SMiLE - Brian Wilson

London, 2004

By Michael Kemp

Review of Brian Wilson at the Royal Festival Hall, London , .

I’m worried about Jim. Morning mail brought “Beach Boys Stomp” #130 and “Color Me Lurid - the Weird World of George Kuchar” video.

Sooty dyed the tips of my hair crimson with spray from “Girl Heaven”. Took train to Victoria (black coffee and brandy from the refreshment trolley) and then a black taxi across London to the Royal Festival Hall stopping off briefly at 13 Chester Street—ancestral home of the Pretty Things—before continuing on to Waterloo.

Approaching Festival Hall I immediately recognized Lucy Hall with her blonde friend (whose name escapes me? Faye?) outside. Group hugs and kisses all round.

Lucy went off to change for the evening and I, after a cursory glance around the RFH bar, wandered out into the chill February streets and ended up supping draught Guinness in the “Hole In The Wall” with trains rattling above.

Drifted back to RFH and encountered Paul Hamilton (in his designer “Royal Mail” shirt) and Karen who dragged me off to the little bar at the National Film Theatre.

6pm and back again to the RFH where I found dearest daughter Alice (or rather she found me) and I purchased two “SMiLE” programmes: one for her and one for me. Baby A got the drinks in.

Subsequently found Jason Weaver, grinning from ear to ear; and then at 7pm Micky Stannard waiting patiently outside “Books Etc.” with a couple of bottles of Stella. Manoeuvred our way up to Level 5 and took our respective seats in Rear Terrace row Y. An aisle seat for Mickey, chosen by Sooty, because of his osteoarthritis.

Brian Wilson
Brian Wilson

Showtime. First set began with a sort of campfire “Party” style singalong (great & unexpected way to start such a keenly-awaited show) with The Wondermints all grouped around Brian Wilson and knocking off seemingly impromptu but note-perfect “And Your Dream Comes True”, “Hawaii”, “In My Room” etc.

The sound deepened out with full electric group renditions of “Time To Get Alone”, “City Blues” (a new one), “You're Welcome” (a red herring), “Soul Searching”, “Don’t Worry Baby” (gorgeous harmonies), “Keep An Eye on Summer”, a driving “Marcella” and “Sail On Sailor”.

An interval and time for an icecream. Stannard raises his eyes to heaven.

The lights go down and the second set was what some of us have waited 37 years to hear: an interwoven suite of songs and passages comprising “SMiLE”, no less…

Many, many surprises during this imaginative live reworking of it: “Do You Like Worms” with previously unheard “Sandwich Isles” lyrics, “The Old Master Painter” (utilizing the very same string ensemble that Arthur Lee toured “Forever Changes” with), “Friday Night (I Wanna Be Around)” with Tony Bennett lyrics, “Child Is Father To The Man” with countless unheard variations unravelling to an astonished audience, hammers and drills on “Workshop” (Brian playing a Black & Decker), a chiaroscuro “Surf’s Up”, a thundering “ Cabinessence”, an even more thundering “Fire Section (Mrs O’Leary’s Cow)” played LOUD and during which the Stockholm String & Horns donned firemens’ helmets, an oceanic and free-flowing “Love To Say Da Da” - all brought to a rousing conclusion with a joyous early demo-style reading of “Good, Good Vibrations”.

Van Dyke Parks in avuncular waistcoat & bowtie brought up from the audience to join the musicians on stage, to thunderous applause. Last seen enthusiastically bashing a tambourine and dancing to “Help Me, Rhonda”.

In a word, unbelievable. Right - where’re those bootlegs?