Reprinted from late editions of yesterday's Globe.
The standing ovations came early and often. The audience was enraptured -- and emotionally swept away -- by Brian Wilson's local debut of his long-scrapped "Smile" album Thursday night at the Orpheum. By the end, Wilson could have walked on water and it would have seemed entirely appropriate.
Wilson deserves endless credit for reviving his 37-year-old "Smile" sessions, which his bandmates in the Beach Boys didn't feel comfortable singing at the time of their creation. The songs are still a puzzle -- full of fairy-tale imagery, lyrical riddles, and obvious drug inspirations from the era -- but they added up to an enchanting night of music Thursday night as a backup band of up to 17 players, including the Stockholm Strings n' Horns, applied dexterous touches to a wildly untamed and childlike musical fusion.
The orchestral sound effects were imaginative to the point of hilarity, as the musicians used everything from a bullhorn, vibes, and kazoo to carrots and broccoli that were shaken rhythmically during the wonderfully daffy "Vega-Tables." And they donned fire helmets and passed around a fire hose during the instrumental "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow," which also featured red emergency lights flashing through the not-quite-sold-out house.
Wilson sat somewhat stoically at a keyboard at the front of the stage and read lyrics from a teleprompter. But he sang better than he has on any of his other comeback tours. He was clearly inspired to perform "Smile," which comprised his second set Thursday night. That followed a first set of some solo material and Beach Boys standards including "Sloop John B," "California Girls," and "God Only Knows," which Wilson said is Paul McCartney's favorite Beach Boys tune. Some songs were performed in an unplugged format that emphasized the debt Wilson owes to vocal groups that came before his, such as the Four Freshmen.
But the crowd, which included many musicians from around town (Greg Hawkes of the Cars, Al Kooper, and Barrence Whitfield were among those spotted), saved most of its reverence for "Smile," which Wilson has said was his attempt to write a "teenage symphony to God." It's also a musical travelogue with references ranging from Plymouth Rock to Hawaii, and genres that run from Old World classical chorales to fractured, late-'60s psychedelic rock experiments. Wilson hit emotional peaks on "
His band featured such noble disciples as singer/guitarist Jeff Foskett, singer Taylor Mills, and percussionist Nelson Bragg Jr.
Once "Smile" was out of the way, Wilson & Co. delved into more Beach Boys hits (from "Help Me, Rhonda" to "Barbara Ann"), finishing this mostly upbeat, emotionally resonant night in style.