Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck, Riverside Theater, Milwaukee, WI- 10/30
Photo by Melissa Miller
If Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck get their way, it won’t be long before they return to the studio to continue work on their collaborative album. It’s an album that will pair the distinctly different but unique rock legends – Wilson with his love of harmony-driven songwriting and Beck with using his guitars as his voice. But at least for much of October, they were perfectly content working with each other through the live stage, with much success, joy and mutual respect to go around them and those also playing with them. Even though their show at the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee was the final stop on the tour, Wilson, Beck and their respective bands had zero thoughts about easing up. In the end it was a fitting conclusion to this tour, a grand and harmonious send-off that touched on all that what makes their music special and was the best of both worlds.
In the past few years, Wilson and Beck have made separate trips to Milwaukee. Wilson with the Beach Boys at Summerfest during their 50th anniversary last year, while Beck visited there a few years ago. But to see Wilson – who was with Beach Boys’ Al Jardine and David Marks (a mini-Beach Boys reunion of sorts) – and Beck at the Riverside provided a much more up-and-close and intimate chance to see them in action.
Wilson and his band – which nearly filled the entire Riverside Theater stage – quickly won over the crowd with their rich blend of instrumentation and voices. Like many of the shows on tour, they stuck closely to Beach Boys classics like “California Girls” and “Good Vibrations” but did so with much passion and got pretty close to the original spirit of the songs. Songs like “Heroes and Villains” were drenched in sublime harmonies that Wilson and company made famous and sounded incredible in the confines of the Riverside.
Wilson handled vocals for many of the songs and continues to prove that despite his age he still has plenty of passion and his voice has plenty of kick to it. He didn’t have to do all the heavy lifting, though, as Jardine, Marks and others in the band took turns on vocals. An early highlight of that was Jardine on a cover of The Crystals’ “Then I Kissed Her.” Since it was the night before Halloween the band fired into a fun version of “Monster Mash” with Paul Mertens on vocals. Not to be outdone in fun little moments, Wilson and the band later led the audience in a giant sing-along of “Row Your Boat.” On a more serious note they also paid tribute to the influences with a melody of “Old Man River” and “Cottonfields” as well as Brian’s brothers Carl and Dennis with several songs.
Whereas Wilson and his band used their voices prominently, Jeff Beck followed that up with his version of his voice – his guitar. Beck – decked out in a sparkly green vest – and his own talented backing band offered a different side of the rock spectrum with atmospheric guitar rock with songs like “Big Block” and “The Pump.” Behind the band video screen changed with each song including Beck’s passion for vintage cars. His covers of “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” and The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” also were highlights.
After Beck had played for awhile he brought out Wilson and his band for much of the remainder of the night to collaborate together. Harmonies intermingled with guitar solos and the style divide between the two was blurred into an enchanting sound. This got people on their feet, some dancing. During Barbara Ann, Beck injected his unique contribution, taking the song temporarily in a unique direction. They finished the night with “Surfin’ USA” and “Danny Boy.”
At the end of the show, Wilson walked over and shook Beck’s hand. Despite Wilson and Beck’s different routes to get to this point and having contrasting styles, they share a deep sense of respect for one another and desire to make meaningful music. Sometimes the most unexpected collaborations are the best.