For a nervous moment, actor Paul Dano stood quietly onstage Monday night at a Los Angeles jazz club, gripping a microphone with both hands to sing a 1966 Beach Boys classic, “You Still Believe in Me.” At the keyboard beside him was the man who co-authored it, Brian Wilson. On his other side stood Al Jardine, another original Beach Boy, who assured the crowd: “He’s got a really good voice ….”
By the time Dano began the song’s achingly vulnerable vocal melody, he was already being carried away by Wilson’s rich layers of sound, both bright and melancholy. It was another glimpse into the life and music of Wilson, who performed a short, vibrant concert for a crowd of about 200 to celebrate the DVD release of this year’s acclaimed movie of his life story, Love & Mercy. Also in the crowd were director Bill Pohlad and co-star Elizabeth Banks.
“Brian asked me to sing that song because he knows it’s one of my favorites,” Dano told Rolling Stone afterwards. He portrays Wilson as a young man at his Sixties peak in the film, as career pressures and mental illness begin to derail his life. “My favorite part was the ending, the communal ‘ahhhs‘ and the feeling of communion up there. It’s a really beautiful, intimate song.”
With a 10-man band of veteran players crowded onto the small stage beside him, Wilson performed 35 minutes’ worth of hits and deeply emotional songs from his Beach Boys and solo catalog. There were gorgeous laid-back falsetto harmonies on “Surfer Girl,” dreamy vocals and harmonica on “In My Room,” and roaring guitar riffs on “Dance, Dance, Dance.”
As usual, Wilson was a man of few words, but clearly pleased and relaxed onstage at the Vibrato Grill, a hilltop jazz club owned by Herb Alpert, the hit-making Tijuana Brass trumpeter and co-founder of A&M Records. “It’s good to be in Los Angeles, where we all live!” he declared to laughs, his blue dress-shirt sleeves rolled at the wrists, thick graying hair swept back. The music was performed with precision and warmth, recreating the essence of the original records.
For the opening of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” Matt Jardine (Al’s son) sang the forceful vocal melodies until Wilson took the hopeful verse: “Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray, it might come true/Baby, then there wouldn’t be a single thing we couldn’t do.”
The pop epic “Good Vibrations” began with a false start, and Wilson stopping the band as soon as it began: “Hold it, hold it, hold it! Too fast!”
“A lot of the people who had something to do with the movie are here tonight,” Wilson told Rolling Stone minutes before his performance. “I’ve seen it five times. I love it. I like Paul Dano’s portrayal of me as a record producer.”
Monday’s concert and DVD release party was another chance for the cast, crew and subjects of Love & Mercy to reunite around a special project. Dano and John Cusack, who play Wilson at different stages of his life, developed a personal, protective relationship with the musician. And Banks has spent quality time at the Wilson home.
“I don’t want it to end,” said Pohlad. “To be able to live with Brian’s music in your head for three or four years is not a bad gig. There was something about his spirit, too, that infused the whole thing. It was the nicest, warmest set that I’ve ever been on. A lot of it has to do with the spirit of the movie and Brian was a big part of it.”
At the same time, Wilson has embraced life on the road. He begins an East Coast run with his band on October 20th in Charleston, South Carolina. “He’s actually starting to love to tour,” says wife Melinda Wilson. “He comes home and he goes, ‘OK, book me up for next month!'”
For the night’s set-closing “Love and Mercy,” Wilson sang to his wife as she swayed up front, arm-in-arm with Banks, who portrays her in the film. He was accompanied on the song by a simple keyboard melody and light vibraphone taps. “He sang it directly to her,” Banks said after. “He was eye-to-eye with his beautiful wife. It was awkward, almost. It’s amazing how romantic it is. That’s what they have.”
“In My Room”
“Dance, Dance, Dance”
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice”
“God Only Knows”
“You Still Believe in Me”
“One Kind of Love”
“Fun, Fun, Fun”
“Love and Mercy”