Review and Photography by Robert Barrett
A rainy underpass in Digbeth is an unlikely place to experience a bit of California on a Friday night, but that’s exactly what the crowd at the Digbeth Arena were treated to when Brian Wilson brought the legendary Pet Sounds album to the newly formed Skyline Series. An audience of all ages donned raincoats and jumpers in perhaps what was ironically the worst day for weather all summer.
The Digbeth Arena itself was not a venue I had visited before. A pre-court full of food vans and bars led into the main area, where a peculiar round stage stood, echoing the structure of the arches behind. Sadly I didn’t get chance to experience any of the culinary delights, as a raft of polite clapping welcomed the support act Turin Brakes.
“Looks like you warmed the stage up for us” joked lead singer Olly Knights. Well the rain had cleared at least but it was still utterly freezing. With their mellow mix of folk and indie, they flew through songs new and old. It wasn’t really the standard audience they played too, nonetheless they played a strong set which I’m sure won them over a few new fans.
Orchestral interpretations of The Beach Boys’ classics played over the PA whilst the raincoat clad punters finished their food and headed to the stage. It wasn’t long before the main act arrived to a rapturous reception. Brian and the band, which included fellow Beach Boy Al Jardine, his son Matt Jardine and a raft of musicians from various backgrounds, wasted no time in delighting the crowd. ‘California Girls’ started the set (one of Brian Wilson’s favourite Beach Boys song), which instantly put images of beautiful women and golden beaches into the minds of the audience. It almost helped them forget they were in a former industrial estate under rain soaked arches. Even the band had heaters and fleeces on, a far cry from the sun kissed American coastline and the striped shirts of old.
There was no messing around, as they launched into a barrage of sunshine soaked hits including ‘I Get Around’ and ‘Don’t Worry Baby’. Praise has to be sent in Matt Jardine’s direction, his vocals were uncanny to the early Beach Boys recordings and really elevated the whole show. He took lead vocal duty on many of the songs, and filled in for Brian on the high sections where the 76 year old could no longer reach.
As the Pet Sounds section of the concert began, it was noticeable that Brian was struggling through some of the vocals. Thankfully the backing band filled the gaps by recreating the full soundscape from the Pet Sounds album. Everything from the clarinets in ‘You Still Believe in Me’, the stunning harmonies in ‘Wouldn’t it Be Nice’ to the flutes in ‘I’m Waiting For the Day’ were played with complete faithfulness to the original recordings. The audience were singing along to almost the whole album, apart from the “no vocals” tracks as Brian referred to them. Let it be said that when the first chords of ‘God Only Knows’ chimed out tears appeared in many eyes. The crowd passionately sang the lyrics back to Brian who responded with a rare smile.
Back to the hits as they launched into the final run of crowd pleasers. ‘Good Vibrations’ led straight into ‘Help Me Rhonda’ with vocals by the surprisingly spritely Al who was still carries the same loveable stage presence he did back in the sixties. The set closed on a stripped down rendition of ‘Love & Mercy’ led by Brian with the rest of the band providing the harmonies. It was a beautifully sweet end to a fantastic show.
As the upturned stage lights lit up the sky, the band took a final group bow and vanished into the night. Even though Brian may be in his later years and unable to perform as he used to, the show just proved the power of the music he created will outlast him. Pet Sounds is an album thats influence can be felt throughout modern music, it was an privilege for all to witness such timeless songs on such a chilly August night.
(This article was originally published on Gig Junkies http://www.gigjunkies.com/band-reviews/brian-wilson-turin-brakes-at-digbeth-arena-birmingham-uk-24th-august-2018/)