On This Day in 1998: Brian Wilson Plays His First Solo Gig

Wednesday, May 9, 2018
This Day in Music

20 years ago today, Brian Wilson finally made the most overt move toward cementing his career as a solo artist: he played his first proper gig as a solo artist.

Yes, it sounds unlikely, especially when you consider the amount of time that elapsed between the release of his self-titled solo debut in 1988 and this particular show, but what must be kept in mind is just how much was going on in Brian’s life and career during this era. 

For one thing, it wasn’t until 1991 that Brian was legally extricated from any personal and professional relationship with Dr. Eugene Landy, which was a big step forward for him. He worked on material for an album which was to be called SWEET INSANITY, but it ultimately wasn’t called anything at all, since it was never released. He participated in the Don Was-directed documentary I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times, which detailed Brian’s life and career up to that point, and he was also collaborating on an album with Van Dyke Parks, one which would come to be known as ORANGE CRATE ART.

And then we have the Beach Boys. It was during that decade when he was sued by Mike Love over credit and royalties for Beach Boys songs that Love claimed to have co-written, and although Love’s lawsuit was a successful one, it led to a brief Beach Boys reunion. In addition to writing some new songs and recording a new album, STARS AND STRIPES, which featured country artists teaming with the band to cover Beach Boys songs, the band also had numerous discussions about doing a new album of original material with Sean O’Hagan of The High Llamas, but that failed to materialize. When Brian’s brother Carl died in February 1998, however, that pretty well ended any immediate interest by Brian in any new Beach Boys business.

With this, we come to May 9, 1998, the date of the aforementioned historic event, which took place at the Cultural Arts Center in St. Charles, Illinois. 

In a New York Times piece which ran the month after the event, journalist Neil Strauss described the show as “more a taping for VH-1 than a concert,” but he wrote of how Brian “harmonized with backup recordings on new solo songs and Beach Boys classics.” He also indicated, however, that Brian was “silent and nervous” as the performance began. But it didn’t last.

“Several songs into the show, [producer Joe] Thomas whispered something in his ear and Mr. Wilson came to life, talking with the crowd and singing less reticently,” wrote Strauss. “I said to him, 'They really like you, you know,’ Mr. Thomas recalled. ‘And he goes, 'You know, Joe, they really do.' I said, 'So what are you scared of?' And he goes, 'Nothing.’”

And the rest is history.

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