Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck offer glimpses of greatness at Riverside Theater
Also: Brian Wilson played “Monster Mash.”
The third act of many artists’ lives finds them settling into the nostalgia circuit, playing the same old songs to the same old people, and releasing albums of covers or celebrity duets or some such nonsense every so often just to keep their names out there. There’s no shame in it. It happens to some of the best of them, and, unfortunately or otherwise, Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck both fit the bill to varying degrees. Wilson’s last solo effort was 2011’s In The Key Of Disney, and Beck’s awesomely entitled 2010 effort, Emotion & Commotion, consists mostly of guitar rock re-workings of classical music, along with a version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You,” featuring Joss Stone.
But they’re currently putting the finishing touches on a collaborative album, and they can still put meat in the seats, so why not? Longtime fans learn to respectfully lower their expectations, and performers get to keep doing what they love, to the extent that they can. More importantly, younger listeners also get the chance to experience them live, and while Wednesday night’s Wilson/Beck show at Riverside Theater wasn’t anything new, it offered its fair share of shining moments.
First up was Wilson, with fellow Beach Boys founding members Al Jardine and David Marks in tow. A bona fide musical genius, Wilson spent decades wrestling with addiction and psychiatric issues before achieving a personal milestone in 2004, when he finally completed his legendary “lost” album, Smile. But while he’s back in action, his past clearly shows. At first, he didn’t do all that much, singing backup or playing a little piano here and there, but letting his expansive touring band do the heavy lifting on a cross-section of classic Beach Boys sides including “Wendy,” “Darlin’,” and “Then I Kissed Her.” Those were enjoyable enough—the sublimely weird version of “Monster Mash,” too—but then, mid-set, “Heroes and Villains” and a decent chunk of Pet Sounds came out of nowhere, and Wilson came to life along with them. You could tell he was straining through “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Sloop John B,” but his effort paid off; actually, the cracks in his still-arresting voice made “God Only Knows” (originally sung by Wilson’s brother Carl) sound more vulnerable then ever.
Wilson and company wound down with some of the obligatory early surf tunes before a brief intermission, after which slightly fewer people came back for the co-headliner, Jeff Beck, most famous for being the least famous guitarist to have spent time in the Yardbirds (the other two being Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page). You could readily see why guitar geeks worship him so devotedly, considering his entire show was basically one long solo, a prolonged succession of chunky blues-rock riffs and shredding prog runs, without any pesky lyrics to get in the way. When not displaying his own virtuosity, he turned the spotlight on his band members for some showy noodling of the Spanish guitar, slap bass, or fiddle, and while parts of his set had a certain cinematic appeal, much of it, like the Beatles/Zeppelin/Hendrix medley that rounded things out, felt like empty technical theatrics.
To cap off the evening, the two headliners and their respective bands all came together for a couple of more feel-good Beach Boys tunes—“Surfin’ USA” and “Barbara Ann”—and a doleful Beck-led rendition of “Danny Boy.” Overall, it was your usual nostalgia, but with a few Wilson moments of clarity worth remembering.