Live At The Roxy Theatre

"Brian is Back!" It's taken decades, but that once sadly ironic press agent's epithet has finally come true. The intervening quarter-century may have devastated Brian Wilson's mind and body, and band and family, but, as this double-disc live recording/love-fest ably demonstrates, his soul and music burn on. Backed flawlessly by a 10-piece band (including L.A. pop revivalists the Wondermints) of fervent loyalists, Wilson and company march joyously through the Beach Boys' hits-laden catalog, from "Surfer Girl" through "Good Vibrations" to the cream of Pet Sounds, a handful of the legend's solo works, and a gratifying surprise or two (including a delicious, inside-out-ironic cover of Barenaked Ladies' laid-back "Brian Wilson" that segues hauntingly into the all-too-autobiographical "'Til I Die").

If cynics have chosen to deride Wilson's mature voice (as steady and expressive as it's been in decades) and general oddness (here revealed for what it often truly is: a playfully off-center sense of humor), they do so at the peril of ignoring his vast contributions and continuing influence – and the spark of undimmed genius that still holds so much promise. Make no mistake, this show was not about nostalgia, but rather a celebration of music whose performances sound completely in the moment. Previously available only as a Wilson Web site exclusive, this expanded edition includes an audio interview with Brian at the piano, as well as two bonus tracks--"Sloop John B" and the rousing encore sing-along "Barbara Ann" – that help further underscore a hopeful notion: Brian is really back.

Brian Wilson Live at the Roxy Theatre
2000  |  BriMel Records

Disc One
1. Little Girl Intro
2. The Little Girl I Once Knew
3. This Whole World
4. Don't Worry Baby
5. Kiss Me Baby
6. Do It Again
7. California Girls
8. I Get Around
9. Back Home
10. In My Room
11. Surfer Girl
12. The First Time
13. This Isn't Love
14. Add Some Music To Your Day
15. Please Let Me Wonder

Disc Two
1. Band Intro
2. Brian Wilson
3.'Til I Die
4. Darlin'
5. Let's Go Away For Awhile
6. Pet Sound
7. God Only Knows
8. Lay Down Burden
9. Be My Baby
10. Good Vibrations
11. Caroline, No
12. All Summer Long


Brian and his band perform "Add Some Music To Your Day." Taken from the DVD "Brian Wilson On Tour."

Brian and his band perform "California Girls." Taken from the DVD "Brian Wilson On Tour."


Brian Wilson's post-Beach Boys career hasn't always been a pretty sight: Shortly after writing and arranging the masterful, massively influential Pet Sounds, he began to go a little bonkers. Maybe it was the drugs, or the damage done by years of physical and psychological abuse at the hands of his infamous show-biz father, but it took decades for Wilson to recover. Still, it's hard to call his return to the stage a sign of complete recovery, as performing itself seems just another facet of Wilson's ongoing therapy. The past few years have found him definitively branded a genius, and damned if fans aren't going to treat him that way. That's partly a shame, as Wilson's current condition is a far cry from prime.

Like David Helfgott being rolled out for an awkward (and awkwardly acclaimed) victory lap following his hit biopic Shine, Wilson has received a hero's welcome even as his current accomplishments fall under the definition of rote achievement rather than artistry. Now that the novelty and surprise of his return has partly worn off, the two-disc Live At The Roxy arrives as an odd document of an even odder outing. Backed by a young group made up mostly of members of L.A.'s Wilson-worshipping Wondermints, the icon succeeds mainly because he doesn't fail. Renditions of the usual hits – "Don't Worry Baby," "California Girls, "I Get Around" – are adequate if not exceptional, while lesser-known nuggets such as "'Til I Die" serve mainly as reminders of the wealth of Wilson's material that went lost or ignored in the '70s.

The biggest treat of his comeback tour was the songs drawn from Pet Sounds. And while his latest tour trots the album out in its entirety, eroding much of the mystery in the process, these tentative forays into that magical album are nice to hear—especially without the creepy image of Wilson staring at his TelePrompTer. One of the most unusual aspects of his comeback is that it was in part precipitated by all his vocal music-geek fans. Caroline Now! is a 24-track disc that brings together eclectic talents to pay tribute to Wilson and The Beach Boys. The names are often more impressive than the renditions, though the likes of Eugene Kelly, Alex Chilton, The High Llamas, Saint Etienne, Chip Taylor, Jad Fair, Peter Thomas, and Kim Fowley should be lauded for sticking almost entirely to late-era songs.

Like Wilson's live album, nothing here quite matches listening to The Beach Boys' performances, but from the extensive liner notes to the respectful arrangements, the disc is full of love. Wilson, who reportedly gave the project his blessing, is probably proud.

– AV Club