Brian Wilson turned 80 on June 20. The world stopped to wish him Happy Birthday, as it had a few days earlier for Sir Paul McCartney’s 80th. These two icons, musical competitors in the mid 1960s, have shaped the musical landscape for generations. Both are on tour, after being in dry dock during Covid.
Fellow Beach Boy Al Jardine, who tours with Wilson, used the occasion for a dig at other Beach Boy Mike Love: “Hi Brian, I’m the guy who sings on your left, Al Jardine. Just remember, we’ll always be younger than your cousin, Mike.” Jardine and Wilson are estranged from Love.
We saw this concert in Kansas City. The video below is not mine, but it’s representative of the concert. Summer outdoor concerts in Kansas City can be very warm, as it was on this night.
Wilson’s band is large, 12 musicians/vocalists, growing to 13 when guest Blondie Chaplin comes out. These are professionals who expertly recreate the multi-layered Beach Boy recordings, and lush harmonies.
I’ve seen The Beach Boys a few times in the 1970s, in fact once, when the band toured with Chicago. Six years ago, I saw Brian Wilson tour with the 50th Anniversary Pet Sounds tour, which also included Jardine and Chaplin who played with The Beach Boys in the early 1970s and also tours with Wilson.
I blogged about the 2016 Pet Sounds concert, and I looked forward to this one, as this would likely be the last time I’d see Brian Wilson on stage.
In 2016, Wilson was frail and his voice sometimes tentative, but he did well considering his age and past cognitive challenges. Jumping ahead to 2022, being onstage was a struggle for him. He uses a Walker now, and sits almost statue-like at his white piano. Other vocalists handle the heavy vocal work, singing lead on many songs while Wilson plays along. Occasionally, Wilson takes the lead, but he’s helped by others who fill-out the singing, as Wilson’s voice wavers and cuts in and out.
This is not a bashing of Wilson, the man does his best and wanted to tour after shows were postponed by the pandemic. Is it sad to see a ghostly Brian Wilson? Yes, obviously. But really, Wilson has been a ghost since about 1967, after he stopped touring and gradually withdrew from recording, and fell under the spell of Dr. Eugene Landry. Wilson did emerge from that sad state to tour and record, even though his mental frailty was still evident. His recording and homage to Pet Sounds and Smile seemed to fuel his re-connection to music and his legacy.
If you get the chance to see Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road, do so. Yes, it is a look-back at The Beach Boys, but it is much more than that. It is a loving, yet honest, story of Brian Wilson, often in his own reflections. The Brian you see is the fragile, but gentle soul, who navigated the challenging road of fame, genius, family dysfunction, mental illness and love.
The reviews of Wilson’s tour have been gracious and respectful, highlighting the love that audiences have for the man who filled their lives with musical memories of cars, surfing and young love.
California Girls (Summer Days and Summer Nights!, 1965)
Do It Again (20/20, 1969)
Dance, Dance, Dance (The Beach Boys Today!, 1965)
I Get Around (All Summer Long, 1964)
Surfer Girl (Surfer Girl, 1963)
Don’t Worry Baby (single, 1964)
Wild Honey (Wild Honey, 1967)
Long Promised Road (Surf’s Up, 1971)
Sail On, Sailor (Holland, 1973)
Wouldn’t It Be Nice (Pet Sounds, 1966)
Sloop John B (Pet Sounds, 1966)
God Only Knows (Pet Sounds, 1966)
Darlin’ (Wild Honey, 1967)
Be My Baby (cover of The Ronettes 1963 song)
I Can Hear Music (20/20, 1969)
Heroes and Villains (Smiley Smile, 1967)
Good Vibrations (single, 1966)
Help Me, Rhonda (The Beach Boys Today!, 1965)
Surfin’ U.S.A. (Surfin’ U.S.A., 1963)
Fun, Fun, Fun (single, 1964)
I wore my Chicago Live in ‘75 t-shirt in honor of seeing the band in 1975. Forty-seven years later, three original band members are still at it. This is the third time seeing the band. I have to admit, I stopped listening to Chicago after 1980. I didn’t care for their very popular David Foster-produced material of the 1980s, and after that, they essentially became a touring band with only the occasional new recording. Speaking of which, they do have a new CD for release and played a song from it. Not terrible, but it was the proverbial “bathroom break” opportunity for the audience.
Where do I start…Actually, I was quite surprised by Chicago’s performance. The stage was designed with a spartan look, giving band members opportunities to move around for various configurations, on the large riser or on the front stage area. The video screens were in constant action with groovy pop designs and images, during and between songs. Since most of the songs were from the late 1960s thru the mid 1970s, the pop art was very appropriate.
Keyboardist/singer Robert Lamm is still the band leader, although he was nearly invisible during the 1980s, when former member Peter Cetera was the face/voice of the band. Lamm was front and center to open the performance, playing the keytair and singing lead. After a couple of songs, he took his place at his keyboard on the riser, and handed off much of the lead vocal work to Neil Donell, who sang the Cetera songs and some of Lamm’s past hits. Lamm’s voice has always been good, but not distinctively great as a lead vocalist, and has thinned, as expected, for a man in his 70s.
Introduction (from Chicago Transit Authority)
Dialogue (Part I & II) (from Chicago V)
Questions 67 & 68 (from Chicago Transit Authority)
Old Days (from Chicago VIII)
Call on Me (from Chicago VII)
(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long (from Chicago VII)
Mongonucleosis (from Chicago VII)
If This Is Goodbye (new song)
If You Leave Me Now (from Chicago X)
Make Me Smile (from Chicago II)
So Much to Say, So Much to Give (from Chicago II)
Anxiety’s Moment (from Chicago II)
West Virginia Fantasies (from Chicago II)
Colour My World (from Chicago II)
To Be Free (from Chicago II)
Now More Than Ever (from Chicago II)
Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? (from Chicago Transit Authority)
Hard Habit to Break (from Chicago 17)
You’re the Inspiration (from Chicago 17)
Beginnings (from Chicago Transit Authority)
I’m a Man (from Chicago Transit Authority) (The Spencer Davis Group cover) (Drum & Percussion Solo)
Just You ‘n’ Me (from Chicago VI)
Hard to Say I’m Sorry / Get Away (from Chicago 16)
Saturday in the Park (from Chicago V)
Feelin’ Stronger Every Day (from Chicago VI)
Free (from Chicago III)
25 or 6 to 4 (from Chicago I)
I have to say, Chicago gave fans quite a show. You have to appreciate the energy and the enthusiasm in both the production and their performance. They did not sing the songs note for note from the original recordings. The arrangements had the spirit of the originals but freshened up with bold touches. I read one reviewer who said the arrangements pushed the band into progressive rock, which I would disagree. The arrangements were more jazz-rock, a welcome return to their original sound. I recall the fiery guitar licks of Terry Kath back in 1975, and there were plenty of them on this night by current guitarist Tony Obrohta.
I don’t know how long Chicago will continue touring, a few more years at least. Saxophonist Walter Parazaider retired in 2018, and Pankow, Loughnane and Lamm show no signs of slowing down, nor do their performances draw undue attention. The band played almost all of the fan favorites, so I imagine everyone went home happy.