Reviewed by Roy Trakin.
Brian Wilson at the Vibrato Grill Jazz, L.A.
The once and future Beach Boy didn’t have to travel far from his favorite Beverly Glen delicatessen nor his home off Mulholland for this special event at the Herb Alpert-owned boite, promoting the DVD/Blu-Ray release of the unjustly neglected biopic Love and Mercy.
It was a veritable friends and family affair, with director Bill Pohlad, stars Paul Dano and Elizabeth Banks, wife Melinda and songwriter Lamont Dozier all on hand, while Brian was joined on-stage by most of his regular band, including old pal Al Jardine and son Matt, for what the always-literal Wilson promised would be a “35-minute set” after pass-around hors d’ouevres and an open bar.
Hopefully, Love and Mercy will find a post-theatrical audience – and maybe even some award season recognition – because first-time director (and longtime producer) Pohlad (scion of the family which owns the Minnesota Twins) did a nifty job weaving a story around two different stages in Brian’s life (shades of Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin’s three-act staging of Steve Jobs – his early Pet Sounds genius period and his latter-day exile under Dr. Eugene Landy’s sway, saved, both in the film and real life, by his willful wife (played by Banks in the film).
Maybe the millennials have OD’ed on boomer lore, but for me at least, this extended Brian Wilson victory tour has been a real blessing. Brian seemed in a particular jovial mood on this occasion, leading the group in a set that started with “California Girls,” segued to “Surfer Girl” and “In My Room,” then picked up momentum on “Dance, Dance, Dance.”
“Let’s speed it up for some rock and roll,” enthused Brian. Al’s son Matt took the high solo on “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” while Brian introduced “God Only Knows” by declaring, as only he could, with absolute humility: “People say it’s the best song I ever wrote.”
He brought up Paul Dano for some nifty falsetto crooning on Pet Sounds’ heartbreaking “You Still Believe in Me,” echoing his fine vocal work in the movie. He dipped into his recent solo album Pier Pressure for “One Kind of Love,” a song written for the movie’s soundtrack which makes clear, as good as it is, how difficult it is living up to his own illustrious past.
The band launched into “the reason why we’re here,” according to Brian – “Good Vibrations” – before he halts the proceedings to say, “It’s too fast.” Ever the perfectionist, we’re onto an everyone-on-their-feet “Surfin’ USA” and “Fun Fun Fun” before the event is capped with a wrenching benediction of “Love and Mercy,” just a few ticks past Brian’s promised time limit.
It’s an uplifting moment to a great occasion, but any excuse to get Brian Wilson to play in a small room is good enough for me. And if it gets people to revisit Love and Mercy, all the better.