Published Nov 24, 2018Though Brian Wilson brought his "Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary World Tour" to Ottawa in 2016 , the 76-year-old musician decided to return to the nation's capital to celebrate the iconic album all over again. Dubbed Brian Wilson Presents Pet Sounds: The Final Performances, the two-hour show finds the Beach Boy buffering songs from the titular album around a greatest hits set.
Opening the evening were the folky Beat Root Revival, whose brand of adult alternative (if you consider Train and Jack Johnson alternative) seemed perfect for the aged and seated Ottawa crowd. Playing a set of tracks from their three LPs, along with covers of Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" and the Beatles "Come Together," the duo of Ben Jones on acoustic guitar and Andrea Magee on bodhran nonetheless proved to be endowed musicians, earning them a standing ovation.
As the stage began to overfill with band members, Brian Wilson was escorted to his chair behind a white baby grand piano to lead his ten-piece band into the set's opening number, "California Girls", which found his bandmates handling the song's tricky chorus. Moving into a pair of 1964 hits — "Dance Dance Dance" and "I Get Around" — it became apparent that Wilson was struggling to sing, limiting his vocal contributions throughout the evening.
As Wilson sat motionless behind the piano (which he would do for two-thirds of the show), Al Jardine would take the vocal on "Little Deuce Coup" and "Shut Down" (two songs ironically recorded during his brief departure from the band in 1963), while Wilson's son-in-law Rob Bonfiglio took over for a surprisingly moving version of "Don't Worry Baby."
Moving into some lesser-known material, including "California Saga: California" from 1973's Holland, and "Darling" from 1967's Wild Honey, the band brought out Blondie Chaplin, a short-lived member of the Beach Boys in the early '70s, to perform the long-forgotten single "Sail, On Sailor" and the lovely Surf's Up album track "Feel Flows."
As Brian announced to the audience, "We're playing Pet Sounds now," the tiny TD Place Arena crowd held their collective breath during the opening keyboard of "Wouldn't It Be Nice," hoping that Wilson would belt out the song's opening salvo, only to hear the talented but uncharismatic Bonfiglio take the lead. By the time the album moved to its B-side, Wilson captivated the concertgoers by tackling the entire vocal for a heartwarming rendition of "God Only Knows" himself, resulting in a rare mid-performance standing ovation.
Leaving the stage after the final notes of Pet Sounds closer "Caroline, No," Wilson was escorted back to his seat for a rousing six-song encore (handled mostly by Jardine) that kicked off with "Good Vibrations" and focused on some of their biggest (and goofiest) hits — as the crowd finally got to their feet to sing and dance and along to "Help Me Rhonda," "Barbara Ann," "Surfin' U.S.A." and "Fun Fun Fun."
Although Wilson's stationary and much-too-slick band failed to provide much energy during the evening's performance, Wilson's laboured and out-of-tune vocal on the evening's closer, the 1988 solo song "Love and Mercy," made it clear that his raw humanity and endearing imperfection proved to be the evening's saving grace.