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Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck @ The Riverside Theater

Oct. 30, 2013

Oct. 31, 2013
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brian wilson jeff beck 2013 tour riverside theater milwaukee
Photo credit: Melissa Miller

It's hard to imagine two acts more different than Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck. Wilson's Beach Boys are an American institution with a list of hits you'd need four hands to count, while the average person would probably have a hard time coming up with one song by Beck. The unlikely bill is the result of an as-of-yet unheard collaboration between the two, and, against all odds, they made it work Wednesday night at the Riverside Theater. 


The last time I saw Wilson, he was clad in Adidas sweatpants and slogging through a Beach Boys Summerfest reunion, eclipsed by the jeering Hawaiian shirt known as Mike Love. He was more animated and talkative Wednesday, but it's hard to deny that old age and mental ailments have taken their toll on the 71-year-old. With that being the case, Wilson's 11-piece band (which included original Beach Boys Al Jardin and David Marks) took on most of the heavy lifting, with Jardin, Marks and Beach Boys "vice principle" Jeffrey Foskett handling a majority of the lead vocal duties. After showing off their group harmonies with an a cappella version of "Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring," the band drew from deeper levels of its catalog (not that anything is all that deep for the Beach Boys) like "Darlin'," the Dennis Wilson-penned "Little Bird" and the Stones-influenced "Marcella," as well as taking a festive detour for "Monster Mash." The group hit its stride at the halfway point, rifling through a trio of hits from Pet Sounds (“God Only Knows,” “Sloop John B” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”) before getting the crowd on its feet with “Help Me Rhonda,” “I Get Around” and “Good Vibrations.” Wilson and co. went for the wall of sound approach, using four guitars, two keyboards and layers of vocals to bring the classics to life, while remaining unflappably true to the recordings.

I wasn't surprised by the response Wilson got from a room packed wall to wall with baby boomers, but I had no idea what to expect for Beck, and was pretty amazed when he got an ovation the minute he walked on stage. Other than the guy next to me, who left 15 minutes in after asking me quite seriously "Now, who is this?," there seemed to be a lot of Beck fans in attendance. The former Yardbird played a winding, instrumental set of exploratory guitar rock that featured interpretations of "Little Wing" and The Beatles' "A Day In The Life," accompanied by some odd visuals including Beck tooling around the English countryside in an antique Ford. It was a bit goofy, in an unassuming way, and would have been tiresome if Beck hadn't shared some of the spotlight with his band and broken up the set with an appearance from Wilson and co., who stood in for an impressionistic version of "Child Is Father Of The Man" and Muddy Waters' rollicking "Rollin' and Tumblin'."


The night ended with its unlikely stars taking the stage together. While it was basically just Beck ripping solos in the middle of "Barbara Ann" and "Surfin' USA," it was heartwarming to see Wilson get up from his piano and shuffle to center stage to shake hands with his co-star when it was all over. While Wednesday's performance didn't really hint at what an original collaboration between the two might sound like, hearing and seeing them side by side was a rare and unexpected treat. 


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