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Concert Reviews:
Brian Wilson, Zombies make past near-perfect in Royal Oak

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Wednesday, September 25, 2019

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ROYAL OAK -- A couple of oldies were indeed good, and then some, on Tuesday night, Sept. 24, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre.

As a pairing, Brian Wilson and the Zombies hit the stage with bona fide Rock and Roll Hall of Fame pedigrees -- the latter freshly minted in April. And while glorious pasts were the focus of their respective sets on Tuesday, the fact that both could present decades-old music with genuine potency and relevance, with the key players all in their 70s, was truly reason to celebrate. And even marvel.

The Zombies, in fact, exuded timelessness -- from the material to its performances -- throughout its hour-long opening segment. Hair color aside, time has not taken much away from frontman Colin Blunstone or keyboardist Rod Argent -- or for that matter, fellow founding members Chris White and Hugh Grundy, on hand for the front-to-back recreation of the group's landmark 1968 album "Odessey and Oracle" after an opening blast of "Tell Her No," the brand new "Merry Go Round" and an extended "She's Not There."

With its ranks swelling to as many as nine members -- including White's wife Viv Boucherat on backing vocals and Wilson's musical director Darian Sahanaja playing additional keyboards -- the Zombies made "Odessey" come alive for a second time at the Royal Oak, handling the details and nuances of tracks such as "Beechwood Park," "Hung Up on a Dream" and "Changes." A stretched-out "Time of the Season" brought things to a stirring close, making a convincing case for these Zombies as anything but walking dead.

The nostalgic glow was still in place when Wilson and his 10-member band took the stage deliver Beach Boys material from five-plus decades ago -- blasting off with iconic hits such as "California Girls," "I Get Around," "Help Me Rhonda," "Don't Worry Baby" and "Darlin'" and dosing the 95-minute performance with liberal doses of often lesser-known material from 1968's "Friends" and 1971's "Surf's Up." The Wilson show remains an impressive exposition of a composer presenting more than performing his works; With unhidden and undenied damage from decades of mental and physical health issues continuing to limit and even diminish his contributions, Wilson -- who entered the stage using a walker -- sat at his white baby grand piano, judiciously picking his spots to sing and getting more than a little help from his friends on stage.

The good news, of course, is that the ensemble -- many of whom have been with Wilson since he resumed touring during the late 80s -- was nothing less than sublime, nailing the Beach Boys' layered harmonies and capturing all the instrumental details and sonic magic that sprang from Wilson's imagination during the 60s. Having still-solid Beach Boys co-founder alongside Al Jardine guaranteed further authenticity, while his son Matthew Jardine capably covered the high registers throughout the 28-song concert. And Blondie Chaplin, a Beach Boy from 1972-73 whose soulful voice and lead guitar skills are still fully intact, nearly stole the night with a mid-show triplet of "Feel Flows" and "Long Promised Road" from "Surf's Up" and a cruise through the buoyant "Sail On, Sailor."

Inclusions of deep-dig tracks such as "Meant For You," "Wake the World," "Busy Doin' Nothin'," "Little Bird" and "Lookin' at Tomorrow (A Welfare Song)" were aimed right at Beach Boys aficionados, of course. But even the uninitiated had to appreciate at the rich recreations of "Friends'" Hawaiian-flavored instrumental "Diamond Head" -- accurate right down to Matthew Jardine playing palm fronds at center stage -- as well as the lushly beautiful "'Til I Die" and "Surf's Up's" suite-like title track.

A closing romp through "Heroes and Villains," "Good Vibrations," "Barbara Ann" and "Surfin' USA" restored the, well, "Fun Fun Fun" component, and as the Wilson crew finished huddled around his piano, singing a spare and hymn-like "Love and Mercy," it was a testament to a carefully honed and well-practiced team effort that kept the surf up even when the waves got a little rough and, most importantly, maintained an iconic musical legacy in a manner it deserves.

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