Brian Wilson, “Runaway Dancer” from No Pier Pressure (2015): One Track Mind

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There’s really no escaping the question: How much of Brian Wilson’s third-act resurgence is studio magic? Part of this is the age we live in, a completely undangerous era of downloadable gloss that has everybody hearing Auto-Tune, whether it’s making its devilish obfuscations or not. And part of it is, to be fair, Wilson’s own doing.

Decades ago, when he left the road to focus on constructing the Beach Boys’ next great teenage symphony, Brian Wilson became a soundboard hermit. He was someone brought out for album-sleeve photo shoots, but not much more. Even a glimpse of this Howard Hughes-in-a-Pendleton counted as big news. In time, as personal issues surrounded him, Wilson simply vanished — from the stage, from the airwaves, from the Beach Boys, even from the studio.

More recently, however, he has become a public figure again, regularly releasing solo albums, even reuniting with his erstwhile buddies in the Beach Boys for a celebrated reunion. If Brian Wilson’s work hasn’t quite matched (and who could?) the soaring wonder and goofball brilliance of his Pet Sounds and SMiLE era, he’s certainly sounded as fully engaged as we’ve ever heard. Even when the Beach Boys, perhaps expectedly, foundered again, Wilson moved quickly toward constructing the forthcoming solo effort No Pier Pressure, due April 7, 2015 via Capitol Records.

If there’s a criticism to be levied, it’s that the music has felt very much of its era technologically, occasionally plasticine in its determined perfection. You can’t help but wonder if Brian Wilson could still produce in the white-hot circle of the concert stage. Unfortunately, this new live take on “Runaway Dancer” from No Pier Pressure, recorded in concert for the PBS series Soundstage, doesn’t definitively address that notion.

Frankly, there’s too much of a focus on guest star Sebu of Capital Cities, who dropped by during Wilson’s December stop at the Venetian in Las Vegas. There are too many backup singers, and a whole army of sidemen. Yet, Brian Wilson shows he’s still got a way with a pop confection and, at least during an initial solo turn on the mic to open “Runaway Dancer,” he seems finally ready to accept some of the attention he’s spent so long shunning.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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