There was a man-made lake, not an ocean. There was drizzle, not sun. And people wore ponchos and hoodies, not Hawaiian shirts.
Still, on an unseasonably cool July night at the Minnesota Zoo on Saturday, you couldn’t stop Brian Wilson and the sunniest, surfin’-est and giddiest catalog in the history of American popular music. The guiding light of the Beach Boys and a standing-room-only crowd had fun, fun, fun till Wilson walked away after harmonizing on the wistful “Summer’s Gone.”
The reunited Beach Boys didn’t perform in the Twin Cities during last year’s 50th anniversary tour. Since then, Wilson’s cousin, Mike Love, decided to resume his own Beach Boys tour (he owns the name), so Wilson, 71, the troubled Mozart of pop, is traveling this summer with fellow original Beach Boys Al Jardine and David Marks as well as nine other musicians.
In 1971, when the Beach Boys showed up at the Guthrie Theater without Wilson and a new, less radio-friendly sound, who would have thought Brian Wilson would be singing in Minnesota in 2013 and his songs would still resonate with such resounding joy?
Abused by his father/manager, he took too much LSD in the 1960s and then underwent controversial therapies for many years. Since launching his comeback solo career in the late 1990s, he has seemed odd in concert, an aloof gentle giant with a damaged soul and nervous system. He never quite seemed “all there” as a singer, conversationalist or performer.
Saturday was unquestionably the best of Wilson’s four Twin Cities solo shows for several reasons. He played a generous 38-song program featuring mostly Beach Boys hits and only two solo selections. He was noticeably more comfortable on stage, his feet often dancing under the piano, his hands in the air conducting the sounds he heard in his head. Not only was he in good spirits, he was more consistent and confident as a vocalist and just radiated undeniable good vibrations.
Wilson’s reading of “God Only Knows,” one of the greatest pop love songs of all time, was so heavenly — complete with bells, French horn and a cascade of choral harmonies — that he received not only a long and loud standing ovation from the 1,500 fans but Jardine remarked twice how deserving that resounding reaction was.
Jardine’s presence added much vocally and spiritually. Marks, the long-lost Beach Boy, provided some hot guitar licks that this music had always been missing in concert.
Wilson didn’t sing as much as he has here in the recent past and his voice was a little colorless at times as he concentrated on hitting the right notes (which he did) instead of the right feeling. But bolstered by his always wonderful backup band, the Wondermints, and old pals Jardine and Marks, Wilson was able to present two hours of intricately layered mini-concertos, choral pieces and pure pop gems that will forever be preserved in our musical memory.
Set list: www.startribune.com/artcetera