Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck are coming to Akron, together.
It may seem like an odd pairing on paper or on a theater marquee, but the pair will perform separately and together on Sunday night at the University of Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall.
Wilson, 71, the mercurial California-bred pop music “genius” behind the best of the Beach Boys’ classic songs, will share a stage with Beck, 69, the mercurial, British-born guitar god whose catalog includes revved up blues-rock, funky jazz-fusion, guitar-driven electronica and just about any other genre to which he applies his unique style.
But in practice, the pair of rock legends and rock hall of famers (Beck twice — solo and with the Yardbirds) have been fans of each other’s work for decades.
“I needed musical help around 1966, and Pet Sounds was dressing on a wound for me with all its amazing melodies,” Beck told USA Today this past summer. “I was floored by it. So were the Beatles. It was outrageously adventurous stuff for the ear.”
Wilson and Beck crossed paths in 2005 during a MusicCares tribute show to Wilson where Beck took the lead melody on a lovely rendition of the ethereal ballad Surf’s Up with Wilson’s longtime backing band, The Wondermints.
Beck originally planned to play You Still Believe in Me but was intimidated by the band’s already perfect rendition so he decided to learn Surf’s Up, another favorite.
“That’s when I realized it had like 14 chord changes in it,” Beck told the Washington Post.
“I was just playing the melody or variations close to the melody over the chords with just a few backing vocals here and there. The band said I should loosen up at the end, be myself and do some shredding. So that’s what I did. I looked up and saw Jimmy Page and Brian sitting at the same table and said, ‘Oh, my God.’ I met Brian that night and that formed the seed for this,” Beck said.
Wilson enjoyed Beck’s performance, and years later when it came time for him to record his upcoming solo album he recalled the guitarists’ rendition of his song.
“We needed some guitar on my album, so I suggested to my co-producer, Joe Thomas, that we call Jeff Beck up and ask him if he’d like to play,” Wilson said to the Florida Times-Union shortly before the Sept. 27 start of the monthlong tour.
“So he came down to the studio and he absolutely blew our minds. That guy plays better guitar than you can imagine. He’s the most — greatest guitar player I’ve ever heard in my life,” Wilson said.
That experience led Wilson to ask Beck to go out on tour.
Beach Boys fans who enjoyed the 2012 50th anniversary tour featuring all of the surviving members of the group surely lamented when singer Mike Love, who controls the Beach Boys name, unceremoniously dumped his original bandmates following the tour to return to his version of “The Beach Boys.”
But fans can take heart because the current lineup of Wilson’s band includes original Beach Boys member Al Jardine along with David Marks who joined the group in 1962 and Blondie Chaplin who left the group in the early 1970s, while “The Beach Boys” only original or longtime member is Love.
The relatively short 18-date Beck/Wilson tour ends in Akron and has been receiving good notices for its format and the performances.
Wilson, Jardine, Marks and the nine-piece band are up first and the hour-long set list includes Beach Boys staples such as California Girls, God Only Knows and I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times along with some deeper cuts such as Wild Honey and Here Today.
Then Beck and his four piece band appear in full jazz-rock-fusion mode, though he doesn’t draw heavily from his string of 1970s fusion albums such as Blow by Blow. Instead, he performs mostly more recent tunes from his ’80s album through today including some new songs such as Yemen, influenced by Beck’s recent obsession with Eastern and Irish music, along with covers of Jimi Hendrix’ Little Wing and the Beatles’ (Beach Boys influenced) A Day in the Life. Wilson joins Beck for a few Beach Boys tunes including Surf’s Up and the psychedelic mantra Child Is the Father of the Man.
Then both bands join forces for the Regents classic Barbara Ann and Wilson’s Surfin’ U.S.A.
It’s an interesting mix of Wilson’s compositions and Beck’s melodic sense and brute force adding up to what should be for fans of both artists an unusual and engaging evening of music, or, as Beck put it to USA Today shortly before the start of the tour, “What I’d call an interesting mix of people, classic surfing safari music and this weird stuff I do. But it will sound like it’s all of one accord.”