The pairing of Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck for a co-headlining tour (which hit Montclair, New Jersey’s Wellmont Theatre on October 16 night) was an interesting one. While both are icons of ’60s music their approaches (and amount of time spent on the Billboard singles charts) could not be more different. Wilson, of course, is a former member of, and genius behind, the Beach Boys, and wears that proudly. Wilson reunited with his former group in 2012 for one of the year’s hottest tours, before being unceremoniously dismissed by bandmate Mike Love, the guy who owns the name of the band. Beck, on the other hand, was a member of seminal ’60s British invasion band the Yardbirds: he replaced Eric Clapton in the group, but was fired a few years later. He has rarely looked back at that era of his career. After the Yardbirds, he formed the Jeff Beck Group with a young Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, releasing two classic hard rock albums.
But most of Wilson’s set is rooted in the ’60s, while Beck’s set pretty much ignores his most celebrated history, and sticks with relatively recent material. Wilson’s stage is covered with microphones, in an attempt to match the soaring vocals of the old Beach Boys records. Beck has one mic so he can say “hi” to the audience. As different as they are, their sets complimented each other well, culminating in a wonderful, collaborative encore.
Wilson’s large band started off with an a capella song from the Beach Boys catalog, “Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring,” before launching into the more familiar “California Girls,” after which he thanked the audience for the first of many times. Wilson’s band clearly loves him and the material, and it comes through in their performance. Wilson mainly just sits behind his piano, sometimes barely playing. But his band is able to replicate the sound and spirit of some of the Beach Boys’ greatest hits, so Wilson doesn’t really have to do the heavy lifting, and the man was visibly enjoying himself during the show. The set contained some of the band’s most celebrated classics, including “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “I Get Around,” “Help Me Rhonda” and “Sloop John B.” But the set also featured some lesser known songs like “LIttle Bird,” “Darlin'” (which Brian called “One of the best songs I ever wrote”) and “Marcella.” They also mined the Americana songbook with a medley of “Old Man River” and “Cottonfields.” Another highlight, though, was Chaplin joining the band for “Sail On Sailor.”
Having Jeff Beck play after Wilson and friends seemed akin to having the Beatles warm up for Miles Davis. Both acts were equally satisfying, but for different reasons. Beck’s more ambitious set barely looked back, sticking with his more recent instrumental material; however his set looked back to the ’60s via vocal-free covers of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” and the Beatles’ “A Day In The Life,” the latter of which being his default signature piece in recent years.
He went back a little further for the ’40s hit, “How High The Moon” featuring his violinist Lizzie Ball on vocals; the set also included the blues “Rollin’ And Tumblin’,” with some of the members of Wilson’s band on vocals.
As great as each set was, what brought the show to another level was the collaboration of Beck and the former Beach Boys. Towards the end of Beck’s set, Wilson, Jardine and Marks joined for the Beach Boys’ downbeat and hymnal “Our Prayer,” “Surf’s Up” and “Child Is Father To The Man,” which was lovely, but not exciting. Happily, Wilson, Jardine, Marks and their entire backing band joined later in the set and raised the roof, with “Barbara Ann” and “Surfin’ U.S.A.” before closing with a rendition of “Danny Boy.” Following that, the 20+ musicians left the stage, all grinning ear to ear, as was the entire audience.