When former Beach Boy and pop music legend Brian Wilson takes the stage at the Lobero Theatre on Wednesday night, he feels there will be a lot riding on the reception of his new record, That Lucky Old Sun. The album, which comes out on Tuesday, September 2, is being released by Capitol Records/EMI, the same label that all the early Beach Boys hits were on. “Maybe it’s a sentimental thing,” Wilson mused when I spoke with him by phone last week, “but I really want this album to be something that people love. I still remember the first time I went to the Capitol Records offices, and it means so much to me to be back on that label that I just hope it’s a hit.” For its part, Capitol Records has put massive marketing muscle behind the Wilson release, including an unprecedented (for Capitol) streaming preview of the entire album that began August 22 on 50 Gannett newspaper and television station Web sites, including USATODAY.com. For those of you with an appetite for rare vinyl, there is also a limited edition 180-gram vinyl version that’s available in advance. The rest of us will have to wait for the purchasing and the downloading to commence on the September date.
In the meantime, fans can listen to the stream and get tickets to what will certainly be one of the most exciting concerts of the year. Ever since Wilson reemerged as a performing artist with the monumental Pet Sounds concerts at London’s Royal Festival Hall, the word of mouth on his live appearances has been getting better and better. Wilson, who has at times suffered from debilitating bouts of stage fright, claims that is all in the past, saying “I have quite a bit of fun making music onstage, now. It feels good to be up there with my band.” Current band member Scott Bennett has joined in with Wilson and long-time collaborator Van Dyke Parks as part of the songwriting team for That Lucky Old Sun, and the result is a refreshing yet familiar take on Wilson’s perennial subject, life in Southern California. The music on the album is strong-some of the best that Wilson has made in his solo career-yet the artist’s idiosyncrasies remain, particularly in the form of the spoken narrative interludes that link several of the compositions. Stand out songs include the Bennett-penned “Midnight’s Another Day” and the rocking closer, “Going Home.”
The Wilson show represents a major programming coup on the part of the Lobero Live series, as the Lobero is by far the smallest venue that Wilson will play on this tour. In fact, just two days later, Wilson will begin a three night stand at the Hollywood Bowl. Imagine how much more intimate and interesting this large (10 pieces, plus strings and horns) band will sound in a room with a total capacity smaller than some of the Hollywood Bowl’s individual sections. As Joe Woodard states in the Fringe Beat column in this issue, the Wilson appearance is the finale in an unprecedented week of major musical events in town, with Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, and Brian Wilson all playing in the space of just five days.
Of those three massively influential figures, Wilson is, without question, the most enigmatic, and also possibly the most musically gifted. He has won a Grammy for an instrumental composition, something neither Nelson nor Dylan can claim, and he is capable of the most heartrending song craft imaginable. Even Sir Paul McCartney admits to shedding a tear now and then when he listens to Wilson’s “God Only Knows” from the Pet Sounds album. Plus, there are sure to be several rounds of classic Beach Boys tunes on offer Wednesday night, too.
When asked about his songwriting, Wilson shows an admirable mixture of humility and aspiration, veering between “aw shucks” disclaimers and hymns to higher things. When asked about a line from one of the songs on That Lucky Old Sun, Wilson said, “That one’s by Scott, and I don’t know what it means. He’s a young guy and a great musician, but I can’t explain his words for him.” But a moment later, in response to another question about the experience of singing harmony, Wilson is right back in gear, praising the original Beach Boys as a vocal group that made harmony “a spiritual thing, which is what harmony should be-a spiritual experience. In each song, the way it works is a little different, but as brothers we had similar vocal chords, and there were certain things-like singing high notes-that we could do naturally that just fit with our style and personality.”
When asked if he had any special message for the fans in Santa Barbara, a place that Wilson knows well from years of visiting and playing here, he said that he would “look forward to trying to please them,” a remarkably gracious and humble line from one of music’s all-time greatest songwriters.
Brian Wilson will perform at the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.) on Wednesday, September 10, at 8 p.m. For tickets and information, call 963-0761 or visit lobero.com.