Brian Wilson, a giant of American popular music, was distressingly shaky during his performance Wednesday night at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. No matter. An impeccable 11-piece band devised sturdy renditions of Wilson’s classic songs that compensated for his frailties.
A capacity audience of 1,800 in the Muriel Kauffman Theatre attended the generous two-hour show (not including intermission) that featured complete renditions of three dozen songs. Wilson is touring to commemorate the 50th anniversary of “Pet Sounds.”
The re-creation of the masterpiece was the centerpiece of the concert, but the “Pet Sounds” song cycle wasn’t the highlight of the thoroughly fascinating and sporadically thrilling show.
The opening song, “Our Prayer,” showcased the immaculate group harmonies that would elevate every selection. The reading of “Heroes and Villains” that followed revealed the most rewarding and troublesome aspects of the concert. Seated at a piano at center stage, Wilson missed a couple of cues during the complex rock operetta. His band, however, was spectacular.
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The musicians attacked every song with the studiousness and passion of a renowned classical orchestra. The approach exposed the surprising musicality of comparatively lightweight fare like “California Girls.” The group’s rendering of more ambitious material such as “Good Vibrations” was breathtaking.
Blondie Chaplin threatened to steal the show as he sang lead vocals and wielded a mean guitar on “Wild Honey” and “Funky Pretty.” The longtime Beach Boys collaborator possesses the swagger associated with his pal Keith Richards. The piercing voice of Matt Jardine also brought the audience to its feet during a gorgeous interpretation of “Don’t Worry Baby.”
Wilson’s contributions were less consistent. His vocals on songs such as “I Get Around” and “Little Honda” were affectless. Al Jardine, his longtime Beach Boys bandmate (and father of Matt), tactfully assisted Wilson when the troubled genius faltered. Even so, Wilson’s infirmities inhibited the re-creation of “Pet Sounds.”
The flip side of frolicsome Beach Boys material like “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” “Pet Sounds” documented Wilson’s insecurities. His inability to convey the same sense of isolation Wednesday made the song cycle seem incomplete.
Wilson seemed fully engaged for a few glorious seconds during the closing selection, “Love and Mercy.” He toyed with the lyrics and sang with conviction. Yet Wilson left the stage before he finished the compassionate song, an appropriately odd conclusion to his wonderfully peculiar outing.
Our Prayer; Heroes and Villains; California Girls; Dance, Dance, Dance; I Get Around; Shut Down; Little Deuce Coupe; Little Honda; Surfer Girl; Don’t Worry Baby; Wake the World; Add Some Music to Your Day; California Saga: California; Wild Honey; Funky Pretty; Sail On, Sailor; Wouldn’t It Be Nice; You Still Believe in Me; That’s Not Me; Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder); I’m Waiting for the Day; Let’s Go Away for Awhile; Sloop John B; God Only Knows; I Know There’s an Answer; Here Today; I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times; Pet Sounds; Caroline, No; Good Vibrations; All Summer Long; Help Me, Rhonda; Barbara Ann; Surfin’ U.S.A.; Fun, Fun, Fun; Love and Mercy