On a beautiful late summer evening, Thursday, September 12th, Nederlander concerts brought a historic classic rock double bill to the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. The term classic rock is often used loosely to label old rock bands but perfectly describes a night of music from Brian Wilson and his phenomenal band and The Zombies. The “Something Great from ’68” tour featured both bands playing sets primarily made up of songs from their respective albums released 51 years ago. The Zombies opened with their “Odessey and Oracle” album from that pivotal year in classic rock while Wilson chose “Friends” to feature on his latest tour.
A glistening full moon rose above the venue just as the Zombies took the stage for their opening set. Original singer Colin Blunstone remarkably can still hit the high notes at 74 years of age. He was joined by original keyboardist, singer, and songwriter Rod Argent. The pair has kept the band alive that they founded over five decades ago. The first half of the show featured the pair leading a group of veteran musicians who have been touring as the Zombies for decades. The band played the “Odessey and Oracle” album beautifully, capturing the psychedelic 60’s sound. The tunes were surprisingly similar to the new music Brian Wilson was working on about the same time on this side of the Atlantic. The Zombies formed in England in 1962 and by 1964 had a radio hit with She’s Not There. The “Odessey and Oracle” album was recorded between June and August of 1967. The sessions took place at Abbey Road Studios and Olympic Studios in London, giving it a bit of The Beatles flare. A single from the album "Time of the Season" became a sleeper hit in the United States in early 1969. Later in the set, the band was joined by original drummer Hugh Grundy and original bassist Jim Rodford making the show an exceptional one. Darian Sahanaja also joined in for the last half of the set. The masterful keyboardist is an integral part of Wilson’s ten-member group. The band ended with their two hit singles garnering a standing ovation.
After an intermission which saw the moon rise high and the stars begin to twinkle in the clear night sky, Brian Wilson made a triumphant return to the stage in his hometown with his astonishing band in tow. The 77-year-old iconic songwriter is no stranger to long documented diversity. But this year added new hurdles to his tumultuous life. Wilson was confronted with the shocking passing just over a month ago of longtime guitar wizard Nicky Wonder, who died on the eve of the tour’s first night. Wonder whose real name was Walusko started the Wondermints in 1992 with Darian Sahanaja, the current keyboardist in Wilson’s band. The group became Wilson's core band in 1999. Wilson was already reeling from medical issues earlier in the summer. Back in June, he postponed a string of shows, saying he was feeling “mentally insecure” following a series of back surgeries.
The show at the Greek Theatre was a triumphant return for the former Beach Boy and his brilliant band. The band tore into “Friends” with a powerful orchestral full-bodied sound and exquisite harmonies. While Wilson’s performance on the keyboards was questionable, he proved that he is still a quite capable singer, taking the lead on many of the tracks. But he also graciously shared the spotlight with his accomplished band members. He handed lead vocals duties occasionally, to founding member, guitarist-singer Al Jardine. Jardine’s son, Matt also took over the lead for a few songs that demanded the high-end harmonies that personified The Beach Boys music. Keyboardist Sahanajah also took over lead vocals on “Darlin’” and “I Can Hear Music.” Other members of the brand brought ever-changing layers of exquisite musicianship to the show. The band's musical director, Paul von Mertens played harmonica and saxophone. Multi-instrumentalist Probyn Gregory played an armada of widely varied devices. Rob Bonfiglio took over for the much-missed Nicky Wonder. Drummer Mike D’Amico and percussionist Jim Laspesa kept the backbeat alive. Long-time Beach Boys collaborator, Blondie Chaplin infused a Jimi Hendrix style rock vibe into the show with a three-song appearance. The 68 years old South African looked dapper in a yellow suit, pink shirt, and lapel flower. Chaplin wailed on guitar while taking over lead vocals on “Feel Flows,” “Long Promised Road” and “Sail On Sailor.” Chaplin actually recorded the latter during his stint in the Beach Boys back in 1973.
Just like the Zombies opening set, the Brian Wilson set was full of surprises. Thursday’s show included surprise appearances, first from Zombies leaders Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone, who joined Wilson on “God Only Knows.” She & Him’s Zooey Deschanel, and M. Ward snuck onstage unannounced to add background vocals to “Long Promised Road.” The tune was one of several songs from the 1971 “Surf’s Up” album, which made up the bulk of the shows six-song encore. The biggest surprise of the night came when Billy Idol appeared to sing with Wilson. He added his trademark sneering vocals to “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and “Fun, Fun, Fun,” and a rocking version of “Good Vibrations” that had much of the crowd dancing in the aisles.
The show ended with a final moving rendition of In My Room from the 1963 album Surfer Girl. The entire ensemble of musicians gathered around Wilson’s piano for a largely acapella version of the touching song. It was a perfect ending to a night of classic rock.