The lineup of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers that performed Sunday night in Akron did look odd on paper.
The combo platter of Brian Wilson, the legendary songwriter and damaged mastermind behind the Beach Boys, and Jeff Beck, the fiery guitar icon and two-time rock hall inductee (solo and as a member of the Yardbirds) shared a stage at E.J. Thomas Hall.
For nearly three hours, Wilson with his large well-arranged longtime band and Beck with his tight quartet regaled concert-goers with classic hits and rock guitar, a pleasant commingling of the artists’ differing styles.
Wilson and his 11-piece band went first, with Wilson — casually dressed in a striped shirt, pants and sneakers — at the grand piano off to the side, allowing the songs to take center stage. By most accounts throughout the tour, Wilson’s vocals have been spotty, and a few reviewers have said the legend doesn’t always seem to be fully engaged with the show. But at E.J. Thomas, Wilson, who sang lead on several of the more than 20 songs, including Marcella and Heroes & Villains, was in good voice and good spirits. His band also featured original Beach Boys member Al Jardine and guitarist David Marks, who performed on the Beach Boys’ first few albums before quitting in the 1960s.
The set list was a mix of expected hits including California Girls, God Only Knows and Help Me, Rhonda along with a few deeper cuts such as Please Let Me Wonder and the soulful Sail On, Sailor. Wilson’s band did a wonderful job of re-creating the musical and vocal grandeur of many of the Beach Boys’ hits, including the “pocket symphony” Good Vibrations.
After a short break, Beck and his quartet took the stage. Throughout his career he has recorded British blues rock, jazz fusion, ’50s rock ’n’ roll and electronica among other things. He began with a version of Billy Cobham’s up-tempo workout Stratus, but the set list stuck primarily with tunes from the past 20 years.
Beck’s unique technique — he plays without a pick and manipulates the tremolo arm, volume and tone knobs to extract a wide variety of sounds from his Stratocaster — was on full display. He played the opening chords of a too-short take on Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing beautifully, before unleashing some loud guitar-god style wailing; dueling with his violinist on the heavy-metalish main riff of You Know, You Know; and breaking out some Van Halen-esque two-handed hammer-ons and harmonic squawk and shrieks for the rolling groove of Big Block.
The bands joined forces for the last part of the show, with Beck taking the lovely lead melody of Surf’s Up while Wilson and company harmonized, and concluding with the Beatles’ A Day in the Life. The encore featured sing-alongs of Barbara Ann and Surfin’ U.S.A., and a Beck-led version of the hoary chestnut Danny Boy.
Yes, the pairing may have looked odd on paper, but Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck onstage in real life was a harmonious treat for the near-sellout crowd.