Photo by Stephanie Torres | The Bottom Line

Rebecca Lauffenburger
Arts & Entertainment Editor

Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the monumental Beach Boys album “Pet Sounds,” one of the most influential albums in music history. In honor of the acclaimed 1966 release, Beach Boys’ founder and creative leader Brian Wilson embarked on a year-long tour that, due to popular demand, has stretched into 2017. Last week, the music icon made a stop at the Santa Barbara Bowl to perform songs, among various others, off of his magnum opus.

The tour has been advertised as being comprised of Wilson’s final performances, prompting thousands of fans to flock to the 4,500-seat amphitheater to take one last stroll down memory lane with the man behind the defining surf rock band of the ‘60s.

Brian Wilson and his ten piece backing band began promptly at 8 p.m., wasting no time before launching into a medley of “California Girls” and “Dance, Dance, Dance.”

After a few performances of classic Beach Boys tunes, Wilson switched the spotlight onto Beach Boys co-founder Al Jardine. Jardine, the band’s original rhythm guitarist and vocalist, revved up the crowd with iconic songs such as “Little Honda,” “Little Deuce Coup,” and “Shut Down.”

Jardine remained incredibly animated throughout the entire show. His youthful exuberance captured the spirit of Beach Boys songs, an overwhelming majority of which communicate the elusive feelings of teenage years in an adept, straightforward, and beautiful way.

Without help, Wilson would likely not have been able to carry these tunes on his own. An onslaught of bouts of mental illness, physical challenges, and addiction have posed problems for Wilson throughout his illustrious career, and as the night progressed, it became increasingly apparent that Wilson had finally hit a wall in his career too vast to overcome. Despite this, my enjoyment, and evidently the audience’s as well, was not blunted.

Al Jardine, his son Matthew Jardine, and Blondie Chaplin, who reprised his role as a touring member of The Beach Boys, each took the reigns, respectively, when Wilson began to falter. Beyond just providing Wilson with a bit of recovery time, these guest performances provided audience members  many of which had likely witnessed Wilson in his heydey  with a wholly novel experience.

Wilson handed the metaphorical torch to Matthew Jardine, who performed the falsetto-vocal parts scattered throughout the show. His father, Al Jardine, warned the audience: “He’s gonna sing the crap out of this song,” and the younger Jardine did not disappoint. Matthew Jardine’s vocal performances on songs such as “Don’t Worry Baby” and “Let Him Run Wild” were well-received by the audience, who awarded him endless cheers and a standing ovation.

“You Still Believe in Me,” a duet between the young Jardine and Wilson, was particularly moving. The contrast between the young singer and his predecessor added an element of nostalgia and provided audience members with a new perspective on the old classic. Wilson seemed a bit more vulnerable as he sang this and the quintessential “God Only Knows.”

Whether due to built-up vocal strain or an intentional artistic choice, he dropped the facade of being a Beach Boy, and performed instead as a man with a voice withered by four decades worth of challenges since the original release of Pet Sounds in 1966.

In one touching moment, Wilson honored the memory of his brother and fellow Beach Boy Carl Wilson with “Darlin.” The song, according to Wilson, was recorded by his brother in the mid-60’s, with Wilson adding “and now Darian is here to sing it,” in reference to keyboardist Darian Sahanaja.

As the show came to a close, Wilson performed the “holy trinity” of Beach Boys tunes: “Do You Wanna Dance,” “Good Vibrations,” and “Surfin’ USA.” After performing the light-hearted songs The Beach Boys are best known for, Wilson showed his more down-to-Earth side with “Love and Mercy.”

Before ending the show, Wilson and co. graciously imparted to the audience how “wonderful it is to be back in California,” adding, “It’s been a long road to get here, but it’s a great honor and privilege to play this music for you.”

It might have been difficult for younger members of the crowd to fully realize the magnitude of The Beach Boys’ impact, but as I recall memories of watching “Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE,” a straight-to-DVD live concert recording, as a six-year-old with my family, I think of my own unique connection to Wilson’s music. It’s hard not to feel some amount of reverence and appreciation for the man who continues to supply us with no shortage of smiles and good vibrations.

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