Brian Wilson’s ‘Pet Sounds’ in Morristown: A visit from on high

Matt Jardine grins as Brian Wilson halts the first song of 'Pet Sounds' show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Matt Jardine grins as Brian Wilson halts the first song of 'Pet Sounds' show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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If Moses himself came back to recite the Ten Commandments, would you buy a ticket?

Of course you would.

If they wheeled out Mozart for his Jupiter symphony, you wouldn’t let a couple centuries of … inactivity dissuade you from attending, right?

Right.

That’s how it felt Thursday at Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center for Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds: The Final Performances show.

Brian Wilson sings at 'Pet Sounds' show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Brian Wilson sings at ‘Pet Sounds’ show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Nobody came there expecting Brian Wilson to strut around the stage or reach for his celestial vocals from the ’60s. He’s battled too many demons over the decades. Performing never was his passion, anyway.  It was his studio genius, his obsessive quest for recorded perfection, that makes him worthy of inclusion on any Mt. Rushmore of rock and roll.

Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin:

Matt Jardine and Brian Wilson at 'Pet Sounds' show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Original Beach Boys Brian Wilson and Al Jardine at 'Pet Sounds' show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Brian Wilson sings at 'Pet Sounds' show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Al Jardine at Brian Wilson 'Pet Sounds' show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Blondie Chaplin at Brian Wilson 'Pet Sounds' show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Keyboardist Darian Sahanaja at Brian Wilson 'Pet Sounds' show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Darian Sahanaja and att Jardine at Brian Wilson 'Pet Sounds' show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Paul Von Mertens at Brian Wilson 'Pet Sounds' show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Bob Lizik at Brian Wilson 'Pet Sounds' show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Gary Griffin and Darian Sahanaja at Brian Wilson 'Pet Sounds' show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Al Jardine at Brian Wilson 'Pet Sounds' show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Brian Wilson at 'Pet Sounds' show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Brian Wilson, left, and Al Jardine 'Pet Sounds' show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Brian Wilson at 'Pet Sounds' show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Matt Jardine, Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin at Brian Wilson 'Pet Sounds' show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Taking a bow at Brian Wilson 'Pet Sounds' show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Virtually motionless behind a piano, as if etched in granite, Wilson, 76, cracked a smile just once — when he stopped his band seconds into the opening tune, California Girls.

Al Jardine at Brian Wilson 'Pet Sounds' show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Al Jardine at Brian Wilson ‘Pet Sounds’ show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“Hold it, hold it! I just had back surgery, and I can’t turn now!” he blurted out, eliciting big grins from band mates who included Al Jardine of the original Beach Boys.

About two hours later, the packed house emptied onto South Street with plenty of smiles, too.

Patrons had experienced a tribute to one of the greats, by superb musicians who love the man and his music as much as they do. And California’s Mozart was there, front and center, to bask in the adoration…and even to approximate a vocal now and then.

The Beach Boys signature high harmonies were supplied by longtime keyboardist Darian Sahanaja — the bandleader who previously helped resurrect Wilson’s epic Smile project for curious 21st century audiences– and Al Jardine’s son, Matt Jardine.

Matt was born in 1966, the same year Pet Sounds perplexed fans and critics alike.

Darian Sahanaja and att Jardine at Brian Wilson 'Pet Sounds' show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Darian Sahanaja and att Jardine at Brian Wilson ‘Pet Sounds’ show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Said to be inspired by the Beatles’ Rubber Soul, and an inspiration for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album ranks high on some all-time lists.

A harbinger of “concept” albums to come, Pet Sounds‘ musically complex takes on adolescent longing were a departure from the bouncy surf tunes that established the Beach Boys as Top 40 kings.

Still, Pet Sounds yielded some pop gems: Wouldn’t It Be Nice; Sloop John B; Caroline, No, and the luscious God Only Knows

The band’s second-half performance of the entire album included nifty guitar solos by Nicky Wonder on the Pet Sounds title track, an instrumental Wilson envisioned as a James Bond theme song (working title: Run, James, Run). Throughout, Paul Von Mertens excelled on just about every wind instrument short of a vape.

Thursday’s audience responded politely at the set’s completion. The energy level spiked appreciably from the first notes of Good Vibrations, Wilson’s masterpiece that was released soon after Pet Sounds.

Blondie Chaplin at Brian Wilson 'Pet Sounds' show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Blondie Chaplin at Brian Wilson ‘Pet Sounds’ show at MPAC, July 19, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Standing ovations followed in rapid succession as the 12-piece band roared through an encore set of Greatest Hits including All Summer Long; Barbara Ann; Surfin’ USA, and Fun, Fun, Fun.

Al Jardine, 75, was in fine form singing Help Me Rhonda.

Another highlight: Blondie Chaplin, Beach Boys guitarist from the early ’70s, firing off riffs while doing a shuffling stutter-step during his big number, Sail On, Sailor.

Brian Wilson closed with Love and Mercy, a tender ballad that poses more vocal challenges for him than when he wrote it 30 years ago. Which made it that much more poignant:

Hey, love and mercy, that’s what we need tonight
So love and mercy to you and your friends tonight

Right back at you, Brian.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Kevin, thank you for the wonderful article on Brian Wilson’s concert. It was excellent as was the concert.

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