Brian Wilson – Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary Tour – Merrill Auditorium, Portland, Maine

Photos and Review by Nate Hastings
Show photos HERE
Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older… has a different ring to it in 2016 than when it first rang out of the jukebox in 1966 but it still every bit as moving when it comes from Brian Wilson.
On Wednesday, June 15 Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary Tour stopped at the Merrill Auditorium in Portland City Hall.  The stunning 1,900 seat auditorium was filled with enthusiastic fans of all ages to hear Wilson and his 11-piece band perform the legendary Pet Sounds album played in its entirety with other classic Beach Boys tracks.
Wilson’s well documented mental health issues resulted in an on-again off again relationship with touring and recording.  However, for the past decade fans have benefited to more regular performances as well as a revisit of Pet Sounds and the completion of its intended follow-up album, SMiLE.
Opening the show with SMiLE’s opening track Heroes & Villains, Wilson proved the audience was in for a great night as they showed off their musical prowess by delivering a spot-on version of the complex track that would have made the Wrecking Crew proud.
Wilson, seated at a baby grand piano, was the visual and spiritual center of the performance in a way that a lone grandparent would be the center of the family gathering.  He may not be the one to do all the work but his subtle piano and signature vocals serve as a reminder that without him and what he accomplished none of us would be here.
Longtime Beach Boy Al Jardine was also a highlight of the evening adding his voice and guitar to the mix on nearly every song.  Fans were also treated to a visit from former Beach Boy and Rolling Stones guest musician, Blondie Chaplin including a performance of his signature beach boys number Sail On, Sailor.
Although Jardine was one of the only original Beach Boys who was not related to Wilson, the tradition of the family band is still alive and well on this tour as Jardine’s son Matt Jardine contributed guitar and percussion, but most importantly an impressive delivery of the famous high notes originally recorded by Wilson.
After the intermission the band dove into Pet Sounds with Matt Jardine delivering the soaring intro vocals to Wouldn’t It Be Nice.  Notably missing from the outro, only to those looking to compare the performance to the album, was the ending couplet “good night my baby / sleep tight my baby” originally contributed by Mike Love.   The casual fan and the newly initiated didn’t miss a thing.
Wilson and Matt Jardine’s vocal chemistry allowed for seamless transitions, even mid-phrase, between the lover ranges (covered by Wilson) and the upper registry (covered by Jardine).  This arrangement was a great way to give the fans a true performance of the album rather than rely on the commonly used crutch of heritage acts of performing everything in a lower key.  The poignancy of You Still Believe In Me, I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times and Don’t Talk, Put Your Head On My Shoulder evoked just as much emotion as they did 50 years ago.
So easy to create in the studio but hard to replicate in live settings, the layered melodies of Pet Sounds beautifully filled the auditorium.  If only the Merrill Auditorium’s Herman Kotzschmar Memorial Organ had not been under renovation – what a backdrop it would have made for such an evening of music!
As his creation and legacy swirled around him, Wilson’s facial expressions alternated between engaged in the moment and a distant gaze, giving one the impression that his mind may be elsewhere at the moment leading you to wonder if this could be the last time.  But like the grandfather whose stories you help tell, Pet Sounds continues with the help of the younger generation in the form of Matt Jardine.  This extended family connection not only fills a musical void but also a spiritual void similar to the role Derek Trucks played in the Allman Brothers and Jake Clemons does on tour with the E Street Band.
During the outro to God Only Knows Al Jardine pointed in Wilson’s direction as he sang “God only knows what I’d be without you.”  In this way Jardine was speaking for many of us because without Wilson and Pet Sounds the inspiration for great albums such as the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Weezer’s Pinkerton, and The Brother Kite’s Waiting For The Time To Be Right would be missing.
Overall it was a beautiful, if not somewhat sad, evening.  What a perfect tribute to Pet Sounds.

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