Brian Wilson was last here in 2004 playing
, the shelved Beach Boys album of 1967 which had finally been restored and released in all its strange symphonic pop wonder.
That album and its predecessor, 1966's Pet Sounds, was the product of Wilson's creative peak - Good Vibrations also resulted from the era - but also sprang from his wanting to stop touring with the band, so he could stay home, write and record.
But here was Wilson back in Auckland on the opening night of an extensive world tour commemorating the semicentennial of Pet Sounds.
The making of the album was memorably dramatised in last year's fine Wilson biopic Love & Mercy, the film adding to the impetus for this trek which, judging by the audience, showed fans include younger music buffs as well as Beach Boys nostalgists.
Both got what they came for, a grand live rendering of that pivotal album as well as many more pages from Wilson's voluminous Beach Boys songbook. They also got a reminder that at 73, he hasn't got the voice he once had.
Seated centre stage behind a keyboard he barely touched and prompted by an autocue, Wilson's lead vocals were sometimes shaky and stilted, his singing strained or shouty when notes were beyond his diminished range.
Considering how important vocals are to the Beach Boys sound, it was a distraction -- but ultimately a mild one. Wilson got better as the night wore on and it was leavened somewhat by his otherwise chirpy presence as he introduced each song as if hosting his own radio show.
The occasional wobbliness didn't stop this being an otherwise enjoyable track-by-track performance of the album's 13 cuts, which made up the second half of the show after a first half -- and before an extended encore -- that just about emptied the jukebox with a setlist of 30-plus songs.
Wilson was joined by a dozen musicians including original Beach Boy Al Jardine (in fine voice throughout) and early 70s band member Blondie Chaplin (who sang three dire songs from his short early 70s period with the band, adding the occasional baffling, dull guitar solo).
Jardine's son Matt was also on hand with the falsetto prowess to give the sweetness of old, especially so on an impeccable Don't Worry Baby.
Accompanied by multiple keyboards, guitars, percussion, brass, and beautifully blended vocal harmonies, Wilson's original arrangements were delivered in richly detailed style -- even when it wasn't his. The Al Jardine-led cover of the Phil Spector/The Crystals' Then He Kissed Me (redone as Then I Kissed Her) was but one of the night's perfect time capsule moments.
So too was Sloop John B ("one that Al Jardine helped me write", said Wilson, despite its origins as a folk song) which was a highlight of the Pet Sounds bracket, as was God Only Knows ("probably the best song I ever wrote," said Wilson) and an equally poignant I Guess I Just Wasn't Made for These Times.
The album-set came topped by Good Vibrations in all its technicolour glory before the encores reached back to the Beach Boys' early candy-striped days with the likes of Help Me Rhonda, Surfin' USA, Fun, Fun, Fun, and Barbara Ann before finishing on Love & Mercy - the title track to Wilson's 1988 solo debut, which managed to out-feelgood those feelgood hits preceding it. and end this bittersweet show on a hopeful note.