This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC – 10.7.13
In the history of rock, there have been some odd concert pairings. In 1966, I saw The Who, in the middle of their smash-their-instruments phrase, precede the cuddly British pop idols Herman’s Hermits. In his early days, Bruce Springsteen opened for both Chicago and Anne Murray. Perhaps the strangest combination of all involved the 8 dates when Jimi Hendrix set the stage for the Monkees and their screaming teenage fans.
On 1st glance, many felt that same way about the announcement that Brian Wilson, the songwriting leader of the Beach Boys, would be touring with rock fusion guitar god Jeff Beck, who began his career so many years ago in The Yardbirds, the same British Invasion band that produced Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page.
But actually there are similarities between Wilson and Beck that make the pairing look sensible. Beck has long professed to admiring the surf sound, a sound which Wilson is credited with perfecting. Both he and Wilson have a costly collection of restored, classic cars. And both perfectionists have turned their backs on the process of making hits, instead creating music that pushes boundaries and establishes new heights of groundbreaking artistry.
But no one really had any idea exactly what to expect when two of rock’s most enigmatic geniuses actually took the same stage, not just in separate sets with their bands, but also in 2 mini-sets together.
Last weekend, the tour came to DC’s Warner Theater and I can attest that the intriguing pairing not only works, it works brilliantly, providing some of the most glorious music that will be heard on any stage this year.
Wilson opens each concert with a hour-long set of Beach Boys favorites he wrote. He is joined by his 8-piece band and 2 members of the original Beach Boys grouping, Al Jardine and David Marks. The last time Wilson appeared in the DC area it was at an outdoor concert for the Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Tour. On that night, the now 71-year-old Wilson, buried back on the stage behind his piano, seemed ill at ease, oblivious to much of what was going on around him and even missing many of the musical notes he had so painstakingly composed in his youth.
But it was a much different Wilson on the Warner stage. With his piano now positioned front stage, he often awkwardly, but animatedly, waved his arms, spoke to the crowd, and even provided background for some of the classics that have been thrilling fans since the early 60s.
The Wilson portion of the show was divided into 3 segments. The ensemble, which was far superior to the group that Beach Boy and Wilson cousin Mike Love put together for the Anniversary jaunt, provided the perfect harmonies and instrumental backing for the 4-song hit segment that opened the show on an upbeat note -“California Girls” and “Do It Again” segued into 2 classic car numbers “409” and “Little Deuce Coupe.” That was followed by a 11-song string that included many of Wilson’s more complex numbers such as “Heroes and Villains” and “Pet Sounds”. Finally, a symmetric, 4-song segment of smashes – “Good Vibrations”, “Help Me, Rhonda”, “I Get Around”, and “Fun, Fun, Fun” – brought the crowd to its feet and closed the Wilson-only portion of the night..
The stage was quickly cleared and Beck, in his trademark sleeveless shirt, and his 4-piece supporting group took the spotlight. For an hour, Beck, 69, amazed and astounded as he steered the crowd through a series of searing, soaring, and, at times haunting and hypnotic, instrumentals. Each dynamic song was a highlight in and of itself, but for those looking for more accessible numbers, Beck included magnificent versions of “Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix and his show-closer The Beatles “A Day in the Life”. During the middle of the set, Beck and his band were joined by Wilson and the singing members of his group for intriguing explorations of 3 melodic Wilson songs – “Our Prayer”, “Child Is the Father of the Man”, and “Surf’s Up”. After a fast-paced take on the blues standard “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” and the aforementioned “Day in the Life,” Beck and his band exited the stage.
The show concluded with 2 encores performed by all the members of both bands. In the 1st, the conglomeration offered its uptempo take on 2 classic California surf scene classics – “Barbara Ann” and “Surfin’ U.S.A,” with Beach Boy vocals augmented with dazzling Beck solos. The final encore was a subdued, beautiful rendition of the Irish standard “Danny Boy”.
Before the 18-city tour, which will conclude on the 27th of this month with a show at the University of Akron in Ohio, Beck, in a Rolling Stone interview, said the pairing would feature “classic surfing safari music and this weird stuff that I do,” but promised it would “sound like it’s all of one accord.”
And in the nations capital, Beck, Wilson, and their talented band mates delivered on that promise. For while Wilson relies on layered harmonies to produce one-of-a-kind pieces, Beck is wedded to the same idea, except that he uses strings (he was joined by a 2nd guitar player and a violin virtuoso) instead of voices to deliver musical innovation that sounds so much greater than the sum of its sometimes rocking, sometimes ethereal parts. And both separately and together that makes for a night of fun, fun, fun indeed.