NYCB Theatre at Westbury
December 5, 2018
Brian Wilson is many things. He is one of the most influential songwriters of all time. He is a founding member and musical force behind the Beach Boys. He is a Grammy-winning member of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. His story is well-known.
On a cool evening in early December, Wilson and his band touched down at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury for the eagerly awaited Brian Wilson Presents The Christmas Album Live performance. Upon entrance to the intimate venue, many fans were gathered together in the lobby discussing Wilson, his legacy and the Beach Boys and what exactly beside Christmas songs he and his band might play.
The evening began with the opening duo, the Austin, TX-based, Beat Root Revival, an act specially picked by Wilson to open the Christmas Album tour. Andrea Magee who is originally from Ireland and Ben Jones who is originally from England delivered a short but powerful set that was folksy, bluesy, countrified and rockin’.
For the most-part, Magee plays a traditional Irish drum whole Jones plays guitar and programs the loops. Their set was highlighted by the original “Sit Me Down Blues” and powerful covers of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” and the Beatles’ “Come Together.”
After a short intermission, Wilson and his huge band appeared. Wilson who had back surgery earlier in 2018 was brought to the stage in a wheelchair and as he settled behind his keyboard announced, “Hello Westbury!”
The eleven-man band (led by Musical Director Darian Sahanaja, Beach Boy Al Jardine and Wilson’s son-in-law, Rob Bonfiglio) got right down to it opening the show with “Little Saint Nick.” It was an early Christmas celebration for the faithful as Wilson and his cohorts turned back time to the ‘60s when the Beach Boys released their The Beach Boys' Christmas Album (Capitol records, 1964) with Wilson’s versions of holiday classics and his holiday originals. The performances included wonderful versions of “The Man With All The Toys,” “Merry Christmas, Baby,” “Christmas Day,” “We Three Kings,” a jazzy “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Christmasey,” and “Winter Symphony” among others, with Wilson, Jardine and Blondie Chaplin handling the vocals.
The small venue features a revolving stage which somehow fit 12 musicians in its finite and cramped space. Chaplin played on about one-third of the Christmas tunes and spent the majority of the evening shuttling between the dressing room and the stage.
Though there was only one set, the performance definitely had two separate segments. Following Chaplin’s “Run Rudolph Run,” the band gave everyone in the audience the thrills that they hoped to hear—a Beach Boys hit-after-hit closing portion to the show. Though this segment was comprised of only eight songs, the crowd was thrilled.
From the first notes of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” through the last notes of “Fun, Fun, Fun” the crowd was on its collective feet singing, dancing and carrying on as though it was the last party they’d ever attend. Wilson and his band gave the audience its money’s worth with: “God Only Knows,” “Sloop John B, “ “Good Vibrations,” “Help Me Rhonda,” Barbara Ann” and “Surfin’ USA.” The aforementioned “Fun, Fun, Fun” sent the fans out of their minds and provided exactly what the song promised.
The performance ended with a cover of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas followed by the traditional “Auld Lang Syne.” With that Wilson waved to the crowd, received a standing ovation, was helped into his wheelchair and was whisked away to the dressing room.
The evening and the performance was special. Wilson is 76-years of age. He is getting on in years and because of his recent surgery doesn’t move around as well as he’d like. If the Christmas Album Live performances represent the last time that Wilson mounts a full tour, it will go down as an extraordinary performance and a wonderful opportunity to see a musical genius.
Photo Credit: Christine Connallon