The new live release by Brian Wilson and Friends is bittersweet. Wilson is now 74 years old and one has to wonder about his future. His voice is not of the caliber of his prime, so the emphasis on many of the tracks centers on his friends. In some ways he becomes the sideman. On the other hand he is one of the recognized genius’ of American pop music and his compositions remain a nostalgic part of American culture.
His friends include former Beach Boys Blondie Chaplin, Ricky Fataar, and Al Jardine who oddly is not mentioned anywhere in the liner notes but is a dominant figure in the music. Other friends include She & Him and Nate Ruess, the lead singer of the pop group Fun.
The sound and the DVD quality are both excellent. There are set differences. “California Girls” and “”California Saga” only appear on the CD. The DVD adds nine additional songs including the classic ballads “Don’t Worry Baby” and “God Only Knows.”
The concert was recorded at the Venetian in Las Vegas;. The music is a microcosm of Brian Wilson’s and the Beach Boys career. Al Jardine steers the band through “Wouldn’t It be Nice,” “Help Me Rhonda,” and the underappreciated classic “All Summer Long.” Chaplin and Fataar shine on “Marcella,” “Wild Honey” and “Sail On Sailor.” Ruess has a wonderful voice and he takes the lead on “Hold On Dear Brother,” “Darlin,’” and “Saturday Night.” Beach Boy staples such “Heroes And Villains,” “Dance Dance Dance,” “Fun Fun Fun,” and “Good Vibrations” are group efforts, which work well given Wilson’s vocal limitations.
His solo material is more reflective and runs counterpoint to the early Beach Boys songs. The two bonus songs, which close the DVD; “Pacific Coast Highway,” and “Summer’s Gone” are the statement of an aging musician looking back on his career and life.
While Brian Wilson takes a back seat to his friends many times; it is his music that is front and center and ultimately carries the album. It is a ride through the decades of the eternal summer that Brian Wilson created so many years ago.