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Once again we’re sitting at home without gigs – fans, musicians, venues, the blokes selling dodgy food that only appears palatable around midnight. Once again we’re wondering when we’ll be allowed to do what the rest of the world has begun doing again.

It’s time like these we need a reminder of why it matters. Like gigs that elevate the soul and explode the mind. Gigs such as this 2002 show by Brian Wilson who had been away from the stage for decades, and away from the pleasures of music for maybe longer.

Sure, later tours would feel like diminishing returns, for him as much as for us – and I at least felt the balance between exploitation and self-expression was seriously askew by the last time Wilson was here - but there was something about this tour, and this show that transformed everything and everyone.



State Theatre, Sydney

December 14, 2002

You have every right to be wary of a concert that is a capital-E event, in part because the main figure didn't step on a stage for 30 years after mental breakdowns and, frankly, mad behaviour.

A man who furthermore had the indignity for several decades of watching his great songs ignored or even worse butchered by clapped-out versions of the Beach Boys, the band he founded.

You have every reason to worry when the audience is dotted with middle-aged men in loud Hawaiian shirts, and trainspotters comparing notes on which obscurities may be pulled out.

We were there not just because the genius existed 40 years ago but in the hope that Brian Wilson was still capable of performing it -even if his voice no longer has the range and flexibility it once enjoyed - and better yet enjoying it.

It's a level of sentimentality that can be dangerous, particularly when the show offers a first set of some hits and many lesser-known songs followed by a set that features, in full, Pet Sounds, the 1966 album now recognised as one of the greatest, but never intended to be performed live.

You have right and reason, but you would be wrong. So wrong. Here was a night that left me open-mouthed with wonder more times in the first set alone than the past five years of gigs.

Wonder at the quality of the 11-piece band: multi-instrumentalists and vocalists all, who were light of touch in the serene delicacy of In My Room, quietly powerful on the rarely heard Marcella, vibrant and soulful on Good Timin', and capable of turning themselves inside out and back to front again in the verging-on-insane pop symphonies that are lost classics such as Cabinessence.

Wonder, too, at the often heart-stopping brilliance of the vocals that never faulted, never failed to move and thrill.

For these aren't ordinary vocal arrangements: not for the deceptively flighty California Girls (layer upon layer of intersecting voices), nor the baroque delights of Our Prayer, and certainly not in the boggling complexity of Heroes And Villains (the cantina version for you nerds out there).

At interval it was clear that if the night had ended there, justice would have been done: we had been blown away by Wilson's talent. But then came Pet Sounds, a collection of songs overflowing with the essence of life.

The joi de vivre of Wouldn't It Be Nice; dogged hope of I'm Waiting For the Day; spiritual heights of God Only Knows and depths of I Just Wasn't Made For These Times. It was beyond expectations.

The encore romped home with a barrage of early '60s Beach Boys that defied their status as slight pop songs by just being the most fun you could have with your shoes on. Silverchair's Daniel Johns, the Whitlams' Tim Freedman, Natalie Imbruglia, and Murray the red Wiggle were on their feet, everyone was laughing, clapping, singing, revelling in the pleasure of a night of truly wonderful songs fuelled by the drive and obvious enjoyment of the animated 60-year-old man who created it all.

Brian Wilson began the night by promising us he and the band would try to give us the best concert we had ever seen. He may well have done it.

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