Brian Wilson: Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary World Tour
You might have noticed something unusual about this week’s cover of Pollstar. Instead of an emerging artist of note, we’re featuring legendary Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson, who is about to launch what may be the final leg of the final tour marking the 50th anniversary of what some consider one of the greatest albums ever made, The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.
In some ways, Wilson can be considered a re-emerging artist. The last three years seem to mark a renaissance and renewal for the musical master. In that spirit, Pollstar made a rare exception to the unwritten rule that the cover be reserved for new artists.
Wilson swore off touring in the mid-1960s, after a frightening incident on a band flight to Houston. He quit the tour, retreated to the studio while his Beach Boys bandmates remained on the road, and the result was Pet Sounds. So revolutionary was Wilson’s songwriting and recording technique – including the use of live animal sounds – lore has it that The Beatles were challenged and inspired to respond with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Pet Sounds confounded the other Beach Boys and fans, reaching only No. 10 on album charts but, in the 50 years since its May, 1966 release, has endured.
So has Wilson. His subsequent battle with mental illness and, at times, family, band members and record labels have been well documented, but he was able to emerge with the help of his wife Melinda and began recording – and touring – again in the early 1990s.
Ironically, he’s touring more than ever in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the album he quit touring in order to create.
“I decided to do it because I wanted something to do with my time, and wanted to make people happy with my music,” Wilson told Pollstar of his decision to return to the road. “We started touring, and we’ve toured the world now for the last eight months with the Pet Sounds album.
“It feels great. I love making people happy, and the audiences love Pet Sounds.”
Agent Bruce Solar of APA, who books tours for Wilson along with Andy Somers and Steve Martin in the U.S., points out that the last three years have been among Wilson’s most productive.
In addition to the tour, Wilson has written a memoir and seen the release of a biopic, “Love and Mercy,” that documented Wilson’s life with the Beach Boys, his struggles with mental illness and therapist-turned-Svengali Eugene Landy, and return to the music world.
He also toured with The Beach Boys for the first time since 1965, on the band’s own 50th anniversary caravan in 2012. The reunion outing was hugely successful, but ended in controversy when Mike Love announced the tour would not be extended despite widely reported demand for more shows. Love instead regrouped his band, which is licensed to use the Beach Boys name, and returned to the road.
Wilson says he hasn’t spoken to Love in four and a half years, but seems to harbor no ill will toward his famously contentious cousin. When asked if the press reports of bad blood between the two were correct, Wilson curtly said “no,” and insists the tour ended at the time all members had agreed on.
He’s since added former Beach Boys Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin to his band of stellar musicians and continued touring.
Solar has been booking Wilson in the U.S. (UTA’s Neil Warnock books worldwide) for about the last five years and says Wilson shows no signs of slowing down. Despite being a veteran agent who has worked with Wilson for years, he says he’s still a big fan.
“The shows are at least 35 songs, including all of Pet Sounds,’ Solar told Pollstar. “But you also get ‘California Girls,’ ‘Dance, Dance, Dance’ ‘I Get Around,’ ‘Don’t Worry Baby.’ All that, and the encore is usually six or seven songs: ‘Good Vibrations’ ‘Love and Mercy’ ‘Barbara Ann.’ It’s amazing how many hits they had. It’s pretty cool.
“Sometimes you go see your artist and walk around and go do whatever, but when I go see Brian, I’m watching the whole show. I get a good seat and I watch the show, because it’s just so good.”
Solar acknowledges Wilson’s former aversion to touring, and says that is definitely a thing of the past.
“There was a long period when he wouldn’t tour, and things couldn’t be more different now,” Solar said. “As much as he enjoys it, we had a funny situation where I went up to see Brian in San Francisco and said, ‘Hey Brian, I hope we’re not wearing you out because you are playing so much.’ And he comes back and says, ‘We need more dates!’”
And he’s getting them. The Pet Sounds tour, which is being billed as “the last,” kicked off almost a year ago in New Zealand and Australia before traversing the United States in a leg that was extended. Then he took it to the United Kingdom and Europe before returning for yet another leg in the States.
Wilson then booked another Pet Sounds trek around the U.S., which runs from March through May and another is in the works for fall.
Solar – and Wilson – stresses that the “final” wording applies only to the Pet Sounds tour, not Wilson.
“Brian has played some places he’s never played in his entire history,” Solar said. “He played Israel for the first time, and even on this tour he played some places he hadn’t played in some 30 years. Places like Burlington, Vt., or Des Moines, Iowa. After the summer tour, the final thing continues in markets we haven’t played starting in September.”
Solar is insistent it’s not the last we’ll hear from Brian Wilson – not by a long shot.
“It’s the 50th anniversary. By now, it’s probably the 51st! We will see what happens. We have a lot of ideas for things to do in 2018. Brian does not want to stop. Brian is really, really enjoying touring, which is great,” Solar said.
When asked if the door to playing with Mike Love and The Beach Boys was at least left cracked, Wilson would say only, “I don’t know at this time.” But he is quick to add that he’s not ready to retire to his Beverly Hills home yet, either.
“I don’t know if we’re going to do Pet Sounds into next year,” Wilson said. “We may or we may not. But next year I think we are going to record an album. I haven’t written any songs yet, but it’s going to be a rock ‘n’ roll album!”