Concert Reviews

Brian Wilson with Justin Nozuka at the Danforth Music Hall

Photographs by Dakota Arsenault.

On the TTC ride home, a group of inebriated, partying women sang a slew of songs by The Spice Girls. The doors opened at a major stop, and a gang of Imagine Dragons fans burst through. This was a clash of pop music from yesteryear and of now. This is the kind of commercialism that people cling to to experience nostalgia enough to make it a current feeling and not a reflection. Nostalgia as we know it is dying. This is okay. We can gravitate towards other sensations to feel good, like the constant revival of what made us feel young being a modern illusion. We no longer want to travel back in time: we just want to be those people again and make ourselves as such. When it comes to products that are made for eras, you can revisit or imagine as often as you please.

When you write for the ages, it is as though nostalgia was never there to begin with. How can something be dated if it is meant to last forever? Brian Wilson knew this during a time that called for pop singles and constant tours. He saw The Beatles rebel against the pop single as a team, and he fought this battle mostly alone. He was bombarded by his inner demons mentally and emotionally. Love and Mercy was a fitting biopic for this recent tour, especially since Wilson is on the verge of retiring any day now. You can call his career a good run, or you can admire its longevity being the result of a borderless man’s fight for permanence. He succeeded better than most contemporary musicians, and I got emotional before the show even began because I knew this.

Sixto Rodriguez, the musician behind the acclaimed 2012 documentary Searching For Sugarman, was Wilson’s fitting opening act in the United States. However, we had the humble singer/guitarist Justin Nozuka take the stage instead. He played a stripped down and calming set to open for a music legend. Nozuka did not try to upstage Wilson as he knows that opening for a Beach Boy will give him many successes in the near future. Nozuka peacefully sang a heartfelt set that was short but pleasant. He was worried that his guitar was out of tune since his tuner’s battery had died. He got his co-guitarist to help him tune, and all was good. Even in a time of possible panic was Nozuka calm and put together. He got a great reaction from a crowd of older music lovers, and such a heartfelt beginning was just the pinch of magic we needed to get this evening underway.

Fifteen minutes early and Brian Wilson was out. It was so quick that it didn’t even feel real. Suddenly, the mastermind behind some of the most beautiful songs of all time was there and just out in the open. He had with him a backing band full of musicians that can sing exactly like any Beach Boy they were required to sing like. They were stationed around Wilson like the swirling sounds that populated his head that he had to get the world to hear. Pet Sounds and Smile songs were breathtaking to hear, but even their pop singles became a huge wave of brilliance live. To hear I Get Around live with such an ensemble almost had me in tears, and that was before we even reached the more touching material that was to come.

For two hours (including the encore), we were all amazed and astounded. This was less of a Brian Wilson solo show than it was a celebration of his genius with whoever he signed on to bring these songs to life. This team included rock n roll badboy Blondie Chaplin, Mike Jardine (son of Beach Boy veteran Al Jardine) and other brilliant musicians. The highlight was Al Jardine himself, who has to be one of the most underrated musicians of all time. His voice is exactly the same as it was back in the 60’s and he didn’t miss a beat. He joyfully co-lead the show to help his buddy Brian Wilson out. What a sharp individual Jardine is, and the man deserves way more credit than he gets. There couldn’t have been a better tapestry of talent to bring out every single facet of Wilson’s creativity to life.

Brian Wilson has openly battled with mental illnesses for the majority of his life, and you could sadly tell here. This is a man who has fought for happiness to win over misery, and while he still fights to this day, his legacy is proof of who really won. To end a set with greats like Surfs Up, Wouldn’t it be Nice, Sloop John B, Good Vibrations and the song even Wilson declared his best (God Only Knows) was something I will never forget, because it was a dream come true. To see Wilson on that stage after all he’s been through was a reminder why he is a personal hero of mine. He is one of the most courageous men I’ve ever witnessed.

Seeing the love for the Spice Girls and Imagine Dragons was to see a passion for popular music. Whatever music gets one going is what is right for them. I was amidst music listeners of old and new at Brian Wilson’s show, and it’s proof that music can be strong for eternity at times, too. This was a different sence of unity than the kind exhibited by fans of Spice Girls and Imagine Dragons. They made their bands’ music their own and had fun with it. We enter Wilson’s beautiful mind and try to see the world from his point of view. Music can be fun for a little bit or it can stick with you forever, and not many people know that better than Brian Wilson himself. We were fortunate enough to get a glimpse of his inagination live, and it was two hours of walls of sound and love I shant forget anytime soon.

About author

Former Film Editor & Music Writer at Live in Limbo. Co-host of the Capsule Podcast. A Greek/South African film enthusiast. He has recently earned a BFA honours degree in Cinema Studies at York University. He is also heavily into music, as he can play a number of instruments and was even in a few bands. He writes about both films and music constantly. You should follow him on Twitter @Andreasbabs.