Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Brian Wilson Live At The Mann Center For The Performng Arts, Philadelphia, PA, 8-16-05

It was a long time coming. I finally got to see the master of vocal harmonies perform live. Brian Wilson, a man who either couldn’t or wouldn't play on stage for more than two decades, brought his great songs and harmonies, along with a small rock orchestra that included full horn and string sections, to Philadelphia last evening. It was wonderful.

Wilson sat in front of his electronic keyboard most of the evening, singing lead vocals on every song, but oddly he didn’t play a single note. It wasn’t until the encore, when he strapped on his bass, that he actually became a member of the band he put together. Wilson’s voice has deepened to the point where he can easily handle the many lead vocals once sung by Mike Love. He can still sing well but he can no longer hit the high notes or sing falsetto. It doesn’t matter because guitarist and main sideman, Jeff Foskett, effortlessly handled those chores.

The band was spectacular all night and who would expect less from this perfectionist bandleader? The great musicianship, coupled with what appeared to be unforced joy about being part of this musical group, added to the pleasure of the two and half hour show.

In the first full hour Wilson and the band treated us to all of the following hit singles made famous by The Beach Boys:

Do It Again
Dance Dance Dance
When I Grow Up To Be A Man
Be True To Your School
In My Room
Surfer Girl
Help Me Rhonda
California Girls
Wouldn’t It Be Nice
God Only Knows
Sloop John B
Little St. Nick
(which he said is being rerecorded for his upcoming Christmas album)
Darlin’
Sail On Sailor
.

As witnessed above there were plenty of The Beach Boys greatest hits, more than enough to please the casual fan, but this was also a concert for true Beach Boys aficionados. Evidence lies with the superb rarities and deep album cuts played in the first hour:

And Then I Kissed Her
Breakaway
Marcella
Pet Sounds
Add Some Music To your Day
.

The last song appeared in 1970, on their fabulous Sunflower LP, and remains one of The Beach Boys crowning achievements.

After intermission Wilson and the band played the entire Smile CD. When was the last time you heard any artist play every note of one of their albums from beginning to end? I know it was a first for me. I wish more artists would do it. Smile is a complicated work featuring an over-abundance of tempo changes, constant interwoven and repeating themes, gorgeous vocal harmonies, intricate arrangements, and weird percussion. Smile is one of those works that reached exalted status simply because of the mystery surrounding it. It was finally released in a newly recorded version last year, thirty-seven years after it was shelved unfinished. Today, despite its obvious merits, and the fact it is considered a serious work, Smile seems both dated and pompous, and it is also a bit tedious to sit through the entire album. Yet this CD contains three famous Beach Boys masterworks, “Heroes and Villains,” “Surf’s Up,” and the album’s closer, “Good Vibrations.” Those tracks alone make Smile a must listen for all Wilson fans.

The encore included “Johnny B. Goode,” “Surfin’ USA” “I Get Around,” “Barbara Ann,” and of course “Fun Fun Fun.” Finally the band closed with one of the evening’s quieter songs, “Love and Mercy” from Wilson’s first solo CD.

This tour is a must for all fans of the Beach Boys.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Shelby Lynne Live At The North Star Bar, Philadelphia, PA, July 16, 2005

Shelby Lynne is one of my favorite female singers so it was a real treat that I finally had an opportunity to see the country singer perform live.

Lynne played most of her new album, Suit Yourself, and the rest of the time she concentrated on the period beginning with her classic 2000 release, I Am Shelby Lynne. She is one of the best vocalists in country music, possessing a voice that lends itself well to both rock & roll and acoustic balladry. Couple that with her composing skills, and a three piece band featuring an excellent lead guitarist in Ben Peeler, and we were all treated to a wonderful night of music.

I’ve always been partial to bands over singer-songwriters but Lynne’s lyrical talents, sweet voice, and gift of melody, make her one of the exceptions. Lynne does it all well and she really doesn’t need a band to connect with the audience. The fact that she brought Peeler and a rocking rhythm section with her were just icing on the cake. The highlights were two songs from her latest CD, “I Won’t Die Alone” and “Johnny Met June,” the latter written the day Johnny Cash died.

The set was just shy of ninety minutes and that was enough. The sweltering North Star Bar had great acoustics that evening but the tightly packed house, along with the heat and humidity, made us feel we were seeing Lynne live in her home state of Alabama, rather than in Philadelphia, something she alluded to in her set.

The concert photos are courtesy of Bill Kates of Music & More.