Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck make for an unlikely pair to headline a tour, yet their individual sets provide an interesting contrast of the music from the 1960s and 1970s. Wilson with his Beach Boys tunes, Pet Sounds and more experimental material are starkly opposite to Jeff Beck’s guitar sound that can be heard emulated in heavy metal songs to this day. Together, the show they put on at The Palace Theater in Albany over the course of two separate sets and one stellar group encore made the night truly memorable.
Brian Wilson and musicians were set up Big Band style with 12 others in his group, performing an acapella tune, “Their Hearts were Full of Spring” by The Four Freshmen, to start the night off on a weird yet intriguing note. Following familiar Beach Boys tunes like “Do it Again” and “Don’t Worry Baby”, the first half of the set was focused on the singer/songwriter, giving intros to songs before performing them, familiar or not. A sign of a musician in his later years, discussing the history and background of the music, was well-received by the audience and the stories elicited knowing nods from the mostly seated crowd. “Sail on Sailor” and “Heroes and Villains” stood out among these tunes, the former off the forgotten Holland album while the latter was quite psychedelic in the vein of Pet Sounds, as the backup band sang a synthesizer friendly ballad that could substitute as music for a montage in any 1980s film.
Set highlights included “God Only Knows”, Brian Wilson’s signature work and one he spoke with great pride of, recalled Big Love and sister wives; “Sloop John B”, with vocals from the diminutive Al Jardine were accompanied with soft flute and the harmony of guitarist Jeffrey Foskett, and “I Get Around”, which has forever ingrained the image of sperm navigating Fallopian tubes in the memories of Gen Xers, was as good as any other Beach Boys tune that night, something the crowd was excited to hear, even though it seemed repetitive from last year’s 50th anniversary tour. “Good Vibrations” and “Fun Fun Fun” closed out a set with the crowd rising to do their best white-hair surf rock boogie to, if their hips could manage.
Brian Wilson Setlist: Their Hearts were Full of Spring, California Girls, Do it Again, Then I Kissed Her, Don’t Worry Baby, Little Bird, Old Man River/Cottonfields, Til I Die, Sail on Sailor, Heroes and Villains, Marcella, Pet Sounds, God Only Knows, Sloop John B, Wouldn’t it be Nice, Help me Rhonda, I Get Around, Good Vibrations, Fun Fun Fun
If Brian Wilson’s set was the Obi-Wan/Luke side of the force, then Jeff Beck and his band represented the Dark Side, but Jeff made a much better offer towards crossing over than The Emperor ever did. Opening with “Eternity’s Breath/Stratus”, the soaring prog-rock sounds wowed the crowd in a manner befitting the Maxell ‘Blown Away Guy’ ads of the 1980s. Drummer Jonathan Joseph powered “You Know You Know” with loud, sharp intensity, a tune whose guitar riffs recalled Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality”. Beck traded licks with guitarist Nicolas Meier and plucky bassist Rhonda Smith, who had Wooten-esque chops honed from her days with Prince. In fact during the brief bass/drums segment, there was more than a hint of jazz improv with a nod to a Flecktones style of jamming spreading to all five band members. “Little Wing” – well, if one of the members of the Yardbirds can rock it, why can’t two?
Then the anticipated collaboration came and what a treat it was. Finally, we figured out why these two musicians were touring together. Members of both bands converged and played party to “Our Prayer”, with its trippy humming/vocals, while “Surf’s Up” had skyward vocal peaks. Beck’s “Brush with the Blues” was deep and soulful, painful almost. “Rollin and Tumblin” recalled Robert Johnson’s “If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day” and gave some gritty blues equal time on the stage, to complement the jazz influence in the first set “A Day in the Life” was nasty and dark, rocked out perfectly.
For the encore, all of Wilson’s 13 band members and Beck’s quintent polished off the night with “Barbara Ann” and “Surfin USA” – I’ve never seen Jeff Beck perform before but he did not look comfortable on such unchallenging pieces, but when it came time for Beck’s performance of “Danny Boy”, he once again pressed play on the Maxell tape, leaving the audience with a reminder that the Boys were in the first and the Men were in the second and the Rock God had the final word.
Jeff Beck Setlist: Eternity’s Breath/Stratus, Even Odds, You Know You Know, Yemin, Pump, Little Wing, You Never Know, Corpus Christi, Big Block, Our Prayer*, Surf’s Up*, Brush with the Blues^, How High, Rollin and Tumblin^, A Day in the Life
Encore: Barbara Ann#, Surfin’ USA#, Danny Boy#
*With members of Brian Wilson’s Band
^Brian Wilson vocals
# featuring all members of both bands