The Love is gone, as in Mike, playing state fair tents with his Beach Boys jukebox. But Brian Wilson’s family is growing. He already has the better band and now he’s got Al Jardine, the only Beach Boy whose vocal powers remain undiminished. And at the Wang Theatre Wednesday night, Wilson’s group threw us a curve ball Clayton Kershaw couldn’t snap off on six days rest.
A few songs into his set, Wilson called onto stage Blondie Chaplin, who left the Beach Boys during the Nixon administration, and the singer performed the best version of “Sail On, Sailor” you’ve heard since, well, the Nixon administration.
That’s not all. Original Beach Boys member David Marks, another special guest and castoff from Love’s traveling show, took on the baroque pop of the late Dennis Wilson’s 1968 song, “Little Bird.” Anytime the dude in the back corner (multi-instrumentalist Probyn Gregory) is desperately switching from trumpet to banjo, you know good things are happening.
All of this and it was still 8:30, just a half-hour into Wilson’s hour-long opening set. The group pulled off the familiar (“I Get Around,” “Good Vibrations”), the unexpected (“Old Man River” and “Wild Honey”) and wisely returned the lead guitar part on the instrumental “Pet Sounds” back to Nicky Wonder, who cruelly lost it during last year’s Beach Boys reunion.
Then came Jeff Beck. What do he and Wilson share other than spectacular bands and an AARP card? Not much. But they’ve apparently been recording together for Wilson’s upcoming solo album and decided to create a double bill.
If Wilson’s performance is all about the songs — he often checks out, letting his hands droop below the keyboard as his amazing band takes over — Beck is all about the being there. He is the centerpiece of his set, a dynamic live performer in black boots, glittery bracelet, sleeveless shirt. In fact, Beck’s songs are almost interchangeable, melodic exercises designed to bring us up, down and around to the moment that matters, when the greatest guitarist of his era — and perhaps any era — pulls notes and sounds out of his instrument that simply aren’t done by anybody else.
Beck did blues, fusion, a Middle Eastern jam, and a beautiful cover of Hendrix’s “Little Wing.” He played Les Paul and Muddy Waters and The Beatles and then, a little past 10, he called Wilson and his band back to the stage for a “Smile” mini-set. Only, Beck replaced Wilson’s vocal on “Surf’s Up” with his finger picking. After a few more songs, the band kicked into “Barbara Ann” and “Surfin’ USA.” Beck, in sunglasses, shredded his solos as Jardine and Marks huddled closer in awe.
For the moment, it didn’t matter whether Beck and Wilson had much in common or whether their studio collaboration even came out. The music itself — and the 17 players standing on stage — had found plenty to share.