Brian Wilson * * * * *
Symphony Hall
Review by Richard McComb

I have never been to a concert where it looked like the evening was over half way through the first half.

But such was the reaction to Brian Wilson playing God Only Knows – the audience on its feet to applaud the artist and his finest creation – that abandonment of the rest of the show looked a distinct possibility.

I mean, how do you top that?

It is a question Wilson must have been asking himself since he penned the song he refers to as a "pretty, sweet ballad" in 1966. Remarkably, and against all the odds, the former Beach Boy has kept coming back; and thankfully for the fans gathered inside Symphony Hall, Wilson briefly bathed in their adulation before bringing the love-in to a close and continuing an exuberant performance featuring one of the finest back catalogues in popular music.

There was a smattering of the definitive Pet Sounds album (Wouldn't It Be Nice and In My Room) and a reference to Smile (Heroes And Villains demonstrating the band's beautiful vocal talent as well as the players' consummate musicianship).

Surprisingly, however, it was the lesser known 1965 Beach Boys album, Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) that provided the bulk of the source material for the show's first half. The achingly plaintive Girl Don't Tell Me featured with bigger hitters such as Help Me, Rhonda, a version of Phil Spector's And Then I Kissed Her and California Girls.

Wilson, now aged 65, can cut a lonely, vulnerable figure on stage, as anyone who saw the Pet Sounds and Smile tours will testify.

Today, however, the man seems more at peace with himself. During a faultless run through his new work, That Lucky Old Sun, in the second half, smiles broke out across Wilson's face as the audience responded warmly to his best work in years, some would say decades. It was a genuinely moving experience to see the troubled genius look so happy.

That Lucky Old Sun, which is yet to be released, is a mixture of songs and narrations about the fun and beauty of life in LA.

Midnight's Another Day and Going Home were among the stand-out numbers, shot through with trademark Wilson key changes and haunting melodies. Truly, they are worthy of the man. It defies belief that the multi-talented composer and arranger is still able to create such magic, but Brian Wilson has a habit of defying belief.

The Birmingham show was the final night of the tour and Wilson rounded off the terrific two-hour concert with even more Beach Boys' classics including Dance, Dance, Dance, Surfin' USA and Fun, Fun, Fun.

Which prompts one enduring question: how the hell did one man ever write so many great pop songs? God only knows.