Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck at the Warner Theatre
Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck
The tour combining the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson with rocker Jeff Beck works fairly well on stage, but the teaming is clearly puzzling to many fans of each artist.
A recent show at Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C. opened with Wilson and Beach Boys’ founding members Al Jardine (rhythm guitar) and David Marks (guitar) leading the super-sized band on a musical trip down memory lane with classic songs including “California Girls,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” and “Good Vibrations.” The all-ages audience that skewed heavily toward the AARP set joined in the feel good mode with cheering and occasional dancing as various psychedelic and summertime images played on a giant screen at the rear of the stage.
But when Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Wilson and his group exited so the stage could be re-set for Beck and his band, there was a literal shift in the audience. Some concertgoers left the theatre while others, many of whom were absent during Wilson’s hour-and-change set, entered.
The answer to what brought this rock-and-roll-odd-couple together was perhaps explained by a comment Beck made when Wilson joined him on stage toward the end of the concert for an encore that included “Barbara Ann” and “Surfin’ U.S.A.”
“The greatest is right there,” said Beck gesturing toward Wilson.
So what does that comment mean? Simply that our idols — in this case Beck— have idols, too, and want to collaborate with them. This particular teaming took root in 2005 when Beck experimented with Beach Boys’ music he considered performing at the MusiCares concert and then met Person-of-the-Year honoree Wilson. Those events planted the seeds for various collaborations.
Although Beck and Wilson are from opposite ends of the rock sound spectrum, they were united in their on stage approach to the concert that included almost no on stage banter.
Wilson stayed seated at a white grand piano throughout his group’s one-hour-and-change set. After five decades, the somewhat fragile looking Wilson still played with passion and energy especially during “Fun, Fun, Fun,” and the instrumental title track from Pet Sounds. Add to that the array of instrumentation players brought to the songs—everything from the standard two drummers to saxophone, flute and tambourine—and it’s obvious why the set was a music lover’s dream. The multi-faceted songs never sounded better.
But Wilson is 71 now, and his age is reflected in his voice. That was especially apparent on “Sail On, Sailor” and even on “God Only Knows,” which he dedicated to his late brother Carl. Still, his voice was close enough to that of his younger self that fans heard enough snippets of the famous phrasing and intonations to feel satisfied. And the vocals of Jardine and Marks, who both chatted to the audience, sounded almost as clear and crisp as they had in their prime.
When a youthful and athletic looking Beck, 69, took the stage for his all-instrumental set, the audience went into nearly full-rock mode with amphitheater-volume screams and several “We Love You, Jeff!” shouts. Although Beck would acknowledge the adulation with nods and smiles, his few brief comments made the quiet Wilson seem almost chatty.
Beck is a two-time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (once for his work with the Yardbirds and once for his solo work) and a generous leader. He routinely turned the spotlight and applause to violinist Elizabeth Ball, bassist Rhonda Smith, drummer Jonathan Joseph and guitarist Nicholas Meier the spotlight on several occasions and giving thumbs up for their extraordinary playing on songs including “Even Odds,” and “You Never Know.”
True, Beck and Wilson seem very different musically. Yet the joy and virtuosity they showed playing, both individually and separately, was very easy to embrace.