Early in their set Thursday night at Bryant-Lake Bowl, Matt and Dan Wilson recounted how they thought it would be cool and unique to play a rehearsal-style gig in front of a crowd in a small venue before their larger and more formal show Friday at the Pantages Theatre. “Then we found out Prince had one-upped us,” Dan quipped, referring to the Purple Yoda’s three-night test sessions at the Dakota two weeks ago.
There were plenty more similarities between the two bookings. Like Prince, the Wilson brothers played several new tunes and picked rather wildly from their discography at Thursday’s BLB warm-up. They also tried out a new band of sorts: Jeremy Messersmith’s chief collaborator Andy Thompson joined them on keyboards and bass, while longtime Semisonic fourth-wheel and scene vet Ken Chastain played drums and percussion behind them. Dubbed “Kandy” by Matt (Ken + Andy), the pair added some essential layering to each Wilson brother’s often ambitious and lush, classic-pop songwriting style, but the extra bodies did not muddy up the intimacy that makes these sibling gigs special.
The warm-up gig was patterned after similar 2010 shows at the Pantages and in Chicago, which was the siblings' first time working as a duo and only their second time performing a whole concert together since Trip Shakespeare ended its run in 1994. Their dad supposedly gave them the idea to play an acoustic set together, and there remained a strong family-living-room quality to Thursday's two-set, two-hour performance -- a vibe furthered by their mom’s presence and the relative looseness with which they played (though that may have been less intentional given Dan’s relocation to and high demand around Los Angeles nowadays).
The first half of the show -- spoiler alert: this may be where you want to stop reading if you’re going to tonight's sold-out Pantages performance -- featured three of Dan’s best-known tunes, which I say to underline how well Matt’s songs shone through amid the "hits." Among the highlights of the first set were a couple new ones that Matt wrote for an overdue Twilight Hours sophomore album: a fantastical, would-be orchestral ballad called “Everlasting Streams” and a twangier, Dylanesque ditty titled “I Was Made to Love You.” Matt also shimmered in the older Twilight Hours gem, “Dreams,” featuring some of their best two-part vocals of the night. They also added some sweet harmonies to the title track of Dan’s masterful 2007 solo album, “Free Life.” Semisonic’s “Secret Smile” was also thrown in alongside Dan’s main calling card of late, the Adele co-write “Someone Like You.”
Things got sillier and livelier in the second set. Like brothers bringing down an old toy from their parents’ attic, they dug up “Kiss Away the Tears,” a surprisingly decent, pop-punky song from their teenage band the Love Monsters. “You don’t know how unlistened to we were,” Matt, um, bragged. “That’s as far back as we’ll ever go,” Dan said afterward. Like a rubber band snapping back, they then went on to offer “the newest song of the night,” a dramatic piano ballad called “Too Much,” one of two from Dan’s in-the-works second solo record. Then came a lot more from the way-back time machine, including “Closing Time,” “Never You Mind,” “Toolmaster of Brainerd” and “Two Wheeler, Four Wheeler.”
Those old band workouts were fun but never quite as fulfilling as the quieter and more elegant fare -- “elegant” being a word you could never apply to “Toolmaster” -- including the final pair on the set list, Dan’s “Act Naturally” and Matt’s “Hello Caller.” Matt acknowledged the similarity of the two closing ballads like it was a bad thing. These duo shows are built on such kinship, though.