Brian Wilson's last few high-profile tours have tended to be been big, classy affairs. You know, Pet Sounds in its entirety with a symphony at the Hollywood Bowl -- that sort of thing. Those shows promote the image so many of us like to have of the semi-retired genius: tanned and rested, living large on royalties while playing a few scattered shows to burnish his reputation between all-star tributes and lifetime achievement awards presentations.
Sadly, the picture painted by his Saturday night show at Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale is not quite so clear. Whatever we may wish for him, Wilson is not content to only play when he can tour in grand fashion around a re-issue or anniversary.
Wilson is, it appeared, not in the best health, looking a little fleshy and slumping over his keyboard at times. Also, he can't hit the high notes, leaving his guitarist to do most of the singing during songs like "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "When I Grow Up (to Be a Man)."
Let's set the idealism aside and look at what's really going on: Wilson needs to make a little dough. He and his younger wife Melinda just adopted another infant -- that's five now. He's 67, by the way.
So, yeah, it'd be great for some fans if Wilson had only himself to support, in which case he could probably take 'er easy and play the high-brow stuff not just the "Beach Boys Classic Hits" (read: Little "Deuce Coup," "Surfin' USA," etc.) as he did here. Instead, Saturday Brian delivered the old car/girl/surf classics in a fashion Mike Love would be proud of if he could stop suing people long enough to appreciate the irony of the "artsy" Beach Boy, Brian, finally pulling the sort of smash-and-grab we've come to expect from Love and his arch-rival Al Jardine over the years.
We might prefer Brian in repose, jealously protective of his legacy and never playing a casino show no matter how grand that new casino is -- this was the first show at Talking Stick and I'm pleased to report that it feels more like a Vegas-style resort than Arizona's other Native American-run casinos, though this show was in a ballroom, not a theater-- but with all those mouths to feed, he has to make hay while the sun shines. So, sure, sometimes he plays a show so shoddy fans demand their money back on his message board. Luckily, this wasn't such a disaster. Brian and his band were good but not great, belting out the hits one after another and goading the mostly middle-aged crowd into standing on only a few occasions.
Anyway, far be it from me to judge a man trying to get his swerve on at the expense of his legacy. Brian's wife wanted kids, and he's got 'em. Honestly, if you're nearly 70 with an infant daughter it's probably best to try and save up some cash for the future by any means necessary. Brian's wife Melinda is a controversial figure over at a Beach Boys fan board, where you can find threads like "Topic: Melinda Wilson or the antichrist?" and I certainly sympathize with his older children, who don't seem to like their step-mommy, but it's Brian's life and this is what he wants to do with it.
I'm happy to watch from a chair, if not to stand.
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Saturday Night: Brian Wilson at Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale
Better Than: Anything involving Mike Love.
One More Thing: This is the review the show deserved. Meanwhile, maybe check out my column about the second-best Beach Boys album, Beach Boys Party!