BRIAN WILSON: LIVE AT THE ROXY THEATRE (2000)
1) Little Girl Intro; 2) The Little Girl I Once Knew; 3) This Whole World; 4) Don't Worry Baby; 5) Kiss Me Baby; 6) Do It Again; 7) California Girls; 8) I Get Around; 9) Back Home; 10) In My Room; 11) Surfer Girl; 12) The First Time; 13) This Isn't Love; 14) Add Some Music To Your Day; 15) Please Let Me Wonder; 16) Band Intro; 17) Brian Wilson; 18) 'Til I Die; 19) Darlin'; 20) Let's Go Away For Awhile; 21) Pet Sounds; 22) God Only Knows; 23) Lay Down Burden; 24) Be My Baby; 25) Good Vibrations; 26) Caroline No; 27) All Summer Long; 28) Love & Mercy; 29) Sloop John B; 30) Barbara Ann; 31) Interview With Brian.
This record has quite a bit of historical importance — as is well known, Brian had largely abhorred live performing since 1965, and even after he reluctantly agreed to return to the stage in his «full beard» period in the mid-Seventies, that stage presence had largely been limited to absent-mindedly picking at a keyboard and singing occasional harmonies. A confident return to the stage was, therefore, an essential move in the quest to overcome his reclusiveness — and it actually worked: after the Imagination tour got off on the right foot, Brian apparently found his stage fright largely gone, at least, as long as the majority of the shows took place in relatively small venues with friendly and adoring audiences to establish some intimacy with.
It may have even gone too well: the most uncomfortable thing about Live At The Roxy is that Brian seems to feel himself a little too loose, taking on the role of nonchalant entertainer without a care in the world. As you listen to him making jokes (usually silly ones — that cigarette lighter bit is kind of kindergartenish, don't you think so?), winding up the audience like a jaded stadium rock hero ("you want some vibes? you want some good vibes? YOU WANT SOME GOOD VIBRATIONS?.."), or putting some forcefully concocted roar into the words "rock" and "rock and roll" ("we'll do some pretty songs... and then maybe later on we can ROCK OUT or something!"), you can sort of see that this role is relatively new for him, and that — even worse! — he may be basing some of this new frontman image on memories of how Mike Love used to do it. That may be a little embarrassing at times. But certainly forgivable.
Besides, we are not here for the stage banter anyway: we are here to witness three good pieces of news. First, the man continues to be in good voice, nowhere near as angelic as it used to be or as brother Carl's (whose shoes in ʽPlease Let Me Wonderʼ and ʽGod Only Knowsʼ Brian has to step into) used to be, but perfectly in tune (sometimes in downtune, but still in tune) and perfectly in spirit. Second, the backing band is thoroughly respectful of the classic Beach Boys sound and, definitely unlike the backing band on Imagination, makes sure that the original playing styles, instrumentation, and harmonies are reproduced as fine as possible. (In order to showcase just how much the band can get in the old spirit, Brian has them run through both of the instrumentals from Pet Sounds — thus presaging the next live album).
Third, the playlist is almost too perfect: a well-balanced mix of radio hits, personal favorites, art-pop masterpieces, and rarities/oddities to fit the tastes of just about everybody. Well, clearly, everybody will also be miffed at some glaring omissions (like, gimme some ʽSurf's Upʼ or some ʽHeroes And Villainsʼ instead of ʽBack Homeʼ from 15 Big Ones!), but with a backlog the size of Brian's, he'd have to spend the whole night at the Roxy to satisfy all of us 100%, and he's not that strong yet. On the other hand, you have a couple surprises, such as a leftover from 1983 which, as Brian claims, he unexpectedly "found in his briefcase" (ʽThe First Timeʼ — a nice piano ballad, though slightly contaminated with that Eighties' adult contemporary vibe), and ʽThis Isn't Loveʼ, a somewhat ABBA-esque/Disney-esque collaboration with old lyrical pal Tony Asher that would later be featured in The Flintstones In Viva Rock Vegas — a crap movie, and, let's be honest, the tune is pretty saccharine and campy itself, but still, it bears the Wilson seal, doesn't it?
Concerning the classics, I wouldn't know where to begin with recommendations: like I said, most of them are performed very faithfully to the originals (including ʽGood Vibrationsʼ, which omits the audience interaction and clap-your-hands sections that the Beach Boys used to have in their performances, and returns the intimate prayer feel of the theremin-powered "gotta keep these lovin' good vibrations a-happenin' with her..." section) or to the way the originals used to be performed (ʽDo It Againʼ has a «rockier» feel here than it used to have on 20/20, but that's how it always went live). ʽCalifornia Girlsʼ, with its extended coda, may be the relative highlight — you can just feel how delighted Brian is to be ruling all over those life-asserting harmonies, feeling young again and all that. Against such a rich background, the new songs obviously cannot compete — so the only tune played from Imagination is ʽLay Down Burdenʼ, now dedicated to the memory of the recently deceased Carl Wilson and "all those here who had a loss in their family". Of course, it is a much gentler and subtler rendition than the overproduced original.
Funniest moment of the show is probably when Brian's band, and then Brian himself, launch into a brief snippet of the Barenaked Ladies' ʽBrian Wilsonʼ — a moment of either subtle irony or forgivable vanity, depending on your own subjective judgement. It is true that Brian holds a high opinion of himself, to which he is most certainly entitled — reminding the people here that he wrote ʽSurfer Girlʼ while riding in his car, "without a piano!", or that ʽGod Only Knowsʼ was the first song with the word "God" in its title. It's all within the range of politeness, though, and besides, he still has the mind of a small child in many respects, so whenever he «brags» like that, it comes across as sweet rather than annoying. God bless the old guy — and kudos for pulling off such a long and diverse setlist without a glitch. You probably will not be returning to it all that often, but as a one-time solid chunk of good vibrations, it is highly recommendable, so a solitary thumbs up is the way to go about it.