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Monday, June 29, 2015

Brian Wilson: Pet Sounds Live


1) Show Intro; 2) Wouldn't It Be Nice; 3) You Still Believe In Me; 4) That's Not Me; 5) Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder); 6) I'm Waiting For The Day; 7) Let's Go Away For Awhile; 8) Sloop John B; 9) God Only Knows; 10) I Know There's An Answer; 11) Here Today; 12) I Just Wasn't Made For These Times; 13) Pet Sounds; 14) Caroline No.

Every single review of this album inevitably asks the question «why?». Five of these tunes had only just recently been heard on the Live At The Roxy album. There was no question in the minds of anyone who cared that Brian's backing band was awesome and inspired enough to re­produce the musical magic of Pet Sounds on stage. The shows were warmly received, the people were thrilled. But Pet Sounds Live in their entirety, as a special separate CD? Is this an acute case of «hanging on to your ego» or what?

It is true that the band is excellent, yes. The album was played and recorded over three different nights at the Royal Festival Hall in London, with probably the best particular versions picked from the three shows, and the musicians do a fabulous job — I think that even a diehard Pet Sounds fanaticist who has every single frequency memorised to a tee will not find much to com­plain about or to cringe at. As for Brian, who now has the task of regularly stepping in not just for brother Carl, who at least had a somewhat similar vocal timbre, but also for cousin Mike, he does everything as best he can — changing the tonality where it has to be changed, but never getting off-key and never once sounding uninspired (well, after all, why should he? it's not as if anyone was forcing him to go through his own masterpiece).

The emphasis, however, is on reproducing the sacred original as closely as possible: the band has so meticulously dissected and thoroughly studied all the parts that I wouldn't be surprised to learn they also featured those empty Coke bottles for percussion right on stage. This can occasionally be instructive — for instance, some parts that were intentionally lowered deep in the mix, when played live, come out much louder (the trilling guitar parts on ʽDon't Talkʼ, for instance), so that the adoring fan of the album might pick on some nuances that he/she may have missed earlier. But if you are not that awed over Brian's original mastery of texture, you will be, like me, rather disappointed that not a single song gets any extra «twists» where we could see it open up to any new dimensions or perspectives. Only on the instrumentals, where the band is showcased per se, without the lead singer stealing away attention, do they occasionally stretch out beyond the ori­ginal limitations — like on the extended percussion jam on ʽPet Soundsʼ — but then it was exact­ly those instrumentals that we already had the pleasure of enjoying on Roxy just two years ago.

Additionally, there is something vaguely embarrassing about Brian's stage behaviour this time: we can hardly blame him for preserving that «innocent child» mentality, but it is somewhat dif­ferent when the entire audience gets mistaken for little kids as well. Here are some typical intro­ductions from the horse's mouth: "Track number TWO!" (ʽYou Still Believe In Meʼ — what is this, a foreign language audio course? fortunately, he drops this schtick very quickly, but still...); "You can close your eyes if you want to for this song!" (ʽDon't Talkʼ — thank you, Mr. Wilson, we can decide for ourselves); "Here's an instrumental with no voices, okay?" (ʽLet's Go Away For Awhileʼ — sure we know what an instrumental is, and did somebody warn you of potential audience disturbances at the perspective of hearing a song with «no voices»?); "This next song, my friend Paul McCartney told me it was his favorite song" (gee, this guy is friends with Paul McCartney himself? like, no shit!); "this next one sounds like a Bob Dylan lyrics' tune, I think you'll like it" (ʽI Know There's An Answerʼ — actually, no, it doesn't); "now we have another instrumental... NO VOICES JUST INSTRUMENTS!!!" (uhh... okaaaay...), and so on.

Honestly, that is annoying. I would advise anyone who does develop an odd taste for this perfor­mance to just cut those intros out in their digital versions (there is also a particularly ridiculous section where the old guy decides to have a shouting match with the audience, as if he were Bruce Dickinson or someone like that). Or, better still, just leave the record for what it is — a his­torical curio that may have had some personal importance for Brian at a particular juncture in his life. Or get the video (you can currently watch it on YouTube for free) — the band is quite hot to watch in many senses of the word, including sexist ones (ah, that Taylor Mills!). But if you miss out on this one altogether, that will hardly be a tragedy. 

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