Brian Wilson, Royal Festival Hall, London


Royal Festival Hall, London

The poor sales of recent albums by Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger highlight an uncomfortable truth about the biggest stars of the 1960s. The public prefers them frozen in time, buying another Greatest Hits instead of their latest efforts. The only major 1960s artist to apparently embrace such thinking is The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson. His first British appearance in 13 years contains only a handful of songs under 25 years old.

That may be necessity - Wilson is suffering writer's block - but it also shows remarkable self-knowledge. He has always noted his mid-1960s music's unique allure, its "spirituality". The prospect of seeing that music live simultaneously excites the fan's most lofty and most prurient impulses. You get to hear Pet Sounds, widely considered the greatest album ever made, while seeing if Wilson is as weird as those stories about playing piano in a sandbox suggest.

He has an odd habit of miming lyrics as he sings them, pretending to drive during Don't Worry Baby. Between songs, his announcements vary from touchingly naive - "Hooray for us!" - to downright peculiar: "We have some angels onstage and the angels will come out and sing with me."

But nothing can distract from the music. Reproducing the complex sound of mid-1960s Beach Boys records, the 10-piece band acquit themselves wonderfully. Their harmonies are glorious. Wilson is in better voice than anyone with his history of drug addiction should be. The material is exquisite. From delicate obscurities like 1968's Meant for You through a breathtaking Heroes and Villains, to California Girls, no one has ever mastered the pop song as completely. Pet Sounds bursts from the stage, unique and remarkable - sounding, in fact, like the best album ever made.

Wilson's show is one of three currently touring, each containing one original Beach Boy. There have been the usual lawsuits and vicious public arguments. That the music Wilson performs transcends the tawdry soap opera of America's Favourite Band is testament to its incredible and enduring power.

· Further performances tonight and tomorrow. Box office: 020-7960 4242. A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper.

Contributor

Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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