June 21 2016 03:13 PM

'Pet Sounds' an exception to an increasingly pointless trend


The business of nostalgia is getting a little out of hand. Or rather, it's been out of hand. For years, the music industry has been dominated by a rosy view of the past. It's what fueled decades of needless reissues and re-releases of albums that already existed and never went out of print, but now come packaged with three extra discs of acoustic demos. In recent years, that reverence for music of yore has found a new outlet in a seemingly never-ending reunion circuit, with the likes of a recently reunited (sort of) Guns 'n' Roses headlining Coachella and essentially every punk band from the '90s finding a bigger festival audience now than when they were playing DIY venues 20 years ago. And that's before we even get to the Boomer generation super concert, Desert Trip, not-so-affectionately dubbed "Oldchella" by various blogs.

As much as I might scoff out of cynicism at reunion festival cash-ins, I certainly get the appeal of it. But there's another major staple of the Nostalgia Industrial Complex that still mystifies me: The classic album concert. For more than a decade, bands performing classic albums in their entirety have been an ongoing and increasingly absurd trend in live music. Popularized in the mid-'00s by the now defunct All Tomorrow's Parties festival and its Don't Look Back series, the full-album concert trend started off as an intriguing novelty, seeing The Stooges perform their 1970 album Fun House and Belle and Sebastian play the entirety of If You're Feeling Sinister. Since then, it's spiraled out to become a regular feature at Riot Fest, Rock the Bells and various other open-air gatherings and venues.

Putting aside the idea that the album has supposedly been dead for years—an idea I don't necessarily agree with, but retail sales probably would—it strikes me as odd that the thing drawing people to buy tickets is the chance to hear a band play something in the exact order you'd hear it at home. One of the most fun aspects of hearing live music is not knowing what you're going to hear. A lot of bands don't change their setlist from night to night, but there's still an element of surprise to the whole thing. If you know what's coming next, that sucks a little bit of the excitement out of the experience.

There are some notable exceptions, of course. A few years back, Spiritualized did a series of special concerts performing their 1997 album Ladies and Gentlemen We're Floating in Space, an ambitious, orchestrated work of psychedelia that would likely feel more like a symphonic or operatic performance live than a proper rock show. The same can be said of Echo and the Bunnymen, who did a special tour for their album Ocean Rain, which featured a 16-piece orchestra. It makes far less sense for Jane's Addiction—a band with only four albums—to focus all their attention on playing Nothing's Shocking, or Linkin Park to play all of Hybrid Theory. And you really have to ask the point of it all when bottom-of-the-barrel albums such as Lit's A Place in the Sun or Insane Clown Posse's Riddle Box become headlining draws.

Imagine my surprise, then, when my most anticipated concert of the summer ends up being Brian Wilson, performing all of The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, which turns 50 this year. Released 15 years before I was born, Pet Sounds is an album that I didn't grow up listening to, but rather came to as a young adult, growing increasingly fond of the album since hearing it when I was 18 or so. I can't fully pin this on nostalgia as a result because I wasn't there. To be fair, though, neither was Brian Wilson—not on stage, anyway. In 1964, he stopped touring with the Beach Boys, instead remaining in the studio to focus his efforts on creating a work of magical orchestral pop that became one of the most influential albums of all time. And the band toured in 1966 after the album was released, but Wilson wasn't part of it, which sort of makes the idea of hearing a song such as "God Only Knows" or "Wouldn't It Be Nice" seem incomplete.

Wilson's 50th anniversary tour behind Pet Sounds isn't the first of its kind. In 2000, he performed the entirety of the album ahead of its 35th anniversary, and even released a live version of the album from that tour. This current 70-date tour, however, is the last chance to hear it performed as a complete package, which increases the urgency behind it. But part of what makes the idea of hearing Pet Sounds live just a little bit different is the sheer ambition of the album itself. It's a work of great detail and sophistication, with arrangements that incorporate everything from theremin to bicycle bells, not to mention those vocal harmonies. It's a production, rather than simply a rock show.

I'll admit that I've caught myself curious about other full-album concerts on the horizon, including Boris performing Pink and Failure performing Fantastic Planet, but I still find myself shrugging at the idea in general. It's unlikely that the trend will die in the immediate future, and I recognize not every show can be an event on the level of Pet Sounds. But that doesn't mean every CD clogging up used bins needs to be celebrated onstage.

Brian Wilson plays June 30 at Del Mar Fairgrounds


See all events on Wednesday, Dec 7