Two performers who both had parts of their lives stolen comprised an impressive sounding double bill at Humphrey’s: Rodriguez opened for Brian Wilson.
In his usual black head to toe attire (fedora, sunglasses, vest, leather pants) Rodriguez was led to his place on stage by his daughter. Unaccompanied by anything other than his semi-acoustic guitar, Rodriguez played a variety of tunes from his songbook. Many in the nearly sold out audience were in attendance out of respect, understanding his improbably wonderful life story as portrayed in “Searching for Sugarman.” His voice was unchanged from when most folks first heard it in the 2012 documentary. A couple covers (“La Bamba” and “Living the Blues”) were sadly substituted for his touching ballads.
Brian Wilson was likewise led to his place at center stage. The other ten musicians provided a solid sonic foundation for Wilson’s various masterpieces.
Although his vocal prowess continues to slip, Wilson’s compositions remain timeless. “Don’t Worry Baby” and “In My Room” combine deceptively beautiful melodies with a sliver of melancholy, Wilson’s trademark.
Wilson retreated from the stage decades ago, partly due to psychoses and then because he was unable to assemble musicians able to reproduce the sounds he created in the studio. Between his father and therapist (go see “Love and Mercy”), Wilson had many parts of his life taken away.
A serendipitous encounter with The Wondermints proved that Wilson could finally take the music to the stage. Wilson returned triumphantly at a series of gigs at the Roxy in the early 2000s. Most recently, Wilson drafted his former neighbor (and original Beach Boy) Al Jardine and touring veteran Blondie Chaplin. An overly generous selection of Jardine’s songs displaced many preferable Wilson selections. Chaplin provided a silent link to the South African history of Rodriguez; I would have enjoyed being a fly on the wall the first time they met on this tour.
Brian Wilson’s set list bravely tried to balance new cuts, deep cuts and inevitable classics. Mike Love has an easier time building a set list when he heads out as The Beach Boys; he picks all the top ten hits his cousin Brian wrote (some of which now carry a Mike Love co-credit, go figure).
But you won’t hear Love perform “Love and Mercy,” the 1998 jewel, perhaps Wilson’s final masterpiece. After a medley of 1960 radio hits, Wilson finished the concert at Humphrey’s with “Love and Mercy.”
Wilson remains one of the three or four most important American songwriters. Being in the same space with him after all he has been through is an honor, even if the current results are less than perfect.