Brian Wilson sat at a baby grand piano like a Buddha statue. His arms were limp at his side. He stared blankly straight ahead at a transparent teleprompter that was between him and the capacity audience at the Orpheum Theatre on Sunday night.
As he sang the second song on “Pet Sounds,” his 1966 masterpiece with the Beach Boys, he stumbled over his lyrics, his phrasing became halting and unmusical, he looked lost momentarily.
“I know perfectly well,” he offered in a colorless voice that seemed more like talking than singing. “I’m not where I should be.”
The crowd knew perfectly well that Wilson, 74, is a damaged genius, the troubled Mozart of pop who has been afflicted by depression, abuse, drugs, inner voices, bad therapies and schizoaffective disorder. It seemed fitting that he was performing a song called “You Still Believe in Me.”
Indeed, members of the crowd went crazy for Wilson, and the sound of genius. They still believed in Brian.
He may have not been in good voice. No one ever said he was a genius onstage. (He pretty much stopped touring with the Beach Boys in 1964 and returned to the road in 1999 as a solo artist.) Instead, Wilson once again proved to be a master music maker, a producer, arranger and writer of brilliant pop music who surrounded himself with the right musicians to deliver the sometimes simple and oftentimes sophisticated sounds he hears in his head.
For his two-set, two-hour performance, Wilson had a different 11-member band than he has had during his six previous solo concerts in the Twin Cities. Al Jardine, an original Beach Boy, was along with Blondie Chaplin, a Beach Boy in the early ’70s. Guitarist Nicky Wonder was still on board, though some other members of his band, the Wondermints, weren’t around anymore. The key contributor had to be Matthew Jardine, son of Al, who took all the high vocal and falsetto parts that Wilson had sung on the recordings.
Matthew Jardine was born in 1966, the year that “Pet Sounds” revolutionized the music business as arguably the first concept album, an ambitious pop orchestral work that inspired the Beatles to make “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” “Pet Sounds” is a symphony of loneliness and longing, of alienation and insecurity, of anxiety and guilt — and ultimately love.
Even if Wilson wasn’t in praiseworthy voice (he was suitably tender on the pretty, hymn-like “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)”), his band delivered “Pet Sounds” with expert care and musicianship, clearly pleasing the meticulous maestro and the fans.
With the melancholy of the 13-song “Pet Sounds” as the focus of the concert, this concert wasn’t as joyous as Wilson’s 2013 Minnesota Zoo concert that was filled with “Fun, Fun, Fun” and a very sunny, surf-loving repertoire.
Chaplin, who wasn’t at the zoo, added a new-to-Wilson rock ‘n’ roll swagger on an Elton John-evoking “Sail On Sailor” and “Wild Honey,” during which he seemed like Lou Reed trying to channel the Rolling Stones.
Some 53 years after the Beach Boys were founded, Al Jardine was true to his schooling on car songs (“Little Deuce Coupe”), good-vibration singalongs (“Barbara Ann”) and even quintessential Beach Boys artful pop-rock (“California Saga: California”).
But this night was to celebrate the music of Wilson and the 50th anniversary of “Pet Sounds.” He ended with his solo signature, “Love and Mercy,” a 1988 song that became the title of his 2014 biopic. The song talks about observing loneliness in a bar and senseless violence on the TV news.
“Love and mercy, that’s what you need tonight,” he sang with a hint of passion. “Love and mercy to you and your friends tonight.”
He waved like a little kid — and then scurried off like he wanted to go hide.