22 February 2004

as many of you know, brian wilson debuted smile live friday night at the london royal festival hall. thanks to the industry of others, i had the chance to hear the smile section of the concert in its 46:14 entirety. my first reaction was: how would someone who's never heard this material before react to it? in its live setting, it was presented as a work with three movements: the first ends with "cabinessence"; the second with "surf's up"; and the third with "good vibrations." the lyrics, courtesy of van dyke parks, are as dense and as self-referential as the music itself, which includes such standards as piano, bass, and drums, but also reaches out into things like fire whistles, construction tools, and the sound of vegetables being chewed.

my own experiences began, as with most people, with the harbinger that was the "good vibrations" single, followed after the project's collapse due to brian's instability by "heroes and villains," which we understood was truncated, cobbled together, like the smiley smile album itself, by the other beach boys; and that, depending on who one talked to, existed in a form ranging from anywhere from 7 to twelve minutes. with the purchase of the beach boys boxed set, i became familiar with what we were told was much of what remained from the aborted project. through the smile shop, to whom i am forever indebted, i had a chance to hear various takes on the album by fans and by those in the know. finally, following the tracklisting established by domenic priore in look, listen, vibrate, smile, i created my own personal smile. so, in other words, it all came together piecemeal: i had a chance to let it all sink in over the years. hearing all of this for the first time, as a whole, would be, i think, both richly rewarding and incredibly daunting.

about this particular arrangement of the putative album, i know very little. the album was never finished. i believe there was a tracklisting that escaped on printings of the record sleeve that capitol failed to suppress. still, there's no evidence that that in any way was final. as far as i know, brian was still working when it all became too much for him to bear. as much as i'd like to believe it, it's doubtful that brian himself arranged this 2004 version all by himself. unless, unknown to us, the album did have a shape. it might not be beyond the realm of possibility. after all, despite my own familiarity with the source material, there were many things i had heard for the first time. in particular: many songs i only knew as instrumentals -- "barnyard," "child is the father of the man," and "look," amongst others. also, i believe most experts figured that "surf's up" would close the album and that "good vibrations" was a record company imposition. in this live version, "surf's up," as mentioned above, closes the second movement, and "good vibrations" itself not only ends the "album," but it sounds incredibly well-integrated -- notice the similarity between opener "prayer" and the "i" that begins "good vibrations. in this current arrangement, smile essentially culminates in "good vibrations."

here, according to my searches, is what passes as the "official" setlist for friday night's smile portion:
heroes & villains
do you like worms?
old master painter/you are my sunshine

child is the father of the man
surf's up

i'm in great shape/i wanna be around
whispering winds/wind chimes
heroes & villains intro
i love to say dada
good vibrations

if anyone is having difficulties in getting to hear the performance, leave a comment and i'll see if i can help.

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