On dark night, Beach Boy Brian Wilson brings sunny vibes to Israel
Concert review

On dark night, Beach Boy Brian Wilson brings sunny vibes to Israel

Beloved singer-songwriter plays his ‘Pet Sounds’ hits in Ra’anana, where an adoring crowd responds happily to his ‘Shalom Tel Aviv’

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Thousands of happy fans at the Brian Wilson 'Pet Sounds' concert in Ra'anana Wednesday, June 8, 2016 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
Thousands of happy fans at the Brian Wilson 'Pet Sounds' concert in Ra'anana Wednesday, June 8, 2016 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Somebody forgot to tell Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson that Wednesday night’s concert was in suburban Ra’anana, not Tel Aviv.

“Shalom Tel Aviv, Shalom Tel Aviv,” called Wilson to the crowd of about 8,000, sitting on the benches and lying on the grass beyond the acoustic concert shell.

The audience, made up of Israelis of all ages — including Kaveret musician Danny Sanderson, seen with some of his fellow band members in the crowd — didn’t mind. Many stood for much of the two-hour concert, swaying, sometimes dancing, to the classic tunes and oh-so familiar Beach Boys lyrics that are part of life’s soundtrack for pop and classic rock lovers.

And as news of the terrorist attack in nearby Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market began unfolding on people’s smartphones during the concert, Wilson’s repertoire of beloved 1960s hits and surfer songs created a temporary cushion against the harsh realities waiting for the Israeli audience.

Wilson, dressed in one of his standard button-down shirts — black for the performance — and seated at a grand piano in the center of the stage, was surrounded by his usual nine-piece band: Billy Hinsche, Nelson Bragg, Mike D’Amico, Probyn Gregory, Paul Mertens, Darian Sahanaja, Bob Lizik, Nick Walusko and Al Jardine.

The 73-year-old Jardine was one of the founding members of the Beach Boys; his son, Matt Jardine, 48, is also with the band, filling in as the falsetto vocalist for some of those high notes in songs like “Don’t Worry Baby” and “California Girls.”

That kind of backup probably happens a lot at this point in Wilson’s career. At 73, he has said that this 50th anniversary “Pet Sounds” tour is his last world tour.

Next up: Israel on Wednesday and Portugal on Friday. Then, it's on to the USA next week!

Posted by Brian Wilson on Monday, 6 June 2016

Yet the success of the 2014 film “Love and Mercy,” about Wilson’s difficult life and his awe-inspiring work in the “Pet Sounds” studio album, seems to have given the critically acclaimed work a second wind, and it was blowing — along with a distinct smell of reefer — in the Ra’anana park Wednesday night.

Wilson started off the two-hour set with a mixture of Beach Boys favorites, treating the crowd to “California Girls,” “I Get Around,” “Shut Down,” “Little Deuce Coupe” and “Surfer Girl,” utilizing the full sound of the band and their range of backup harmonies.

And when they reached the “Pet Sounds” portion of the concert, he helpfully announced it to the audience, making sure we knew what we were listening to. After all, he is a father of five.

Wilson’s voice sometimes seemed wavery and tired, although he kept connecting with the audience, introducing soloists and repeating his thanks to the audience in Hebrew, “Todah, todah, Tel Aviv, Star of David.”

The master musician has suffered from manic depression with auditory hallucinations for much of his life, and there’s a certain exhaustion that’s apparent in his speech and manner. So perhaps he was a little tired from the rigors of tour travel, but his delivery was charming and heartfelt, nevertheless.

In a 2015 Salon interview, Wilson’s wife Melinda Ledbetter said that people generally don’t comprehend how Wilson suffers. He would “be doing a concert, and I can tell. I can see the look in his eyes, his face, I can tell when [the voices] are bothering him, and yet he just champions through it. He’s to be commended for that, in my opinion, and I hate it when people say he’s up there like a zombie. Well, they would be too if they were dealing with what he deals with. It’s something that he’s going to have forever and it’s amazing that he gets through life as well as he does.”

That musical brilliance was apparent onstage in Ra’anana, as Wilson, backed by his band, worked through the tremendous hits of his life’s work.

His current band recreates the historic Wrecking Crew of musicians who backed nearly every Wilson song back in the 1960s, including “Pet Sounds.”

On Wednesday night, they worked with him through his older works, as well as some of the less expected additions, like Bobby Pickett’s “Monster Mash,” “Wild Honey” and “Sail on, Sailor,” sung by Blondie Chaplin, who has joined the Beach Boys and Wilson during various decades.

With the mix of better- and lesser-known pieces from “Pet Sounds,” including the beloved “Sloop John B” and “God Only Knows,” Wilson included some of his instrumental pieces from “Pet Sounds,” works where one marvels at his mix of instruments and sounds.

“Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” was sung by the younger Jardin, who echoed the high notes of the Beach Boys’ younger selves, and Wilson introduced “You Still Believe in Me,” commenting that it was about “some boy who didn’t treat his girlfriend that nice but she loved him anyway.”

The five-song encore included only crowd-pleasers, clinching the audience’s love and affection with “Help Me Rhonda,” “Barbara Ann” and “Good Vibrations.”

By 11 p.m., the crowd was filing out of the park, humming bars and muttering lyrics to the entire set list, because who doesn’t know every word to nearly every song composed by the original Beach Boy?

Todah, Brian Wilson.

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