One of the things I kept hearing about the summer tour pairing of Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck was how “unlikely” it was, even “inappropriate”, as if there’s no way fans of elaborate vocal constructions might also enjoy hotshot guitar playing, or something. But on stage at the Greek last week, the two men shared a stage and an audience with no apparent friction, even joining forces toward the end of Beck’s set for a series of inspired collaborations that proved this odd couple could achieve perfect harmony.
Wilson has become a reliable performer in recent years, keeping one of rock’s tightest and most detail-oriented bands mostly intact since his return to the stage in 1999. Though his voice has not regained the powerful top end that vanished in the early seventies, he’s now singing the leads with confidence. For this show, fellow Beach Boys Al Jardine and David Marks joined the crew, along with seventies-era vocalist Blondie Chaplin, making his first LA appearance with Wilson in nearly forty years. Chaplin delivered a standout “Sail On Sailor” early in the set, before the group burst into the entirety of Pet Sounds, a semi-surprise change to the repertoire (though not advertised as such, Wilson’s website had leaked news to the faithful earlier in the week.) A deeply moving “God Only Knows” was the concert equivalent of a group hug, while the visionary’s lament ” I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times”, with Jardine trading the echoing lines at the end, was the true tear-jerker in the set list.
(Full review and photo gallery after the jump.)
I have to confess to a middling knowledge of Jeff Beck’s catalog and history – the one album of his I’ve spent much time with in the last ten years was 2010’s Emotion and Commotion, which one Beckhead friend of mine referred to as his “commercial sellout album.” But that turn to the accessible could explain why I enjoyed that record, and this set, so much. I was expecting something much more on the level of the Return to Forever show I saw a year or two ago, where highly ornamented playing would be the order of the night. But though his supporting cast are all scary-good players, there was surprisingly little in the way of noodly solos. Instead we got some beautifully crafted pieces with complex structures that took their time unfolding, and a handful of covers with Beck’s guitar taking the familiar vocal line. Even on the Billy Cobham fusion standard “Stratus”, the key qualities on view were menace and restraint. While I’ve never been a huge champion of Beck’s, I wouldn’t argue the general point that of all the old English guys, he probably is the technically best guitar player of all of them. And you don’t have to be a student at Guitar Institute to get into it – it’s not only impressive technically, it’s impressive emotionally.
It was never more impressive than on the collaborative version of “Surf’s Up”, one of Wilson’s greatest songs, with Beck’s guitar taking the soaring lead melody, hanging over the pristine symphonic arrangement executed perfectly by Wilson’s group. Even staunch loyalists for the two opposing sides must have nodded at each other in agreement once that was over.
(Bob Lee contributed to this review.)