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flag US - California - Full Moon 101 - 12/26/04

Brian Wilson performs SMiLE
Regent Theatre, Melbourne, AUS, 9.12.04

I had a ticket for the premiere performance of SMiLE in London at the start of 2004, but made things a little difficult for myself by being over the other side of the world. Doh. I was gutted. However, when I saw the advert proclaiming that Brian Wilson was bringing the show over to Australia I had one of those childlike moments of gushing excitement - I would see SMiLE after all!

Ever since a friend of mine embarked on his obsessive SMiLE journey while we were at university, and gave me his lovingly assembled bootleg version of the album on cassette, I've been waiting for Brian's new take on the material.

So, I eagerly bought the beautifully-packaged CD... and something changed. It's a great album, but I felt there was something missing, or something present that really rubbed me up the wrong way. I've heard it variously described by friends in the past few weeks as an element of 'adult contemporary', 'muzak' or just plain 'cheesiness' in the music that was putting me off. Personally I felt the album sounded too much like a musical, and I fucking HATE musicals. The thought of seeing the whole spectacle performed live by irritatingly talented Americans really started to make me feel ill.

Thanks to a documentary screened on ABC the week before the concert I changed my mind. I was reminded of how Brian Wilson's fragility lends the music an almost unbearable poignancy, of how the vocal harmonies are transportingly beautiful, of how the sheer brilliance of the music can overwhelm all the potentially sickening cultural associations. I bit the bullet, bought a ticket, and ended up attending with my mother-in-law because she was the only person I could persuade to come!

I am so glad I decided to see the show. It was stunning. Admittedly there was a little too much reveling in the old 'sun, sea, surf' Beach Boys material, and Brian's voice does sound a bit crap these days, plus he fluffed some lines even though he had computer screens to prompt the lyrics.

Whatever, the music was what I was there for, and the whole SMiLE suite was breathtaking. The backing band are not just amazing musicians, they handle the material with a sensitivity that is staggering. All the most complex and original sequences that make up the dizzying SMiLE jigsaw were reproduced perfectly. To see the band attending to their craft so diligently, each member juggling three or four instruments AND singing pitch-perfect harmony, was quite something to see. Personal favourites? Always will be "Cabinessence" and "Surf's Up", the conclusions to suites one and two. Transcendental.

Copyright © 2004 Tim Clarke e-mail address

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