Review: Good vibrations for Brian Wilson and friends at Heinz Hall
Time and health issues may have challenged his mobility and the strength and clarity of his voice, but Brian Wilson’s mere presence on stage as a bonafide musical legend was enough to carry the night at Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh, Monday.
He, fellow Beach Boy co-founder Al Jardine; former Beach Boy Blondie Chaplin, who also had a long stint with the Rolling Stones; and a stellar, impressively credentialed group of accompanying artists considerably brightened a cold, dreary Monday with holiday and Beach Boys classics.
The Christmas-themed tour is said to be the first of its kind for Wilson, whose stunning body-of-work has made him a Kennedy Center Honors recipient, a Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee, a multiple-Grammy award winner, and a U.K. Music Hall of Fame inductee. As a member of The Beach Boys, Wilson was inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and honored with the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001.
For the first time Wilson and company are performing the Beach Boys’ beloved 1964 “Christmas Album” in its entirety along with cuts from his solo 2005 Christmas album, “What I Really Want for Christmas.”
A warm build up began at 7:30 p.m. with an exhilarating set by harmonic vocalists Andrea Magee from Ireland and Ben Jones from England, who call themselves Beat Root Revival , a multi-instrumental roots duo, combining elements of folk, blues, country and rock.
They came to America three years ago and are now based in Austin, Texas.
They are amazing talents on guitar (Jones), and Magee on bodhran (traditional Irish drum), which at times they play with lightning speed.
They solidly performed original material and imaginative interpretations of such works as the Beatles’ “Come Together” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.”
Greetings to Pittsburgh
A “Hello Pittsburgh” from Wilson at 8:20 p.m. brought fans out of their seats to return the greeting as he walked with assistance to the center stage piano, behind which he remained for the evening.
The artist, 76, had back surgery in May.
In 2016, he told Rolling Stone, “I’m just as creative as I was 50 years ago but I don’t work as fast. I work a little slower.”
When, at 74, he was asked about retirement, he replied, “No retiring. If I retired I wouldn’t know what to do with my time. I’d rather get on the road and do concerts.”
Heart and soul
One of the musicians told the Pittsburgh audience, “Brian is the heart, soul and music man who brings us all together.”
“Ladies and gentlemen. It is a pleasure to bring you these Christmas songs,” Wilson announced.
The stage was beautifully set for the occasion with giant reefs, two trees and holiday colors.
Wilson had the support of 11 musicians, a giant holiday big band, behind and beside him and together they delivered a time trip: “Little St. Nick,” “Merry Christmas Baby,” “Christmas Day,” “We Three Kings,” a jazz-like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” Wilson’s “Christmasey,” among others, with various artists, including Jardine and Wilson taking the vocal leads.
Blondie has fun
Chaplin had fun with a brief duck-walk imitation of Chuck Berry on Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run,” and he claimed the real reason he had the blues for Christmas was because of the Steelers’ last two loses.
“I’ve been a Steelers fan since I came to the United States,” he said before rendering “Blue Christmas.”
He transitioned to blues-rock for a powerful “Oh Holy Night.”
Wilson (and the crowd) seemed most energized as the group powered its way through hit-after-hit in the final segment of the evening: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “God Only Knows,” “Sloop John B, “ “Good Vibrations” (bringing fans to their feet again), “Help Me Rhonda,” Barbara Ann,” “Surfin’ USA” and, a reliably winning number that summed up the evening: “Fun, Fun, Fun.”
That is indeed what the audience had.
Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.