Brian Wilson: Exhibition Centre, Liverpool

Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson in Liverpool

As a founding member of the Beach Boys brought Pet Sounds to Liverpool, Getintothis’ Adam Lowerson was there to witness a genius at work.

There can’t be many artists who can perform for two hours and every single track they play is a bona fide pop classic.

Who can play songs varying from classic rock and roll to some of the most intricately arranged orchestral music ever composed.

But there aren’t many artists left in the world who can compare to Brian Wilson, an artist so pioneering and influential that for the city of Liverpool to host the final UK performance of his iconic Pet Sounds album it’s a real coup.

Topping off the double header which saw Gary Numan perform at the new Exhibition Centre the night before, it was an impressive booking by the team behind Liverpool Sound City at a venue which is beginning to make moves into the live music scene.

A venue which had perfect sound and production, showing off every note, yet the layout was strange to say the least with the standing section situated at the back of the room behind the seats.

Odd layout aside, there was a tangible feeling of excitement and warmth in the atmosphere. A city that loves its music coming together to appreciate one of the all time great songwriters.

Split into two sets, the first half of the performance was made up with some of the greatest hits of the Beach Boys back catalogue.

Opening with California Girls and Dance, Dance, Dance, Wilson and his band brought the Californian sunshine to a miserable Merseyside showing off straight away the band’s gorgeous harmonies. While most of the vocal heavy lifting was ably carried out by Matt Jardine, son of original Beach Boy Al Jardine, Wilson sang more than has been usual in recent years, and seemed to be enjoying himself from the offset.

Brian Wilson, Pet Sounds and the making of a masterpiece

The bigger hits such as I Get Around are loads of fun, but it’s some of the less obvious tracks which really shone early on. Darlin‘ sounded huge, while In My Room, Surfer Girl and Sunshine Tomorrow were absolutely stunning, and gave a few members of the band the chance to show off their vocals.

After Blondie Chaplin livened things up with Wild Honey and Sail On, Sailor bringing the first half of the set to a close, it was time for the main event, and one of the final ever performances of the Beach Boys‘ seminal album Pet Sounds.

Again Matt Jardine impressed on Wouldn’t It Be Nice, but it’s tracks such as That’s Not MeI’m Waiting For The Day and I Know There’s an Answer, with Wilson‘s aged but warm vocals which really are moving. The arrangements are incredible, and 50 years on from the record’s release the songs still sound as ambitious as ever.

Al Jardine

Al Jardine

The biggest singalong moments of the night come for Sloop John B, which takes the atmosphere from that of subdued appreciation to an outpouring of love and joy, before God Only Knows provides the highlight of the set. It doesn’t matter how many times you hear the song, it never fails to evoke all kinds of emotion, and hearing the full room singing along to every word is completely moving.

Following the end of Pet Sounds, it’s back to a flurry of greatest hits to close the night with Good Vibrations finally getting the people in the seats up on their feet. What follows is just pure rock and roll fun, with a string of classic hits such as Fun, Fun, Fun, Surfin’ USA, Help Me Rhonda and Barbara Ann. 

The run of hits showed off just how tight a band Wilson has assembled, and how Al Jardine has still got it. He looks the part and has vocally hardly aged at all.

While any followers of Brian Wilson‘s career will know not too expect too much ‘performance’ from the man himself, to witness him play the songs he’s written which have touched so many lives is a real privilege, and it’s hard not to get emotional as he closed with Love and Mercy.

For a man that has suffered so much through his life, the fact that he continues to bring so much love and joy to many is an inspiration. He embodies the true meaning of the word legend.

Editor’s note: Following the gig, Getintothis shared a train ride home with a gentleman from Maghull. He told us the Beach Boys are his favourite band and he’d seen them on numerous occasions. From a disaster at the Manchester Apollo when he was late and had to leave early to make sure he got home to Liverpool to a Summer Pops sensation in 2003 with Mike Love and Bruce Johnston through to his very first concert aged just 16 when he saw many of the original members at the Liverpool Empire in 1969. However, he told us, of all the times he has heard their music live, he told us tonight was the unequivocally the best. We didn’t catch his name, but his huge smile will live long in the memory.

Pictures by Getintothis’ Keith Ainsworth.