As if to emphasize that Brian Wilson is really in charge of his solo career, Live at the Roxy Theatre, his first live solo album, begins with him instructing to his band and halting a false start before launching into "The Little Girl I Once Knew." And the choice of that leadoff song, a relative commercial disappointment in 1965, alerts listeners that the set will be an attempt to reclaim gems from Wilson's extensive catalog, not necessarily the string of golden oldies that Wilson's former group does at its concerts. Live at the Roxy Theatre certainly boasts Beach Boys favorites, but it touches on all phases of Wilson's career, from the early surf music to the sophisticated compositions that made Pet Sounds a landmark, solo songs from the 1980s and '90s, and even a couple of new tunes and covers (including the Barenaked Ladies' "Brian Wilson"). Wilson's ten-piece backup band, anchored by the members of the Wondermints, effectively recreates the elaborate Beach Boys studio performances and also sings in Beach Boys-like style. One is reminded of the discovery Wilson and the Beach Boys made in the mid-'60s, when they began touring and recording without each other: the Beach Boys' sound is really more a function of the vocal arrangements than of particular singers. And listening to the mix of selections, one must recognize that this is music of a single sensibility. Anyone familiar with Wilson's life may be surprised that he is as enthusiastic and involved in this concert as he is. In truth, the old slogan "Brian's back!" has been true for a number of years now, and though he remains an idiosyncratic frontman, this recording confirms it. Live at the Roxy Theatre presents Wilson in good voice for a 57-year-old (even the falsetto is pretty sturdy), with a strong band and an enthusiastic audience, performing some of the best compositions of his career. It makes both a good introduction to Wilson's work and a satisfying summation for longtime fans.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2