Brian Wilson presents Pet Sounds Live In London Review
Our sister site, CD Times, is hosting a review of the remastered version of the original album here, which should be referred to not only for a review of the music but also for the background to its recording.
Given that his artistic credibility was never in question, Brian Wilson has worked hard in recent years to bring his career back to something approaching success. Along with the solo albums and the Orange Crate Art project that saw him reunited with Van Dyke Parks for the first time since the aborted Smile project, there was his small tour playing the entire Pet Sounds album from 2002 of which this is a recording.
With a band of live/session musicians - Brian's brothers Carl and Dennis have both passed away and one of the few remaining Beach Boys, Mike Love, has had a long-running feud with Brian Wilson that has frequently seen the two of them only talking through their lawyers - Brian took Pet Sounds on the road across Europe and North America. Whilst one suspects the purpose of this tour was to not only capitalise on Pet Sound's critical rehabilitation - its reputation has grown as the years passed - but to fall in love with it himself all over again for, strange as it may seem now, Brian Wilson, for long periods in the seventies and eighties, professed the view that he was rather more fond of the earlier and less arty Beach Boys tracks than those from the Pet Sounds/Smile era.
Within minutes of this concert starting, however, those years would appear to be long behind Wilson given the huge smile that breaks across his face during the opening bump of Wouldn't It Be Nice but, as with the album, he soon slows the concert down a little with You Still Believe In Me. Throughout the concert, what continually surprises is how well Wilson and his band do in replicating the original recordings onstage at the Royal Festival Hall. For those who rarely attend concerts, that statement may appear a little surprising but regular concert-goers will remember the many gigs through which bands offer only stripped-down versions of the original songs but with Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson and his band, a few of whom are multi-instrumentalists, cope well with the sounds of both objects and instrumentals as used by Wilson in 1966. As examples, the bass heartbeat in Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) is present, as is the complex rhythm of I'm Waiting For The Day but, most noticeable of all, the rich backing of the original album remains intact, for which Brian Wilson and his band are to be applauded.
Of course, what with many of the intervening years between 1966 and 2002 having been less than kind to Brian Wilson, there is the occasional moment in which his voice does break up, particularly at the higher end of the scale but as many of those vocals would have been originally sung by Carl Wilson, there is little to compare it with. Otherwise, the recording is a little static with there being little more than a few panning shots around the Royal Festival Hall to enliven proceedings but, being honest, whooping and hollering is not quite what Pet Sounds is about. As the review at CD Times makes clear, Pet Sounds is about finding that there is still love to be found in a world of disappointment and as such, it's an album to listen to. As Brian Wilson says before his band's playing of Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder), "You can close your eyes if you want" and he's right - this is a recording to soak up in either the shimmering sunlight, in a darkened room or indeed anywhere were love has found some way in.
The DVD has been transferred as well as one would expect with a good replication of colour and, with this being a concert where only the stage has been lit, the darkness of the auditorium. The detail is good and Sanctuary were clearly given the right to set up a fair number of cameras in good positions. The few cameras alone that are focused on Brian Wilson pick up every expression on his face and, throughout the concert, the sheer joy of playing this wonderful music that he wrote almost forty years before is evident.
Undoubtedly, one of the major selling points of this DVD release is, in addition to the live performance of the original material in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, Sanctuary Visual Entertainment have included both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 remixes of the set. Whilst neither surround soundtrack is outstanding, both do an excellent job of filling out the sound around the room with a good spread of the sound of both the band and the audience between the front and rear speakers. Otherwise, the stereo soundtrack is bright and immediate and, being honest, would probably have been sufficient.
However, none of these soundtracks could replace the original album in either stereo or mono formats, which is really the Pet Sounds recording to get.
Sanctuary Visual Entertainment's release of Pet Sounds includes the following bonus features:
Pet Stories (32m33s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This is an excellent look back at the original recording of Pet Sounds with contributions by Brian Wilson, Tony Asher and the session musicians who played on the album, including bassist Carol Kaye and drummer Hal Blaine. All of them appear to be honest in their memory of the recording sessions but you suspect that in a piece such as this, the memory of the long hours of waiting around during long recording sessions will be slightly rose-tinted as the years pass. Other than Brian Wilson, those Beach Boys who are still alive are noticeable by their absence.
Brian Wilson Discography: Whilst this bonus feature does list the complete details for every release in Brian Wilson's solo career, there is nothing as regards The Beach Boys, which is a slight oversight when one is looking at Pet Sounds. For example, given the number of Pet Sounds releases over the years, a full listing would have been helpful with track listings for the original album, the remastered version and the DVD-A release, as well as for the Pet Sounds Sessions boxset. However, in only looking at Brian Wilson's solo career, this is a comprehensive discography with full track listings for all his albums after his leaving of The Beach Boys.
Pet Sound Live Photo Gallery: This features seventy-one photographs taken during the original concert in the Royal Festival Hall.
Pet Sounds, as the CD Times review of the original album makes clear, is a truly remarkable album and this is a fine recording of Brian Wilson's playing of it during his last tour. Unsurprisingly, given that he was the writer, arranger and producer of the original recordings, this version of Pet Sounds is an excellent version of the album if not actually good enough to allow your CD version to be replaced. Then again, who could ever have too many versions of Pet Sounds?
8 out of 10
6 out of 10
8 out of 10
6 out of 10