pet Sounds. This album, which has gained increasing fame through the years since its 1966 release, is played in its entirety, and the arrangements are generally true to the original record.
Wouldn't It Be Nice kicked off the second half and was one of the highlights of the show. You Still Believe in Me was also pretty.
At this point, Wilson attempted to banter with the audience. Things were a little slow at first, but his attempts got better as the evening progressed.
An interesting note is that Wilson includes Sloop John B in the show. Although it was not one of the Pet Sounds tracks that Wilson had created with session musicians, Capitol Records insisted that it be included in the album because it was the band's latest hit single at the time. Beach Boys guitarist Al Jardine was a fan of folk music, and he sang lead on the record, which was a remake of a traditional folk song from the early part of the 20th century. Brian's version was good.
Wilson introduced the next tune by saying, "Paul McCartney says this is his favorite record."
McCartney has long been known to like God Only Knows, and the crowd seemed mesmerized as Wilson went though the song that seems to cast a spell on people.
The last highlight of the Pet Sounds portion was the title track.
"I wrote this song for a James Bond movie, but it was turned down," Wilson said.
It was Cubby Broccoli's loss because Pet Sounds, an instrumental, sounds like a typical theme from a mid-'60s Bond movie.
Wilson described Caroline No as a "pretty ballad," which it is, but a ballad is no way to end a live show. So Wilson finished with Good Vibrations, a cut that had its beginnings during the Pet Sounds sessions, was released the following year (1967) and was one of the Beach Boys' top-selling singles. It sounded great, and the arrangement was true to the record.
It also left the crowd begging for more, so Wilson returned for a six-song encore of old Beach Boys tunes Surfer Girl, Help Me, Rhonda, I Get Around, Barbara Ann (featuring Brian on bass), Surfin' USA and Fun, Fun, Fun.
Wilson and the band returned for a second encore, which was a simple, a cappella rendition of Love and Mercy.
In the TLA lobby, copies of the new Pet Sounds Live CD and other items were on sale, and after the show, Wilson had an autograph session set up. However, if you didn't have the right CD or hadn't paid a fee, you didn't get an autograph, and you were quickly escorted out of the theater not a pleasant way to end what had been an enjoyable concert.