By Ed Power
As the Beach Boys’ wistful guiding light, Brian Wilson was one of the first popular musicians to grasp that rock ’n roll could be more than just fodder for teenagers.
He reimagined pop as a strange and delicate art, pushing the genre to its outer limits on landmark albums such as Pet Sounds and Smile.
Alas, the lengths to which he went to reconfigure popular music also impacted on his mental health.
Smile, most notoriously, was such an undertaking that the Beach Boys, collapsing under the gravity of Wilson’s ambition, abandoned it half way through.
Regarded as too sensitive for the rough of tumble of show-business he became one of music’s lost prodigies.
And when he returned to live performance in the Nineties he could indeed present a frail and sensitive figure – someone who, to quote one of his most famous lyrics, just wasn’t made for these times.
Yet this caricature of Wilson as pop’s greatest introvert always somewhat overstated.
He’s been touring more or less continuously for the past 20 years and seems to genuinely enjoy the reception he receives from Beach Boys fans.
I was at Brian Wilson in Vicar Street. Much more my cuppa tea and they all sang live. Was sad to see Brian barely able to walk and having to be helped on and off stage pic.twitter.com/uRQUV2GH2I— Paudie fahey (@sigmatool1) August 22, 2018
Wilson, who turned 76 in June, was certainly in upbeat fettle as he brought the Beach Boys songbook to Dublin for the first of two shows.
Helped on stage by an assistant, he wore a gentle smile leading the band through such jukebox epics as Good Vibrations and California Girls, pop songs that blended honeyed melodies with ornate arrangements that, nearly 50 years after the fact, still sound brave and gorgeously bonkers.
Wilson was assisted by a huge cast of musicians, including Beach Boys co-founder and rhythm guitarist Al Jardine and Jardine’s son Matt, showcasing a cloud-scraping falsetto on the devastating lullaby Don’t Worry Baby.
The supporting troupe also included Blondie Chaplin, the South African guitarist and singer who performed with the Beach Boys in the Seventies, singing lead vocals on their late period classic Sail On Sailor
Standing out in a lime-green suit, Chaplin reprised that song at Vicar Street and demonstrated his guitar chops on a zinging Wild Honey.
Pet Sounds dominated the second half of the set, with Wilson himself front and centre singing Wouldn’t It Be Nice and Good Vibrations.
It was like watching pop history replayed before your eyes - with the baton held aloft by an unassuming older gentleman who also happened to be one of the art-form’s true geniuses.