No one in 1970 would have ever expected either Brian Wilson or Rodriguez to be triumphantly performing for thousands of transfixed aficionados more than four decades later, but Thursday night’s show at the Blue Hills Band Pavilion brought together two unlikely survivors of showbiz.
One of them, despite being as immensely talented as any singer-songwriter of the early 1970s, was heard of by too few of those who were likely to revere him. However, it was surely not for lack of effort on his part. As he sang in a song from 1971, “They told me everybody’s gotta pay their dues, and I explained that I had overpaid them.”
The other, meanwhile, was responsible for some of the most beloved, remunerative, and innovative mainstream music of the 60s and 70s. Alas, he eventually plummeted into the deepest depths of drug use, mental illness, and gluttony, the treatment of which he unwittingly entrusted to a charlatan.
Thanks to the Oscar-winning 2012 documentary Searching for Sugar Man, Rodriguez has been resurrected in a step-by-step fashion that has included local stops at Johnny D’s, Somerville Theatre, the Orpheum, and Blue Hills Bank Pavilion, where—despite being the nominal opening act—he drew most of the crowd to their seats in time for his punctual 7:30 performance.
Although I was happy that the Chatty Cathy-s in front of me recognized “On the Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady, and while he showed exquisite taste in choosing songs by Billie Holiday and Little Willie John, those who exclaimed words of laudation in between songs probably would have appreciated hearing more of the tantalizing legend’s own compositions. To these folks, “Inner City Blues,” “Crucify Your Mind,” “Sugar Man,” “This Is Not a Song, It’s An Outburst,” and “I Wonder” were as intoxicating as the substances that Rodriguez suggested we “be smart [and] don’t start.”
Around 8:30, Brian Wilson—who, at age 73, is three weeks older than Rodriguez, 72—appeared with his double-digit-member band in tow. Since I first saw Wilson perform in 2000, most of his shows have been devoted to whole performances of either or both of the masterpieces Pet Sounds and Smile. (“Masterpiece,” by the way, is too weak of a word in this case, even if it is the strongest one available.) Thursday’s setlist, meanwhile, read a bit more like a greatest hits collection. This is hardly a complaint given what it included, but it did mean fewer selections form the aforementioned magna opera.
Still, Wilson and fellow Beach Boys founding member Al Jardine tossed in somewhat obscure numbers such as “Girl Don’t Tell Me,” “California Saga: California,” “Busy Doin’ Nothin’,” and “This Whole World,” one of the two or three most spectacular lesser-known Beach Boys tracks and the one that that I have wished for every time that I have gone to a Brian Wilson concert.
Wilson is smart enough to know that people don’t pay their money to hear his solo material, much which is, in fact, pretty damn good. That said, he is currently touring in support of his new album No Pier Pressure, and his selections from it were well chosen. The only other solo song that he played was “Love and Mercy,” which is the title of the recent biopic about him that he subtly plugged once or twice.
Despite the fact that both Rodriguez and Brian Wilson needed assistance getting on and off of the stage, they proved that they need very little aid once they were there. Even if Brian’s voice isn’t what it once was, he was never the exclusive lead singer of The Beach Boys, and the highest-pitched vocals were the bailiwick of his brother Carl.
So be warned, young’uns: two septuagenarians just set the bar awfully high for you.