Brian Wilson: A sweetness that makes you ache
Brian Wilson: A sweetness that makes you ache

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[MVP contributor Rebecca Brown went to the Brian Wilson/Rodriguez show last night at Benaroya Hall. These are her first impressions, to be enhanced and possibly revised in a full review "including set list, personnel, etc." which she's writing even now. We'll publish it later today. If you haven't read Brown's incredible 2008 essay about Brian Wilson and Nathaniel Hawthorne, among other subjects, originally published here and later in her book American Romances, you should go do it while you're waiting for the rest of this review.]

Brian Wilson can’t really sing well anymore. His falsetto is cracked and his low register is ragged but there’s a sweetness in his voice that makes you ache. He sounds like a person incapable of guile, someone who has retained an innocence. You ache when you hear it, and probably would even if you didn’t know the story behind it, which nowadays everyone does due to the excellent Love and Mercy movie.

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“Did you see my new movie?” Wilson asked the audience at the packed Benaroya Hall last night; the roar indicated most people had. Love and Mercy (with a brilliant performance by Paul Dano as the young Wilson) tells the story of the rise and fall of Brian Wilson from star to recluse to being forgotten, or thought dead, to redemption and return. Everyone loves a story in which the broken are mended, the wounded heal, the losers are given a second chance and they triumph. Everyone also loves a story that takes them back to a time they were happy or thought they were.

A lot of people with gray hair and thick around the middle were in the audience at the hall that usually hosts the symphony. How much of what anyone heard had to do with nostalgia for their (our) adolescence or childhood, how much was about the singer’s story of suffering and redemption, and how much was about the actual music that was played live? I don’t know.

Wilson sat in the center of stage at a big white grand piano. He wore a short-sleeved plaid shirt and long black pants. He had black shoes and I watched how little they moved. Sometimes his right foot would tap a little, but mostly not. He’s not a person whose music lives in his body; it’s cerebral, like an ether or a thing that came through an angel, a creature not quite human but from another world.