Live Review: Brian Wilson/Jeff Beck in Wallingford, CT
The idea of a Beach Boys fan also being a passionate jazz fusion fan is a stretch, maybe even more so when you turn those tables around. So that could explain why Wallingford, CT's Oakdale Theatre was somewhat emptier than it should have been on Oct. 11, when co-headliners Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck rolled into town.
But maybe Wilson and Beck played a little trick on their less than rabid fans -- you know the type: they hear their few favorites and spend the rest of the show yapping or sitting dispassionately glued to their smart phones. Those who would say, 'Brian who? ...or Jeff who?' and skip the show.
Based on the indescribably fantastic pairing and the music it produced on this evening, perhaps Beck and Wilson (who are recording together) cooked up a scheme to co-headline a short tour and knock the socks off every hardcore fan who comes out for the show.
This was not a concert for casual Beach Boys fans, or Jeff Beck fans for that matter. And there were a few of each faction in the lobby near the end of the two-hour-plus set complaining about being cheated out of more material -- particularly from folks who came to see Wilson.
Another fan sporting a Jeff Beck tour shirt was also audibly frustrated by the setlist as he stormed toward the exit before the encore.
They were counterbalanced, however, by many who sat riveted for the duration, occasionally with jaws agape or wiping tears from their eyes. There were some truly magical moments -- make that many magical moments to be found -- beginning with the opening number.
Instead of launching into the chugging rocker "Do It Again," which came third in the set, Wilson's group opened playing no instruments at all. And their flawless rendition of "A Young Man Is Gone" provided electrifying evidence of what was to come.
It's impossible to know whether the band was aware October 11 was the same date as the 1955 coroner's inquest following the untimely death of the song's subject, James Dean. But the note perfect a capella rendition of this secondary Beach Boys hit was nothing short of breathtaking, with its eight part harmony soaring majestically into the Oakdale's rafters.
Unfortunately, as Brian Wilson gives, he also takes away, churning into a disappointing "California Girls," during which protege Jeff Foskett had to take over after his boss rendered the opening verse about a half-step flat. Wilson rebounded quickly though, hitting stride on "Do It Again," before turning the lead vocal duty over to Al Jardine.
Throughout the show, Jardine and early stage Beach Boy David Marks more than proved their post "50th Anniversary" inclusion on this tour was a smart move on Wilson's part. Jardine's first of several moves into the spotlight delivered an enthusiastic "Then I Kissed Her," and later, a nicely performed double shot of "Old Man River" and "Cottonfields."
Marks, whose surf guitar stings and solos lent authenticity to much of the material, helped introduce a rare jem in Dennis Wilson's "Little Bird." This forgotten Beach Boys album cut provided yet another opportunity for the band to demonstrate its ability by navigating the song's quirky but lush harmonies and spastic time changes.
Brian was fully redeemed by the time he kicked into "Sail On Sailor," nailing the vocals with no assistance. A couple of songs later, Wilson refocused on his band once again for the instrumental "Pet Sounds."
"God Only Knows," "Sloop John B," "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "Good Vibrations" followed, completing the "Pet Sounds" tribute, before Wilson and his band exited to the classic "Fun, Fun, Fun."
Then it was Jeff Beck's turn to fascinate, opening his instrumental set with the spacy "Eternity's Breath / Stratus" suite. The guitar master evoked shades of Jimi Hendrix during his own take on "Little Wing," and switched to an exotic sounding effect to give "Yemin," a decidedly Middle Eastern groove.
This number also gave violin player Lizzie Ball a chance to really shine, and she did not disappoint with some dizzying bowing leading up to the song's climactic conclusion and drawing cheers from the small but mighty Connecticut crowd.
Bassist Rhonda Smith got her chance to rock a few songs later on "You Never Know" and "Big Block," which also provided a chance for Beck to show a video highlighting his vintage hot rod collection.
Wilson and most of his band returned at this point, joining Beck for the captivating "Our Prayer," and "Surf's Up," with Beck's Stratocaster supplying the finely articulated lead melody.
Ball showed off her singing talent on the rollicking "How High the Moon," leading back to Beck closing his set with an instrumental version of The Beatles, "A Day In the Life." The too-short encore of "Barbara Ann" and "Surfin' USA" also featured Beck contributing some well integrated lead work, before leaving him on stage to close the show with a poignant "Danny Boy."
Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck close out their tour Oct. 30 in Milwaukee, but fans can hear more of this unexpected but compelling pairing on Wilson's next solo album, or what could be as many as three related albums including what is rumored to be an instrumental project pitting Wilson's arranging with Beck's guitar.
Who knows, maybe fans will see this pairing hit the road again next spring. And this time they will have a reason to bring a few friends along.