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Concert review: Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck an odd couple that works

Brian Wilson
Melissa Ruggieri

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When the tour pairing of Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck was announced, there were plenty of, “Huh. Interesting,” reactions.

On paper, the two are studies in opposites: One, a melodic Californian responsible for some of pop’s most ingenious – and sometimes deceptively simple – works. The other, a fiery English guitarist equally skilled in blues, rock and jazz-funk playing.

This musical coupling (Bilson? Weck?) has already begun work on Wilson’s next solo album, so this month-long tour that stopped at Chastain Park Amphitheatre on Friday is rooted in a shared interest and newfound friendship.

Too bad there was such a light turnout to witness two of music’s legendary names share the stage.

Wilson, 71, and his always excellent band, along with Beach Boys buddies Al Jardine and David Marks, opened the show with an hour-long set of classics.

A stick of incense burned at the end of Wilson’s white piano and for the duration, the pop maestro stayed where he is most comfortable – behind the keyboard.

Tucked among fan favorites such as “Surfer Girl” and “Sail On, Sailor” was “Little Bird,” with Marks handling the sweet lead vocals originally provided by Dennis Wilson, and the lovely instrumental title track of “Pet Sounds.”

 It’s always great to see and hear Wilson. But while he appeared a bit more engaged than duringlast year’s Beach Boys anniversary tour, he still often seemed detached.

His voice wavered on “Heroes and Villains” – though the layered complexity of the music was adroitly delivered by his band – but tapped into his upper register for an admirable version of “God Only Knows,” the band filling in the angelic harmonies as the song peaked.

Wilson’s set was a slow build, and it wasn’t until the quartet of closing songs – “Help Me, Rhonda,” “I Get Around,” “Good Vibrations” and “Fun, Fun, Fun” – that the audience stood and heartily sang along with the ageless choruses.

When Beck and his four-piece band arrived, the mood shifted to one of complete awe at the fluid playing of one of the most respected guitarist’s in rock history.

His tight band, highlighted by violinist Lizzie Ball and bassist Rhonda Smith, ably kept pace as Beck bounced from John McLaughlin’s “You Know, You Know” – on which Smith’s bass playing was particularly phenomenal – to a beautifully faithful rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” the stage bathed in purple lighting for added effect.

Beck, 69, has always been an elegant guitarist and a guy who doesn’t talk much. He didn’t need to say anything, though, as he coaxed human-like sounds from his guitar and, when joined by Wilson and some of Wilson’s band, offered the gorgeous melody lines of “Our Prayer” and “Surf’s Up” as the band provided angelic harmonizing.

Beck’s giddy take on Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” and creative re-arranging of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” were highlights, but fans finally got what they were hoping for all evening when both bands crowded the stage to romp through “Barbara Ann” and “Surfin’ U.S.A.”

Seeing the usually serious Beck plowing through such lighthearted fare initially seemed strange, but at some point, after witnessing his obvious enjoyment, the reaction to this odd couple changed to, “Huh. OK, now we get it.”

 

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