By Chris M. Junior
More co-headlining tours should be like the one Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck are presenting this fall across the United States.
Ego issues are nonexistent, and musical collaboration is abundant.
During their nearly equal set times Oct. 6 at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center in Bethlehem, Pa., Wilson and Beck treated the musicians in their respective bands as spotlight-worthy equals, not in-the-shadows sidemen.
Wilson and Beck also performed together, and before the night was over, the stage was crammed with everyone who was involved in the show.
Wilson and his large band went on first. After a stiff start, the Beach Boys mastermind started to look and sound comfortable while performing “Heroes and Villains,” facing the audience a bit more and waving his arms as he sang. Wilson’s most heartfelt vocal came during “God Only Knows,” which he dedicated to late brother Carl, the lead singer on The Beach Boys’ studio version of the tune included on “Pet Sounds.”
Other songs from the “Pet Sounds” album were featured in Wilson’s set, among them “Sloop John B,” with fellow Beach Boys alum Al Jardine sharing lead vocals. The addition of the genial Jardine and the sunglasses-wearing David Marks (another veteran Beach Boys guitarist) to Wilson’s touring band wasn’t merely ornamental. The Jardine-fronted “Help Me, Rhonda” prompted one of the most enthusiastic reactions from the audience. As for Marks, he provided one of the biggest chunks of between-song banter and the evening’s funniest moment. Prior to singing a Dennis Wilson number, Marks told a brief story from his youth about falling from a tree and breaking an arm. After Marks told Dennis about his injury, Dennis chopped the tree down.
In his customary sleeveless stage wear, Beck cut an impressive figure, and his playing, like always, was just as striking. Throughout his set, Beck generated a tidal wave of unique sounds and melodic runs, and in the process put his personal stamp on Jimi Hendrix's “Little Wing” and The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” Beck’s guitar work, while undeniably flashy, was presented within the context of the songs, as were the extended breaks by bassist Rhonda Smith and his other band members.
Wilson, Jardine and Marks joined Beck and his group to create those one-of-a-kind harmonies on a version of The Beach Boys’ “Our Prayer,” and later, during the double-band blowout, Beck briefly flashed a pinch-me smile as he jammed on “Barbara Ann” and “Surfin’ U.S.A.”
The Wilson/Beck tour continues through October and includes stops in Boston (Oct. 9), New York (Oct. 15), Los Angeles (Oct. 20), Detroit (Oct. 25) and Chicago (Oct. 29).