Brian Wilson brings final Pet Sounds tour to Asheville

WOULDN'T IT BE NICE: Former Beach Boys leader and songwriter Brian Wilson brings one of the final performances of his classic 1966 album, Pet Sounds, to the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. Photo courtesy co5 Media

When the Beach BoysPet Sounds was released in May, 1966, few listeners could have predicted its enduring legacy. Continuing his musical departure from that group’s earlier songs about cars and surfing, songwriter/producer Brian Wilson crafted an album that dealt with relatively more “adult” themes like love and loss. Now, more than 50 years later, the post-Beach Boys Wilson and his band are bringing a live performance of that historic album — billed as one of the final Pet Sounds performances — to Thomas Wolfe Auditorium on Thursday, Aug. 18.

Wilson understands and accepts that countless listeners have been moved to tears by the music and lyrics of songs like “Caroline, No” and “God Only Knows,” the latter sung on Pet Sounds by his brother, Carl. “I think the spirituality, the vocal harmonies, the melodies and the lyrics all appeal to people,” Wilson says.

Modern-day listeners might be surprised to learn that on its original release, Pet Sounds was considered a commercial disappointment in the U.S.; it fared much better — both chart-wise and in critical reviews — in England, where it was almost immediately hailed as a masterpiece. The Beatles readily admitted that Pet Sounds was a major inspiration for the musical adventures of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released just over a year later. Wilson doesn’t pretend to understand why the British embraced Pet Sounds so warmly, other than noting, “I think the people in England were more sensitive to Americans’ music; they were more in tune with it.”

Pop-music historian and Beach Boys scholar Domenic Priore, author of Look! Listen! Vibrate! Smile!, points out the influence Pet Sounds would extend both overseas and at home. “In England, Pet Sounds got accolades from the members of the rock cognoscenti,” he notes. Priore also credits the album’s arrangement and production qualities as influences upon mainstream pop such as Petula Clark’s “Don’t Sleep in the Subway,” songs by the Association (“Along Comes Mary”) and many other hits. “Those were all grandiose productions that could have only happened because of Brian Wilson’s production of Pet Sounds,” he says.

In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Pet Sounds second — bested only by Sgt. Pepper — on its list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.” But within the half-century-plus career arc of The Beach Boys, the group’s ambitious music of that era hasn’t always been embraced. Priore notes that in the early 1970s — a time when Wilson was largely absent from the group — the Beach Boys worked a significant portion of the Pet Sounds material into their live shows. “They would do a lot of college touring, trying to convince people that the Beach Boys were, indeed, worthy of counterculture respect. Eventually [American audiences] started saying, ‘Hey, this Pet Sounds, maybe there is something behind this.’”

But with the release of a two-LP retrospective focusing on their early surfing and car songs, the group turned its back on ambitious music, becoming and remaining an oldies act. “They blew this all in 1974 when it became nostalgia with the release of Endless Summer,” Priore says. Moreover, Wilson — who was suffering from improperly treated manic depression and schizoactive disorder — was nonetheless brought back into the fold for numerous “Brian’s back!” publicity events that did little to burnish the group’s reputation.

In the 21st century, Wilson — working with his own group — doesn’t shy away from his ambitious studio creations of the mid 1960s; in fact, he embraces them. In 2004, he recorded a new version of SMiLE, his legendary unreleased 1966 follow-up to Pet Sounds. Meanwhile, his former group remains a strong draw, playing “Surfin’ Safari,” “California Girls,” “Kokomo” and the like.

Still, these days Wilson — who tours with a large band that includes former fellow Beach Boys Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin as well as longtime members of critical-darling band Wondermints — doesn’t really go in for deep musicological analysis of Pet Sounds or the contemporary performances of that music. Asked about the touring band, he’s straightforward. “I like the way my band members play their instruments,” he says. “And they sing great, too.”

WHO: Brian Wilson’s 2016 Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary World Tour
WHERE: Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, 87 Haywood St., uscellularcenterasheville.com
WHEN: Thursday, Aug. 18, 8 p.m. $59.50-$115

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About Bill Kopp
Author, music journalist, historian, collector, and musician. His first book, "Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon," published by Rowman & Littlefield, is available now. Follow me @the_musoscribe

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7 thoughts on “Brian Wilson brings final Pet Sounds tour to Asheville

  1. boatrocker

    Brian Wilson, final Pets Sounds? Finally?
    Please put that in writing for any ticket holders. . Pleeeeeease.

    The Eagles have been saying that for years, but Baby Boomers still buy tickets and show up for thinking they have the ‘best’ music.

    Gross.

    Self-indulgent pop for a self-indulgent generation. Not that hipster pop is any better. That’s a different thread.

    If only he could have played at the Biltmore Estate Concert Series, where security ejects folks who stand up to clap.
    Congrats if you can stand up to clap at a Brian Wilson concert.
    Brian’s take from that show will go to pay the other Beach Boys’ lawsuits against him.

    The pet sounds of midlife crises, halfback second homes in WNC, overpriced Harleys after one’s divorce from a starter marriage,
    sports bars and artificial hips breaking for awful Baby Boomer pop music in the morning smells like….victory.

    A Jimmy Buffet or Bob Seeger show would draw exactly the same audience minus the musicianship onstage.

    • tim parrish

      Bitter much?

      That’s a lot of vitriol for music that probably doesn’t bring back memories for you.
      That being said, the music from the 60s and 70s can stand toe to toe with anything made afterward.
      As for the attack on the fans just remember the clock ticks for everyone, including you.
      Maybe you can take Roger Daltreys words to heart; “Hope I die before I get old.”
      Who knows, you might get lucky.

      • boatrocker

        I knew someone would get offended at that and use Baby Boomer music to support their assertion- that’s fine, but don’t assume every person automatically thinks the music of their youth is superior.

        1- I respect recorded music in general for having the luxury of being able to hear music from the advent of recorded music to right now. Sadly after the payola scandals of the early 60’s, the business part trumped the music part. Fast forward to why you and I don’t listen to the radio much. I honestly prefer early 20th cent music, but all those guys are pushing up daisies.

        2- for not being a Beach Boys fan, the one thing I will credit Wilson for is his strange Rain Man like ability to arrange music, aka using the Wrecking Crew for that album, without whom it would not have been possible to make. The same way the Beatles could not have made Sgt Peppers without George Martin.

        3- I rather like having the youthful swagger of a stripling trapped in an almost middle aged body, thank you very much.

        • Tim parrish

          Frankly, I am not a Beach Boys fan. Their sound never appealed to me. But I have the common decency to not attack those who do.. You come across as an arrogant bore with a chip on his shoulder. I’m pretty sure no matter how strapping you are your personality tends to isolate you. Live and let live. If you can’t at least state your name rather than hide in anonymity.

  2. NFB

    “Pet Sounds” is the most overrated album ever. Little more than dreary melodies, whiny, self absorbed vocals, and gimmicky studio production. A classic case of the emperor have absolutely no clothes.

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