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Brian Wilson: Live At The Roxy Theatre


Brian Wilson

Album: Live At The Roxy Theatre
Label: Brimel

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Brian Wilson's post-Beach Boys career hasn't always been a pretty sight: Shortly after writing and arranging the masterful, massively influential Pet Sounds, he began to go a little bonkers. Maybe it was the drugs, or the damage done by years of physical and psychological abuse at the hands of his infamous show-biz father, but it took decades for Wilson to recover. Still, it's hard to call his return to the stage a sign of complete recovery, as performing itself seems just another facet of Wilson's ongoing therapy. The past few years have found him definitively branded a genius, and damned if fans aren't going to treat him that way. That's partly a shame, as Wilson's current condition is a far cry from prime. Like David Helfgott being rolled out for an awkward (and awkwardly acclaimed) victory lap following his hit biopic Shine, Wilson has received a hero's welcome even as his current accomplishments fall under the definition of rote achievement rather than artistry. Now that the novelty and surprise of his return has partly worn off, the two-disc Live At The Roxy arrives as an odd document of an even odder outing. Backed by a young group made up mostly of members of L.A.'s Wilson-worshipping Wondermints, the icon succeeds mainly because he doesn't fail. Renditions of the usual hits—"Don't Worry Baby," "California Girls, "I Get Around"—are adequate if not exceptional, while lesser-known nuggets such as "'Til I Die" serve mainly as reminders of the wealth of Wilson's material that went lost or ignored in the '70s. The biggest treat of his comeback tour was the songs drawn from Pet Sounds. And while his latest tour trots the album out in its entirety, eroding much of the mystery in the process, these tentative forays into that magical album are nice to hear—especially without the creepy image of Wilson staring at his TelePrompTer. One of the most unusual aspects of his comeback is that it was in part precipitated by all his vocal music-geek fans. Caroline Now! is a 24-track disc that brings together eclectic talents to pay tribute to Wilson and The Beach Boys. The names are often more impressive than the renditions, though the likes of Eugene Kelly, Alex Chilton, The High Llamas, Saint Etienne, Chip Taylor, Jad Fair, Peter Thomas, and Kim Fowley should be lauded for sticking almost entirely to late-era songs. Like Wilson's live album, nothing here quite matches listening to The Beach Boys' performances, but from the extensive liner notes to the respectful arrangements, the disc is full of love. Wilson, who reportedly gave the project his blessing, is probably proud.