At 69, Brian Wilson no longer has that golden boy voice. But after 50 years in the business, he still knows how to entertain a crowd, most of whom were in front of him simply to witness the legend.
Rolling into Toronto, where he was being honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award at North By Northeast, Wilson and his nine-piece band were supporting their Reimagines Gershwin album. However, first he treated his faithful to a 22-song set of the best in his extensive catalogue.
Despite his limited yet erratic movements and sporadic conversation, Wilson appeared genuinely excited to be in Toronto, requesting that the crowd even join him in an impromptu version of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." Knowing full well that he could no longer carry the sun-soaked harmonies he did in the early '60s, Wilson surrounded himself with a team of high-pitched co-vocalists in multi-instrumentalist Darian Sahanaja and guitarist Jeffrey Foskett, who nailed the lead on "Wouldn't It Be Nice." Wilson didn't just hand over the show to his supporting cast, though. He was very much the ringleader, nailing the challenging range of "God Only Knows" and conducting the intricate arrangements, as well as singing lead, on the zippy "Heroes and Villains" and closer "Good Vibrations."
The 75-minute set was virtually all you could ask from the original Beach Boy, which made his descent into a second set of Gershwin renditions such a tough pill to swallow. Not to take away from his accomplishment with Gershwin's material, because the band's execution was nearly flawless, but following up Wilson's very own feel-good classics with a set of whimsical symphonic standards was a deflating experience, to say the least. Simply put, Gershwin's material didn't hold up next to Wilson's.
Thankfully, Wilson strolled back out for an encore filled with some of his earliest work, namely "Barbara Ann," "Surfin' Safari" and "All Summer Long." Call it a coincidence that Gershwin himself performed at the same venue nearly 80 years before him, but on this night, Brian Wilson was every bit the equal of his idol, and judging by the songbook, the superior songwriter.
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