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Review: Brian Wilson, Live from Times Square, Newcastle

Live from Times Square came to an uplifting conclusion on Sunday night, when a soggy crowd was warmed by the classic sun-kissed songs of Brian Wilson.

Flanked by a 10-piece band, the 75-year-old’s frail state was no obstacle for a healthy all-ages crowd, who flocked at the prospect of hearing The Beach Boys’ legendary Pet Sounds album aired in its entirety.

Did you catch any of the Live From Times Square concerts? Picture: Carl Chambers.

Did you catch any of the Live From Times Square concerts?

Picture: Carl Chambers.

As with the other shows which have taken place over the past fortnight, this festival-style event featured an impressive supporting cast, which tonight placed a particular spotlight on local acts. Unfortunately, both Sunderland’s Lake Poets and Teesside’s Cattle & Cane faced an uphill battle from the off thanks to the adverse weather. That, though, didn’t prevent either of them from putting in hearty performances, the former with his emotional indie folk, the latter with their luscious pop melodies.

Completing the local trio were Lanterns on the Lake, a group whose cinematic music is perhaps more suited to formal venues like The Sage than this lofty open air setting.

What was your Brian Wilson highlight? Picture: Carl Chambers.

What was your Brian Wilson highlight?

Picture: Carl Chambers.

Even so, the scope and beauty of their sound was fully evident; their expansive, atmospheric soundscapes providing a stirring and sedate addition to the bill. Granted, their set won’t have done much for those who came along to dance – but luckily for them Brian Wilson wasn’t the only bona fide legend on show. And, despite the continuing rain, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas proved an ideal way to perk up with a 45-minute masterclass in Detroit soul vibes.

At 76, Reeves’ famous voice has inevitably lost some of it’s old power, though even now she’s capable of hitting notes that the majority of us can scarcely dream of. Then, of course, there’s the tunes themselves – a succession timeless numbers such as Jimmy Mack, Heat Wave and Dancing in the Street which induced a more than willing – and by now sizeable – audience to, in her words, “get their wiggle on”. Having found fame later in life, age likewise offers little barrier to Seasick Steve, whose DIY blues shtick provided the final warmup.

Conversely, this 76-year-old’s music has never left me with any particularly strong feelings either way, and as such his set ended up serving as something of a drinks/toilet break. His guitar certainly has a satisfying muddy twang, yet among his catalogue of perfectly serviceable stompers there were numerous cuts which had me asking “haven’t we had this one already?” Anyway, onto Brian Wilson; an experience as joyful and celebratory as it was uncomfortable and bittersweet.

It’s difficult not to feel a sense of tragedy when the person whose name is on your ticket has to be helped on stage and into his chair, never mind with an expression so blank and a contribution which could at best be described as fitful. Decades of mental illness and substance abuse have, alas, taken their toll, to the point that his roll has been reduced to less of a frontman and more of a figurehead. Fortunately, his band – spearheaded by fellow Beach Boys Al and Matt Jardine – were more than capable of picking up the slack, and turned what could have been a salvage job into a evening of genuine resonance.

Matt Jardine, in particular, put in a sterling shift, leading from the front with glorious harmonies and a vocal range which seems practically undiminished. Sandwiched between a selection of golden hits, Pet Sounds itself was, predictably, a bit of a mixed bag. Propped up by the band, upbeat favourites such as Wouldn’t It Be Nice, I’m Waiting For the Day and Sloop John B were everything one could have hoped for.

On the flipside were the likes of That’s Not Me and Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder), slower numbers which placed a greater emphasis on Wilson himself and, sad to say, suffered immeasurably as a result, The one notable exception was God Only Knows, a song whose beauty is so pure and enduring that it didn’t even require a semi-competent singer to hit its spot. Indeed, it was in this moment that I realised there was barely a face around me which wasn’t sporting a beaming smile, be it through jubilation, nostalgia or the sheer absurdity of paying good money to see someone who can barely string a verse together – and still enjoying it!

It was a slightly odd but ultimately fitting end to what has by all accounts been a triumphant Times Square campaign, and one which local promoters SSD will have their work cut out topping come 2018.

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