When it comes to needing reasons to tour, being a co-founder and primary songwriter for The Beach Boys is certainly enough for Brian Wilson, though add in the arty new biopic “Love & Mercy” (starring John Cusack and Paul Dano), alongside the recent album “No Pier Pressure,” and the legend’s almost in as much demand as the group’s seminal “Pet Sounds” period. Though it would be impossible to touch on every single aspect of such a celebrated career, the headliner, fellow Beach Boy Al Jardine, special guest Blondie Chaplin (a brief member of The Beach Boys turned Rolling Stones sideman) and a bulletproof nine piece band came pretty close during a comfortably crowded Ravinia Festival appearance filled with more than 30 songs.
Then again, genius has its quirks, and as anyone who’s seen “Love & Mercy” can relate, sitting through eccentric behavior to get to where Wilson’s mind is going is usually worth the wait, especially when the patient were eventually rewarded with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Sloop John B,” “God Only Knows” and “Good Vibrations” (collectively the best material this master’s ever produced).
The virtual beach party began with the simple but glorious harmonies of “Our Prayer” before barreling through hits as iconic as “Heroes And Villains,” “California Girls,” “Little Deuce Coupe” and “I Get Around” with the principals looking older, but sounding generally superb (particularly when blended with the voices of younger band members). But rather than sticking with the standard “Endless Summer” set list of the Mike Love-led version of The Beach Boys’ touring brand, the 73-year-old Wilson bravely dug into the band’s vaults to breath fresh life into his poetic masterpiece “Busy Doin’ Nothin’” and passed the mic to Chaplin for the theremin-tipped psychedelic experiment “Wild Honey.”
Even current tunes came across in the vein of the classics, most notably “One Kind Of Love” (for Wilson’s longtime wife that may as well have been written in the peak of teenage passion), and the “The Right Time” (a breezy, sunny standard in the making featuring Jardine on lead vocals). However, not everything the often times bashful and transitionally awkward Wilson touched turned to gold, including a botched remake of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Honeycomb” (completely aborted after a teleprompter glitch), along with a random request for fans to sing the nursery rhyme “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” without any context as to why.
Then again, genius has its quirks, and as anyone who’s seen “Love & Mercy” can relate, sitting through eccentric behavior to get to where Wilson’s mind is going is usually worth the wait, especially when the patient were eventually rewarded with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Sloop John B,” “God Only Knows” and “Good Vibrations” (collectively the best material this master’s ever produced). Following all the light-hearted encores (“Help Me, Rhonda,” “Barbara Ann,” amongst many others centered around surfing and sun), Wilson delivered the movie’s gorgeous title track to end on an understated note that nevertheless reinforced the brilliance and beauty of the man who made The Beach Boys America’s greatest band.
Upcoming concert highlights at Ravinia Festival include Steve Miller Band on Friday, July 10; Aretha Franklin on Saturday, July 11; Rob Thomas with Plain White T’s on Saturday, July 18; Unity: The Latin Tribute To Michael Jackson on Sunday, July 19; Steely Dan on Friday, July 24 and Saturday, July 25; and Brandi Carlile with Old Crow Medicine Show on Friday, July 31. For additional details, visit www.ravinia.org.