Last year, all surviving members of the original Beach Boys reunited for a successful, worldwide, 50th anniversary tour. The heartbeat of the band, primary songwriter/performer/producer/loveable-teddy-bear-of-a-man Brian Wilson, now 71, needed some assistance getting on and off the platform on which his white baby grand piano was perched — but considering what he's been through, he sounded fantastic.
Brian Wilson grew up with an abusive father, Murray Wilson, who was also the band's first manager. Brian suffered from mental illness and was further damaged later in life by the administration of excessive psychotropics meant to treat it. He did his share of illegal drugs too. LSD blew his mind and triggered voices in his head that didn't go away when the drug wore off. Excessive cocaine didn't help either. He became grossly overweight and refused to get out of bed, writing songs in exchange for cheeseburgers. His brother Dennis, the band's drummer, drowned in 1983. His other brother Carl, their guitarist, succumbed to cancer in 1998. Brian was sued several times by his cousin, Beach Boys singer Mike Love, who insists to this day on traveling with his own band of ringers under the name “The Beach Boys,” fooling only casual fans that don't know better or don't care.
Brian Wilson put aside any squabbles and/or lawsuits and agreed to the anniversary tour last year, but by the time it ended, the usual tension and bad vibrations we've come to expect when the remaining group spends too much time in close quarters had returned. Following up a massive 50th-anniversary reunion tour isn't an easy task, but Wilson is forging ahead.
On his current road excursion, which brings him to the Oakdale this Friday, he's bringing along another original Beach Boy, Al Jardine, and guitarist David Marks, who was a founding member but quit in 1963 after a fight with Murray Wilson. Coheadlining on the tour is guitarist Jeff Beck — a strange pairing. Brian Wilson's band (which is not called the Beach Boys) will play first, Beck will sit in on a few tunes, Beck will play his own set (featuring some Yardbirds songs), and then everyone will get on stage together during the final encore.
“I met him in 2005 at the MusiCares Awards and he played my song ‘Surf's Up,'” says Wilson, of Beck.
After last year's tour ended and Wilson began work on a new album, he tapped Beck to lay down some tracks. When it came time to talk about touring, it was only natural for the pair to team up.
“His playing was featured,” says Wilson, of his new album. “We did an instrumental called ‘Metropolis.'”
The new record will once again be on Capitol Records, the label that originally presented the band to the world. Wilson recently resigned with them as a solo artist.
“Yeah, we were there when we released ‘Good Vibrations,' ‘California Girls,' all those songs,” says Wilson. “It's a home base place to be, you know? We've been doing this for 51 years.”
Also on our phone call interview from L.A., via speakerphone, was Al Jardine and a couple of other unidentified joking voices. Jardine did most of the talking, and occasionally Wilson would chime in with a terse, semi-distracted response. And that's how I knew it was really Brian Wilson. But it was an honor just to be on the line with him.
When asked about the circumstances leading to the end of the reunion, Wilson has a simple answer. “No comment,” he says.
Al Jardine sings lead on songs like “Help Me Rhonda,” “I Know There's an Answer,” “Cotton Fields” and “Then I Kissed Her.” He was always considered the folkie of the group. Jardine brought songs like the traditional “Sloop John B” to the table in 1966.
“I went over to Brian's place and showed him the song, and I thought there were some good changes — Beach Boys changes — that might make it even better than the original, which has been evolving over the years,” he says. “These songs evolve for many, many years. And we just put our distinctive trademark on it. And somehow that sucker just took off, and Brian put a great…uh...”
“Arrangement,” says Wilson.
“Arrangement,” says Jardine, “on the chords that I presented, and suddenly, boom, we had a hit.”
In 2011, the band finally released The Smile Sessions, a reassembling of the abandoned cult-favorite 1966-67 album Smile using the original tapes. Prior to that Wilson and his band rerecorded the material for the 2004 release Brian Wilson Presents Smile.
“What a labor of love that was,” says Jardine. “And for Brian to do that again. It's amazing to me that he had the fortitude to finish it with his band. It's really a testament to his creativity and [lyricist] Van Dyke [Parks]… that whole era was just blessed with creativity.”
Much of the set on this tour will be similar to that of last year's tour. But there will be a couple of curveballs. If Jardine had his way, they'd dig even deeper into the catalog.
“‘Winds of Change' or ‘Santa Ana Winds,'” he suggests. “Just oddball songs. I always felt for those two. ‘Winds of Change'... that would be the Beach Boys... or not the Beach Boys... whatever we are! [bursts out laughing] I don't even know what we are anymore! An extension of that vibe, right? We are the vibe. The heart and soul. Those songs are never gonna go away. And we'll play ‘em until we're... until whenever. That's it.”
Brian Wilson, Al Jardine & David Marks
w/ Jeff Beck. Friday, Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m. The Oakdale, 95 S Turnpike Road, Wallingford. $49.50-$75. (203) 269-8721, oakdale.com