Brian Wilson brings ‘Pet Sounds,’ Beach Boys favorites to Syracuse

Brian Wilson brings Beach Boys favorites to Syracuse

Published: October 2, 2017
Brian Wilson performs at OnCenter

On Sunday night, 900 fans met at The Oncenter Crouse Hinds Theater to watch Brian Wilson perform the entirety of his album, Pet Sounds as well as other hits from his long career. Over the course of the two-plus hour show, Wilson and the eleven other musicians who joined him on stage played more than 25 songs from the Beach Boys’ and Wilson’s own repertoire.

Wilson, 75, spent the show sitting behind a white grand piano at center stage. Surrounding Wilson was founding Beach Boy Al Jardine, and Matthew Jardine, Al’s adult son and the night’s chief vocalist. This trio was joined by a host of talented musicians, with keyboards and percussionists to their right and guitars and wind instruments to their left.

Wilson’s voice has suffered over time, and is now reduced to a limited, low register. Jardine’s voice has aged much better, but he still had a hard time with the signature Beach Boys’ falsetto. This is where Matthew Jardine came in, picking up verses when the music called for higher-pitched singing. The effect was unique but effective, and led to some moments of comedy, especially when Wilson’s cryptic introductions and hand movements resulted in all three vocalists joining in on a verse.

Brian Wilson performs in Syracuse
Founder of the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson performs 'Pet Sounds: The Final Performance' at the Oncenter in Syracuse.

The musicians are all consummate professionals with at least a century of touring experience between them. The night’s program required constant vigilance, as each song called for a slightly different arrangement. This often sent the keyboardists and percussionists scurrying around one another’s various instruments, while guitarists switched from electric to acoustic and the saxophone player found his flute.

The songs themselves were technically perfect, a testament to just how long Wilson has been performing this music on stage. Almost all of the tunes played on Sunday were from the Beach Boys’ heyday; the first set included a sequence of car-themed songs (“Shut Down,” about a drag race, as well as “Little Deuce Coupe” and “Little Honda”) as well as the surfing classics, “California Girls” and “Little Surfer Girl” and ballads such as, “In My Room.”

Near the end of the first set, Wilson was joined on stage by Blondie Chaplin, one of the early Beach Boys members and a legendary touring guitarist. Chaplin strutted the stage for three songs, including his signature “Sail On, Sailor” and a chewy rendition of “Feel Flows,” shredding and thrusting his pelvis like a man half his age. He later briefly returned to stage with a tambourine during the instrumental song, “Pet Sounds.”

After an 18-song first set and a brief intermission, Wilson and company took the stage to play Pet Sounds in celebration of the album’s 50th anniversary. Rightly lauded as one of rock’s seminal albums, Pet Sounds is a masterwork of texture and tone, a gently-layered evolution of the Beach Boys’ early surf anthems. A wave of excitement swept across the audience when they heard the iconic opening notes of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and the tenor in the theater reached a fever pitch during “Sloop John B,” which Wilson sang along to with nearly every member of the band and audience. Wilson himself seemed most enthusiastic during “God Only Knows,” which he called “one of my best” in a moment of earned pride.

While the timing and instrumentation for most of the songs sounded nearly identical to their recorded counterparts, the album’s two instrumental tracks received more digressive treatments, with the talented musicians extending solos and bending arrangements to create new takes on the classics. During these songs, Wilson would sit impassively, basking in the glow of his own musical legacy.

The mostly-older crowd was enthusiastic throughout, clapping and singing along to nearly every song, and occasionally individual audience members would yell out professions of love and support for Wilson himself. The Beach Boys’ biggest hits not found on Pet Sounds were played as the encore, so the audience had to wait until the end to hear “Barbara Ann” and “Surfin USA.” Nearly everyone in the theater was standing by the time Wilson took the stage for the encore and and contiuned to do so through the five-song set. Wilson closed the night with a heartfelt solo rendition of “Love and Mercy,” bringing the night’s long performance to an emotional conclusion.

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is a freelance writer and Goldring Arts Journalism graduate student focused on writing about television and the arts scene in Syracuse, NY.