Brian Wilson, Hollywood Bowl, 9/4/05

Brian Wilson, Hollywood Bowl, 9/4/05

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A good vibes crowd of hippies, yuppies and indies, Trader Joe’s picnic gear in tow, turned out at the Hollywood Bowl this past Sunday to see Brian Wilson. Backed by a band of a dozen or so photogenic pros, Brian was up front, propped on a barstool behind largely untinkled keys and teleprompter. In person, Brian ver. 2005 is more of a mascot of his past pre-meltdown self, and as such endears him to a crowd in a way that, say, a fully animated Mick Jagger never could (nor should) these days. Brian nailed the occasional note and conjured his young self, hair parted nicely, in striped shirtsleeves.

Opening and closing sets of hits rightfully elicited loud cheers, but the meat of the evening was a full run through of the Smile LP, the last scheduled such performance. Following an intermission, a simmering came over the audience, as if OK, this is the important part. Led by Darian Sahanaja on keys and vibes, the band read through Smile about as perfectly as could be done by mere humans, nailing just about all the parts from the newly recorded versions. One could even forgive that worst of all session musician clichés–the step-forward saxophone solo–in light of the quality of the service to Smile. From the stacked harmonies of “Our Prayer” all the way through to he happy theremin of “Good Vibrations,” the sound was crystalline and well-spaced, perfect to take advantage of the Bowl’s revamped acoustics. The middle stanza of Smile that weaves “Wonderful” to “Surf’s Up” was particularly moving live.

After an encore that blasted out “Surfin’ USA,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “I Get Around,” and “Barbara Ann” in rapid succession, it was clear that this performance was as much a Beach Boys retrospective as a chance to play out Smile, and, accordingly, the crowd used the occasion to thank him for a lifetime of great music.

The 22-strong Texan Polyphonic Spree opened the night at dusk with a short set of their psychedelic orchestral rock. While their very existence has always been predicated on the gimmick of their ridiculous numbers, their terminally happy live show loses its luster if you have seen them just once before, even if now they have teal robes with red zigzag trim. The Bowl scale was not kind to them, rendering their mass indifferently on a stage accustomed to holding actual orchestras. They broke through somewhat at the end trying to engage the audience in generating a collective ohm tone but overall were underwhelming. They are more suited to smaller, enclosed spaces where they can bombard the audience with their energy at close range.