Galway Only Knows

Brian Wilson performing in Galway

Galway Only Knows

'Pet Sounds' is an experience as much an album, writes Dylan Murphy, in the latest review from our Journal of Music/Galway City Council Music Writer Mentoring Scheme, and hearing the 60s masterpiece live was a reminder of its meticulous construction – but Brian Wilson's presence on stage raised other questions.

Over five decades since its release, Pet Sounds’ sense of sprawling harmonious complexity continues to astound, and every time I hear it I seem to notice something new in every gorgeous and meticulously constructed track. It’s one of the few LPs that I consider to be an experience as much as an album, and, with the exception of perhaps ‘God Only Knows’, I’ve found that no song can be individually selected to enjoy by itself. For me, it’s a work that must be observed in its entirety, from ‘Wouldn’t it Be Nice’ to ‘Caroline No’, to be properly enjoyed.

So what happens when it is announced that the author of such a masterpiece will be performing the album live in your town? All summer in Galway it was impossible to avoid the watchful gaze of Brian Wilson staring at you from promotional posters and leaflets, and, like all the other attendees, I was most curious to see what he was going to produce.

Jardine Jr
Taking his place behind a pearly-white grand piano at the Big Top at the Galway International Arts Festival (23 July), Wilson began at the uncustomarily early time of 8pm. Though only joined by one original Beach Boy, Al Jardine, the stage was packed with almost a dozen multi-instrumentalists, including Jardine’s son Matt who almost stole the show singing Wilson’s original high vocal parts.

The wall of sound of the original recordings was gorgeously recreated, with a shimmering mix of horns, guitars and too many tambourines to count. It became quickly evident that these hired guns, eight of whom sang, were incredibly tight musicians and for the first hour they masterfully charged through stunning renditions of Beach Boy’s hits including ‘California Girls’, ‘I Get Around’ and fan favourite ‘In My Room’.

Clasping his hands
These short-and-snappy pop classics are songs that have become ingrained into the psyche of even the most casual of music lover, and the crowd of all ages seemed to absolutely adore every moment.

The same could not be said for Wilson himself however, as he seemed frequently absent throughout the show. At times, he could be observed to be clasping his hands together beneath the piano, forcing one to question how much he was actually playing the songs he had composed so long ago. There was even a point where I believe he started a song in an unrehearsed key, prompting visible on-stage confusion.

However, such an observation could easily be dashed by the chops and infectious smiling professionalism of the musicians around him who, like the audience, were clearly just enjoying the ride.  

Respect for the work
If there was anything the crowd was baying for, it was to see Wilson and co. play the songs of Pet Sounds, which they performed after a brief intermission. If the set asserted anything it was the strength of the songs themselves, the real beauty lying in the meticulous detail with which they were executed. Be it the handheld car-horn in ‘You Still Believe in Me’ or the bass harmonica on ‘I Know There’s an Answer’, such embellishments could have easily been omitted but it’s their inclusion that showed a respect for doing the work justice and the crowd seemed elated. 

‘You guys can really sing’, praised Jardine Snr after a rapturous rendition of album centrepiece ‘God Only Knows’. He wasn’t wrong.

During one of the set’s closing numbers, including classic Beach Boys hits ‘Barbara Ann’ and ‘Good Vibrations’ (shaky theremin included), one particular moment seemed to encapsulate the whole evening. I noticed an enthusiastic older woman in front of me losing herself to the beat, clad in a ‘Brian Wilson Presents Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary Tour’ t-shirt a size or two too large for her body. Beneath the lengthy title, my eyes scrolled down through the tour dates and there, sandwiched between cultural meccas such as Paris and Amsterdam, was a town a fraction of the size but with just as much heart as any of the others on the long list: my town.

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This review is published as part of a new scheme for music writers in Galway City. The Journal of Music/Galway City Council Music Writer Mentoring Scheme is supported by Galway City Council and was launched in March 2017. Over 12 months, the editorial team of The Journal of Music will work with five new writers – Vincent Hughes, Shannon McNamee, Jake Morgan, Dylan Murphy and Julie Seagrave  – to expand the magazine’s coverage of musical life in the city. See the first two reviews from the Galway scheme here (Vincent Hughes) and here (Jake Morgan).

This is one of two schemes currently underway. A second – supported by Clare County Council  – supports four new writers to cover musical life in Clare County. See the first music review from the Clare scheme here (Ian Bascombe).

For further details on the background to the schemes, please visit

Published on 13 September 2017

Dylan Murphy is a Limerick native who has lived in Galway, Spain, Canada and, most recently, Cork City, where he completed an MA in Music and Cultural History at UCC. A blogger, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, Dylan started his own blog, 'Dyladvised Ramblings', in 2013. He has written for several publications, most recently UCC’s award-winning Motley Magazine. As a solo artist Dylan has played the Body & Soul festival as well as many other stages at home and abroad.

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