Anyone who held the notion that the teaming of Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck might seem somewhat incongruous likely wasn’t dissuaded when the pairing was put into practice on the first night of the duo’s forthcoming tour, as witnessed at Hard Rock Live this past Friday, September 27. While Beck’s fluid version of “Surf’s Up,” one of the Beach Boys’ landmark accomplishments, seemed an ample nod in the direction of Wilson (and special guests Al Jardine and David Marks), especially given the fact that the trio were cooing along reverently — there was little other common ground. True, they tried the same tack when Beck offered a soaring take on Pet Sounds’ “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on my Shoulder)” — though there were doubtless many in the crowd who didn’t catch the connection — there appeared to be little common ground, a final jam session of sorts on “Surfin’ USA” and “Fun Fun Fun” notwithstanding.
Still, this doesn’t imply disaster. Just the opposite in fact. While fans of the Beach Boys — oops, make that Wilson and company, as they’re not allowed to be billed as the Beach Boys, thanks to Mikey Love having absconded with that banner — might not seem to have all that much in common with Beck fans, both entities — Beck and his extraordinary five piece, Wilson, Jardine, and Marks with the sprawling backing band that always accompanies Wilson on tour — seemed to garner equally enthusiastic receptions.
It was, in fact, two distinct concerts spliced into one. First there was the rundown of classic Beach Boys classics (damn it, Wilson still represents the legacy far better than Love ever could) including “Do It Again” (apt opener, that), “Little Deuce Coupe,” Surfer Girl,” “California Girls,” “Heroes and Villains,” “Do You Wanna Dance,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “God Only Knows,” “Sloop John B,” and what amounted to a quick K-Tel packaging of the band’s best known hits. There were a handful of obscurities — a stirring, choir-like version of “Our Prayer” that had diehards all a-flutter, the rarely repeated medley of “Old Man River” and “Cottonfields,” Marks’ surprisingly effective read of “Summertime Blues” — with each offering further evidence that this incarnation of the group was the one most deserving of the birthright. the much-ballyhooed appearance of onetime Beach Boy Blondie Chaplin — his signature “Sail On Sailor” — proved all too momentary and though he appeared for the finale, one has to wonder why he wasn’t given more opportunity to fully participate.
That’s not to say that these one time psuedo surfer boys needed much help. Jardine sings with as much zest as ever, and clearly, Marks has practiced his guitar licks mightily in the nearly 50 years since his dissatisfaction with band manager Murray Wilson forced his early departure. Meanwhile, singer/guitarist Jeffrey Foskett has become clearly esential to the band, not only by proving himself an able master of ceremonies and singing those superb high harmonies, but also by taking the lead on signature song “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” Sadly though, even as Brian managed his own lead vocals when needed, his singing often seemed tenuous and it was hard to tell if he was actually contributing on keyboards or merely miming. Even when he was called to the fore, he seemed somewhat tentative, eschewing a whole lot of connection with the audience and generally shuffling off stage as quickly as he could once his portion of the proceedings was over.
For his part, Beck put on a superb show, his fusion-esque instrumentals clearly engaging the crowd. Every member of his five piece combo — guitarist Nicolas Meier, vocalist/violinist Lizzie Ball, drummer Jonathan Joseph and bassist Rhonda Smith — is a virtuoso in his or her own right, and each received thunderous applause after individual solos. As for Beck himself, he still looks and sounds terrific, a guitarist’s guitarist in every sense of the word. Only true aficionados would have recognized every song in his set, but it mattered little. Varying the tone and dynamic throughout, he managed to make room for both relentless riffing and more meditative musings, giving the audience plenty to ponder in the process.