Wednesday, August 31, 2005

SMiLE Journey or A Lesson In Duality(part 1)

It was a two weeks ago tonight that I was sitting in a small theatre in Waterford, CT watching one of the most thrilling concert experiences of my life. I had driven for two hours through Connecticut to Rhode Island in a borrowed SUV to reach my destination only minutes before the show began. As I sat and listened to the angelic lotus of sound that opened before me, I thought back to Brian's performance in Philadelphia the night before and what a difference a day makes.
I had arrived in Philly mid-afternoon and quickly caught a taxi($35) to a large park(the name escapes me) just northeast of town. It was a wonderfully lush part of the city that was bordered by a not so clean part of town. I sat at a picnic table across the street from the venue and ate the lunch I had packed before the trip. Somehow I knew that there wouldn't be a great deal of nourishment to choose from near the venue. I was right. It was misting ever so lightly as I sat across from the Mann Music Center while the smell of urine and bums wondered about.
Having finished my lunch, I approached the ticket window and inquired about a bus after the show. The ticket attendant assured me that one would be leaving for downtown 15 minutes after the show from just in front of the box office. I had plenty of cash but was trying to save as much as I could having spent several hundred on the trip already and knowing that I wanted to buy an overpriced($30) "Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE" baseball cap somewhere along the way. I had seen one at the merchandise booth during the Fall Tour of the South but had opted for a t-shirt instead.
With several hours to kill I walked to a convenience store for some water and generally loitered around the venue watching the tour buses arrive and unload. There was a monument within eyeshot of the box office, so I decided I would hang around it and take care of the unpleasant business I needed to do before the show. I was planning on recording the show that evening and the only way to get the recorder in the venue I needed to put on some briefs under my boxer shorts in order to smuggle it inside. The monument shielded me from the street and it was the perfect place to take care of said business. I discovered that it was placed there during the late 1800's by the Catholic total abstinence union! Considering the amount of narcotics I planned on eating that evening, I decided I'd better not hang around too long for fear of being converted.
Free Image Hosting at
The rain had let up during the course of the afternoon and I was lucky enough to be one of the few(if not the only) concert-goer to hear the soundcheck from the side of the lawn. They first ran through a nice 'Add Some Music' and then went over the chorus of 'Help Me Rhonda' several time acapella! What a treat to hear. Next, they ran through the whole song. After the band left the stage, one of the guitarists(I'm guessing Nicky Wonder) remained on stage and noodled around. Several bars of Pink Floyd's 'Comfortably Numb" guitar solo were present in his amp check.
By this time, the rain had returned and it was beginning to mist in earnest. I retired to a nearby tennis court and shoved the digital recorder down my pants and then walked the short distance to the main gate. I was caught under an awning for the better part of an hour as the rain picked up. A few people showed up early as there was some confusion with the tickets. Not only did they have the wrong date, many had the wrong start time. I wonder if anyone was fired for that debacle?! Probably not.
I was one of the first to enter the venue and the security was more concerned about the empty water bottles in my backpack than anything else. He did ask if I had a camera and questioned why I had a change of clothes in my pack. I told him I had come straight from Texas, but I don't think he cared or even listened to my response. Once inside, they refused to let the ever growing crowd enter the covered seating area for almost an hour. What the hell that was about, I'll never know. I think they were trying to get people climb the hill and eat at one of the over priced restaurant tents. Dickheads.
Finally, I was able to sit in my box seat a little less than half way back in the seating area. I was soon joined by a couple who I had seen just as I was walking inside. We sparked up a conversation and they informed me that they knew Probyn Gregory, one of the very talented members in the band and multi instrumentalists, and had spent the earlier part of the evening backstage with him. I was quite intrigued and questioned them about their backstage adventures. Probyn, they informed me, was a genuinely nice fellow and had gone out of his way to make sure they were introduced to the rest of the band including Brian himself! This made the concert experience that much more exciting. I wasn't able to meet him, but got to live vicariously through them and share in their joy. Probyn had given them a tour of the stage and even asked if they wanted to play his Theremin. They refused, thinking that it would be just their luck to break it prior to the show. I knew how they felt. They had gotten to meet the man himself, and probably didn't want to push their luck any further. Smart choice.
We talked quite a bit before the show and during the set break. I was very surprised at how much of a fanatical fan the husband was. He had quite a knowledge of Beach Boys history and had spent years, prior to Brain's completion, searching for SMiLE compilations in local stores. He was a huge music fan and it was fun picking his brain and swapping stories. They really made my experience in Philly a delight and I feel lucky to have shared the show with them.
Brain and band entered the stage and Brian quickly stepped to his mike and thanked two individuals he called "friends". I had learned earlier in the evening from my conversation with the couple that a concert promoters convention was in town and had chosen Brian's performance as entertainment for the evening(and purchased 300 tickets in the process). I didn't make the connection until later.
The inside of the seating area, and the whole venue for that matter, was constructed of beautiful planks of wood. This made for a very nice sound mix. As expected the bass and drums were a bit boomy, but nothing that took away from the performance. The crowd was very considerate and sat through the majority of the performance. The seating area was about 2/3 filled, leaving the hill empty. This was probably for the best as it continued to rain for the whole of the performance. The show was very good, with Brian being in MUCH better voice than the previous shows I had seen in the fall. There were a few lyrical flubs during the course of the show by Brian, but nothing too bad. The band was in fine form and turned out a very solid performance. I was very pleased. Very pleased indeed. Little did I know that the following evening would shine even brighter.
As I hurried out of the venue, I said goodbye to the couple and scampered to the front gate. Outside I found a number a trolley- like buses lined up front and asked if there was still room in the first one. The driver said yes, so I hopped right on taking a seat about 3 rows back. Everyone kinda gave me a strange look, but I gave it no mind. Shortly after I sat down, the guy sitting to my left asked the woman across the aisle how she had gotten Brian to say "thank you" to her at the beginning of the performance. She said she hadn't been inside the seating area yet, but had heard what he had said. It was then that I realized I was on the trolley for the concert promoters convention. By this time the trolley had pulled out in to traffic but still had it's door open. Without saying a thing, I jumped out of the moving vehicle and on to the curb. I wonder what they all thought? At that moment, I saw what was clearly the public transportation bus sitting further down the driveway. I jumped in and was headed downtown. Geez, that was close. Who knows where I would have ended up if I had stayed on the trolley. Whew!
Once downtown, I tried to figure out the train system but had to ask for help. The attendant told me the final train for the airport was leaving in 5 minutes and to not miss it. I reached the ticket dispenser, but the fucking machine only took dollar bills and I was shit out of luck. Needless to say, I had to hail a cab to the airport($25).
Arriving at the airport, I had a good 7 hour wait before my plane left for Connecticut the next morning. I wandered around and found a reasonably priced snack machine and sat down to listen to that evenings performance. The digital recorder only had a capacity of 90 minutes, so I had decided to record all of the first set and with the remaining time caught what I could of the SMiLE performance. It cut off just as 'Surf's Up' came to an end. While not perfect(several instances of distortion during the louder first set songs), it was very satisfying to re-live the show so quickly following the performance. I slowly drifted off to asleep in the luggage retrieval area while being awakened every 30 minutes or so by an announcement or pervert.
Knowing that the following evenings performance was being held in a much more intimate theatre setting, I made the hard decision to delete that nights recording in hopes that the show in Connecticut would have more in store. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined what was waiting for me there.

to be continued...


Blogger Mike said...

well, while I patiently wait for part II I thought you might find this site interesting...

looks like some interesting rare wilson and beach boys tracks...


2:22 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home