Joel Goldenberg: Random retro thoughts

Brian Wilson and I in 2005 at Place des Arts.

Happy New Year! An interesting 2019 lies before us, as I fully expect 50th anniversary box sets for such landmark albums as The Beatles' Abbey Road, the Stones' Let it Bleed, Elvis Presley's From Elvis in Memphis, and maybe The Who's Tommy with different extras from the previous deluxe set, and others.

Normally, we would proceed now with the S list and one of my favourite Canadian bands, the Stampeders. But since I was away for a while, including in Florida, I have a bunch of random items to feature this week. Starting with...

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My musical idol, Brian Wilson, played at Théatre St. Denis this past Nov. 22, but I didn't bother to go, for three reasons. One, it was cold; two, I'm too used to getting into major concerts for free; and third and most important, I wasn't expecting that great a performance from Brian.

Why? Through Beach Boys forums, videos and even some interviews promoting the concerts, reports are that Brian's singing is rather halting (though better than Paul McCartney's frail, wavering voice by a long shot), and he kind of zones out during some concerts. I skipped Brian's last Montreal Jazz Festival appearance for similar reasons (except for the temperature).

A bigger factor, however, was the structure of the shows. For the longest time, Brian and his marvelous band have been performing the entirety of the landmark album Pet Sounds. In Montreal, it was billed as more of a greatest hits concert. And the last time I saw Brian do a greatest hits set, he and even the band sounded uninspired. Something was off.

But that 2011 set at Place des Arts was only half the concert. The other half was performances from his then-new Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin CD. A complete change took place. Brian looked totally engaged in a way I had never seen, and was singing with great care.

So when I heard that Brian was performing the entirety of the 1964 Beach Boys' Christmas Album in Hollywood, Florida at the time I was on vacation in Fort Lauderdale, I had more enthusiasm. And it didn't hurt that the tickets were obtained for a mere $19 each (plus $7 service charge) from StubHub.

My expectations were somewhat met. Brian was still kind of zoned out for some of the concert, and his vocals on God Only Knows are still kind of halting. But he sang better than I expected on the Christmas Album tracks, and especially on his solo holiday song Christmasey.

And his band is phenomenal, as are fellow Beach Boy Alan Jardine's still stellar vocals, and the awesome, powerful singing of 1970s-era Beach Boy Blondie Chaplin. Blondie comes off as eccentric, sort of a junior version of the Stones' Keith Richards, but that's forgotten once sound emanates from his vocal cords.

I had a great time.

I wanted to see Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman of The Byrds perform in Fort Lauderdale as well, especially considering he was marking the 50th anniversary of the classic Sweetheart of the Rodeo album, but other factors intruded, including the fact the concert was sold out.

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Speaking of The Beach Boys, get thee to Spotify and listen to the group's latest copyright extension releases of outtakes from the Friends (Wake the World) and 20/20 (I Can Hear Music) album, and on a separate streaam, several live shows from '68.

The Wake the World set shows Brian to be extremely creative musically, even after his Smile project was halted and he retreated to a more minimalist production approach. The I Can Hear Music set shows the budding creativity of the other group members, as they stepped up to the plate as Brian withdrew somewhat.

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I'm a huge fan of the 1960s group, The Turtles, and I follow lead singer Howard Kaylan's Twitter feed. Close to Christmas, Kaylan promoted his book Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc., and having seen his hilarious Turtles documentary on DVD (done with Turtles fellow singer and partner Mark Volman), I was prepared for more humour.

There was that, in spades, but also a whole lot of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll, as well as record company troubles, Turtles-related litigation and multiple marriages. If I underwent that much stress, my head would explode.

The book is written in such a way that every part of Kaylan's adventures seems fast-paced, and for that reason, I tore through the book quickly as well.

A very entertaining and very honest read. Highly recommended.

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During my trip to Florida, I got the Amazon Fire HD10 tablet, which boasts Dolby Atmos surround and over-the-head sound. I expected to hear that type of sound over headphones, but the effect actually seemed more evident through the tablet's speakers.

Back in Montreal, I watched the Netflix movie Bird Box that way, and was shocked to hear what sounded like rushing water surrounding me.

I then tested the tablet with some quadraphonic-encoded (four-channel) YouTube videos, and got varying results. The best were a quad test tone, which travelled from the screen towards my head; and an Enoch Light orchestra psychedelic version of Simon and Garfunkel's Scarborough Fair, in which a weird buzzing sound appears to be floating in space. Other quad recordings produced a slight 3D effect from the right and left speakers. To get the best effect, hold the tablet horizontally.

I don't know how they achieved this effect, but it's somewhat similar to what I heard on my first stereo TV, a 20-inch Toshiba. That set had speakers that directed sound not forward, but to the left and right. The effect was especially good when watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson — the dialogue between Johnny and his guests was mono, but the audience reaction was such that you felt like you were in the studio.

We had to return the TV because it was defective picture wise. I miss that set.

Next time: The S list resumes.

 

 

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