Notes from - Brian Wilson at Liverpool's Exhibition Centre
California's teeming as torrential rain pelts the concrete surrounds of Liverpool's Exhibition Centre. As a stout security guard exclaims - 'Groupon tickets that way', my curiosity as to why we're not entering the larger 11,000 capacity ECHO Arena next door is quelled. Entering the foyer, huge glass panels frame a grey Mersey and the vibe is very much, conference. Next up for the venue is a jobs fair followed by Wound Expo and a baby show. A faux three wheeled Italian coffee truck sits on the carpet serving lattes, while baseball capped bartenders serve plastic beer bottles from the adjacent bar.
We are standing, so it's time to sidewind towards a good view without provoking the early arrivers. After walking 20% of the way, we are halted by a barrier - strangely, the standing is at the back, behind the seating.
Jolting into 'California Girls' the sound from the twelve strong band is immense. As, 'In My Room' fills the space with lush Elvis licks and ghostlier than God vocals, it's clear we're in for some sonic splendour.
Divided into two sets, hits and rarities, followed by Pet Sounds, Brian narrates from his piano, adding the odd vocal. Introducing Matt Jardine, son of original Beach Boy, Al, the band joke: 'We had to audition Matt to avoid nepotism' yet it's clear he is the vocal lynchpin here. His faultless falsettos transporting the crowd to mid 60s Hawthorne, California. Brian's Beach Boys were always seen as his messengers - sonic conduits through which he communicated his genius and pain, and tonight's dynamic is no different. The almost metronomic strums of Nicky 'Wonder' Walukso’s guitar, the punchy pronunciations of Paul Von Mertens’ saxophone, and the dreamy cascades of Gary Griffin’s xylophone, delivering Brian's masterpieces one by one.
We're now in the midst of tonight's anchor - the seminal album classic that is Pet Sounds. As the songs flow you're reminded that this might actually be the greatest record of all time. The competitiveness between Brian and The Beatles is well documented - Rubber Soul inspiring Pet Sounds and the experimentation of the later prompting Sgt. Pepper, with McCartney commenting at the time: "Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper wouldn't have happened. Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds." You could argue that whilst catalogue for catalogue, The Beatles win, Pet Sounds might just trump any single album by The Beatles.
As the band suggest it's; 'Time now to stop now and flip the record over,' we are treated to mesmerising renditions of 'God Only Knows' and the heartbreaking 'I Just Wasn't Made For These Times'. The lyrics; 'They say I got brains. But they ain't doing me no good. I wish they could' feel poignant - a reminder of the mental troubles Brian has faced. But it's a positive, almost celebratory show and utterly inspiring to see someone at 74 doing what they love and being celebrated for it.