UNTIL now, a Brian Wilson show has always felt like an event. A few years back, his return to the stage after years of illness was a cause for celebration in itself. Next, he completed and performed his fabled "lost" album, Smile, 35 years after starting it. Then he unveiled a batch of all-new material. Each tour was a stepping stone on the path to a glorious recovery, as well as a moving experience on a purely musical level.
Now Wilson is touring just because he likes it, and that is arguably the greatest milestone of all. The purpose of this two-hour lucky bag of greatest hits, connoisseur's cuts and newer songs is to have fun, fun, fun. And it's pretty difficult not to in the company of Sail On Sailor, Help Me Rhonda or Good Vibrations. However, this show was missing the definition, the ambition and the sophistication of previous Wilson outings. You might even call it a little sloppy in parts. No-one would begrudge Wilson and his band the enjoyment they clearly have onstage, but why waste time on protracted, cabaretish band introductions or Chuck Berry covers when there is no shortage of Wilson classics to unearth and bring to harmonic life?
Still, you cannot argue with the teen rapture of Surfer Girl, the sensitivity of In My Room, the fabulous falsetto action on When I Grow Up To Be A Man (courtesy of longtime wingman Jeffrey Foskett), the tenderness of Don't Worry Baby and the euphoric surge of Wouldn't It Be Nice and All Summer Long.
Fragile though he may appear, Wilson was ostensibly in charge, occasionally conducting the band with an informal wave of his arms, stopping one song to have another run at it, and correctly predicting a standing ovation for the sublime God Only Knows. The audience were already on their feet at the time, just glad to be in the presence of one of popular music's most expert craftsmen.