The Strangest Thing Brian Wilson Has Ever Done

The Beach Boy pulled one of the greatest jokes of all time after playing the greatest song of all time.
Brian Wilson circa 1965 in Los Angeles.
Brian Wilson circa 1965 in Los Angeles.

Brian Wilson headlined the Brooklyn Northside Festival on Sunday, where he played the entirety of "Pet Sounds" alongside fellow original Beach Boys member Al Jardine and the rest of Wilson's band.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the album, which Rolling Stone called the second greatest of all time. "Pet Sounds" features Beach Boys classics such as "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "God Only Knows."

When Wilson began playing the latter track on Sunday evening, the person standing behind me at the festival exclaimed, "Oh my god, it's so beautiful," and began to tear up. A quick look at Twitter posts from around that same time showed that multiple people were doing the same thing.

Paul McCartney has said that “Pet Sounds” made him cry and that “God Only Knows” is his favorite song in all of music history.

With thousands of fellow festival-goers and dozens of Brooklynites on park-adjacent balconies and rooftops collectively welling as Wilson played the song, it was hard not to join in the tears, and I certainly did.

But when "God Only Knows" was done, Wilson pulled a joke perhaps equally as good as the preceding song, going straight into a rendition of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and begging the audience to sing along with him.

The disconnect between the Beach Boys' work from the "Pet Sounds" era and the rest of their surfing-and-girls-focused discography has always been curious. Earlier this year, Jardine told The Huffington Post that the very release of such a complicated and revolutionary album "was not expected" from the band. Jardine said, "Because we were The Beach Boys, remember? I mean, come on, with a name like that? It took a while to realize there was a genius [Wilson] in our midst.”

That Wilson took a break from playing "Pet Sounds" for a children's melody about the sea -- especially immediately after a song that Pitchfork has called the greatest of the entire 1960s -- is easily one of best things I have ever seen.

The crowd sang along to the children's tune, but after about 30 seconds, Wilson had already thanked the audience and switched back to "Pet Sounds." He then finished the album all the way through without diversion.

At the end of "Caroline, No," the iconic train noise that closes the album blasted over the speaker. Wilson exclaimed that it was a good vibration. Then the band played "Good Vibrations" -- a track originally meant for "Pet Sounds" -- and ended the show with "Barbara Ann," "Surfin' U.S.A." and "Fun Fun Fun."

The opportunity to see Brian Wilson play through "Pet Sounds" meant a lot to those present at Brooklyn's McCarren Park. The head booker for the festival, Lauren Beck, claimed that one of her earliest memories is telling her parents "Wouldn't It Be Nice" is the "greatest song ever written." Dana Keith, the festival's director, told HuffPost that the same song literally shaped her life -- her parents got engaged after hearing it on the radio.

As Wilson played Northside, large balloons with smiley faces bounced around the crowd. One almost hit Wilson's head. Rarely is positive energy so abundant that a good thing can actually hit you in the face.

Brian Wilson at Primavera Sound on June 4, 2016.
Brian Wilson at Primavera Sound on June 4, 2016.


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