There was certainly a bit of head-scratching going on when this double bill was announced. The “who” prompted the “whats” and “whys” and “hows,” but luckily we don’t have to worry about that. And, according to reports after the tour starter in Florida, neither do they. American treasure Brian Wilson and English guitar virtuoso Jeff Beck have a bit more in common than what’s discernible at first glance. Hot rods, for one. And no need for hotdogging: just genuine love for the music. Plus, Brian and Jeff have been working on Brian’s upcoming solo album, and a tour seemed like a natural extension of their pairing.
For a brief moment this past year, The Brian Wilson Beach Boys were a go. And then that notion was gone due to the maneuverings of Mike Love. Along with Brian’s dismissal from the group (How do you fire Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys?), there were others let go as well, like Al Jardine and David Marks. Now banded together with Brian, this configuration brings us the Beach Boys we deserve.
It’s an 11-piece band behind Brian (five guitarists, a percussionist, two keyboards, drums, bass and a woodwinds guy) with Brian staying pretty much put behind his white grand piano through the 65-minute set. It begins with that opening squonky beat of “Do It Again” and then embarks on a dizzying ride of all those sweet ’60s gems a la “California Girls” and “Sloop John B” and “Help Me Rhonda” and for the diehards, even a four-song suite from Pet Sounds. Brian trades off vocals with Al Jardine on a number of songs, and former Beach Boy Blondie Chaplin will make a few select show appearances singing his lead vocal on “Sail on Sailor.” Brian isn’t necessarily the most conversationally engaging performer on stage but do not let his lack of animation fool you: once you hear those high register vocals on “Heroes and Villains,” you will have no doubts on his capabilities.
After an intermission, Jeff Beck and band come out to do a 16-song set. Jeff likes to switch up his backing bands from time to time but has tended to keep a woman on bass in recent years. That’s what we get this time around along with a singer/violinist, drummer and guitarist.
So does the diehard Beach Boys fan stay for a mostly instrumental set from Jeff Beck? They should. They may not be able to sing along to poppy songs like they did during the first set, but with Jeff Beck they get to experience a master class in guitar playing. There will be some recognizable songs such as Hendrix’s “Little Wing” and a pindrop performance of The Beatles “A Day in the Life.” Homage is also paid to Les Paul and Mary Ford via “How High the Moon” sung by two bandmates.
After Beck’s set, Brian Wilson and band return to the stage to join in the collaborative part of the evening. Expect to be transported by “Surf’s Up,” the title tune from an album that deserves to be in every serious collection. The exquisite harmonies and Beck’s “vocal” guitar playing add up to what has been described as a “rapturous” moment. A raucous jam rounds out the evening with 20-plus people on stage. It’s a nice loose way to wrap up the evening with more Beach Boys favorites. The evening’s topper of “Danny Boy” promises to leave not a dry eye in the house.
The Philly show is halfway through the tour and shouldn’t be missed. This pairing gives the serious music fan a chance to experience two icons in one setting.
Sunday, Oct. 13: 8 p.m. Tower Theatre, 69th & Ludlow streets, Upper Darby. $39.50-$100. Visit thetowerphilly.com for details.