- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2005

“I’m your music man,” Brian Wilson blurted to the crowd three songs into a sweaty and satisfying show Wednesday night at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center.

It sounded more like a promise than a boast, and he kept it.

Or rather, Mr. Wilson backed by his phenomenal 10-member band did. They’re the ones who thrillingly re-create the iconic music Mr. Wilson made in the 1960s as the introverted leader of the Beach Boys.

It’s been more than six years since Mr. Wilson, 63, surmounted legendary mental and emotional troubles and tentatively got his groove back onstage. This devoted band is how he keeps doing it.

They’re not just his group, they’re his group hug. Thus, we now sense an artist comfortable in his awkward discomfort.

The latest proof, of course, is Mr. Wilson’s resurrected song cycle, “Smile,” which he abandoned as a breakthrough Beach Boys project in 1967. This band, led by guitarist Jeffrey Foskett and keyboardist Darian Sahanaja, helped him complete it last year for live performance and then on an acclaimed recording.

Mr. Wilson’s daredevil musicians make it look easy as they negotiate the antic, 50-minute turns and tangles of “Smile,” a crazy quilt of history and fable, music hall and opera house, high school humor and Warner Bros. cartoons, parables and psalms capped by the euphoric “Good Vibrations.”

In all, Mr. Wilson barreled through 21/2 hours and more than 30 of his own intricately constructed compositions, most Beach Boys standards from “Do It Again” to “Fun Fun Fun.” He can do it again and again because this band surrounds him at the conn, his mostly unplayed electric piano.

Let’s name the rest of those deserving of thanks: guitarists Probyn Gregory and Nick Walusko, keyboardist Scott Bennett, bassist Bob Lizik, drummer Jim Hines, reed and horn man Paul Mertens, percussionist Nelson Bragg and the lone female, vocalist Taylor Mills.

This is one candy-apple-red, high-performance vehicle. It is a compact rock ‘n’ roll orchestra and chorus — now supplemented by the eight-piece Stockholm Strings and Horns — that swaps instruments and reaches heady performance heights that the original Boys, soaring voices or no, never could have matched. They aren’t afraid to go off road and get a little dirty.

The night’s surprises included “Then I Kissed Her,” Mr. Wilson’s Phil Spector power-ballad rewrite, the rocking return of “Little St. Nick” to preview a Christmas album due in October, and the bouncy but haunting “Breakaway,” which Mr. Wilson introduced as “the only song I ever wrote with my father.”

Other highlights were the flat-out rocker “Marcella” and a minisuite from “Pet Sounds” distinguished by a virtuoso, jamming take on the instrumental title song.

Check Brian Wilson’s custom machine. Then exit smiling.

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