Brian Wilson Was at Peace With His Legacy Last Night at Verizon Theatre

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Brian Wilson
Verizon Theatre, Grand Prairie
Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Only three months have passed since Dallas was last swept in gleeful waves of Southern California nostalgia. Led by Mike Love, the Beach Boys visited Verizon Theatre for a performance highlighted with props and stage projections of the band's more youthful days. But last night, the very same stage was stripped of any beach-related frill or sentimental fabrications as Brian Wilson held assembly from behind his white grand piano, in an almost regal state.

Wilson has enjoyed a reemergence over the past few months, not only with his latest (and quite possibly last) release, No Pier Pressure, but also the biopic based on the two eras of his life that shaped both his career and his frail mental stability, Love and Mercy. It seems that at 73, Wilson — having overcome a psychiatrist's checklist of mental disorders, as well as a struggle with substance abuse, and come out the other end a sunny septuagenarian — knows that retirement is inevitably around the corner, a fact that he probably welcomes and enjoys.

But parting can be bittersweet, and it would appear that Wilson is intent on closing the proverbial curtains with grace.

That much was evident in last night's performance, as Wilson, who usually equates stage presence with dull obligation, was engaging and downright boisterous, recapturing that wide-eyed and boyish spirit of his early shows. In fact, if there was one prop in use last night, it was the piano itself, as Wilson was mostly content to sit back and take in the night's set, rotating between backing and lead vocals on the usual staples of the Beach Boys' chart-topping catalog.
The night began with "Our Prayer" and "Heroes and Villains," the opening tracks to the brilliant remnants collected and pieced together from the follow-up to Pet Sounds, Smile. That was immediately followed by "California Girls," and all three of those featured the carefully crafted harmonies that became the backbone of the evening's performance.

From there, the leads were handed off occasionally, between one-time Beach Boys member Blondie Chaplin, on the bulk of the new material, and Al Jardine, crooning on the classic "Little Deuce Coup" and "Then He Kissed Me." But it was Jardine's son, Matt, whose pipes were the most impressive of the three as he handled "Don't Worry Baby" and "Wouldn't It Be Nice."

But this was Wilson's night, and he seemed very comfortable in that fact. His between-song banter was adorable in a grandfatherly way, pointing out that "One Kind of Love" was written for the love of his life, and how the first two notes of "The Little Girl I Once Knew" were from China, while the rest was American. He also took a time out to ask the audience if they had seen his new movie, which for all intents and purposes he had no involvement in whatsoever, but he felt inclined to take ownership of it anyway.

It seems the spotlight suits Wilson rather well these days, a sort of ironic twist for an artist who once preferred the studio environment over life on the road. His genius and innovation for wielding the recording process as an instrument unto itself will forever be one of his greatest accomplishments. But he must also find time to enjoy the gift he's given to the world, even if it is at the tail end of his career. And last night he did, shedding all of the weight and extra nostalgic extravagance and symbolism that comes with the territory of being America's favorite pop band. He'll leave that problem to the Beach Boys.

Another musician enjoying a revival was show opener Rodriguez, whose folksy romanticism managed to make the Verizon feel like an intimate dive bar. He even took time out to sing happy birthday to one adoring fan, something many musicians would just as soon shrug off with a polite congratulations. Many in the audience seemed to only be in attendance for his set, shouting "We love you, Rodriguez!" To which he humbly replied, "I know it's the drink, but I love you too."

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