Brian Wilson's return to the spotlight last year at the Rosemont Theatre was one of the weirdest concerts I've ever seen--even after all this time I'm still not sure what to make of it. Backed by a small army of musicians, reading his lyrics off TelePrompTers, never smiling and seldom looking at the audience, Wilson seemed less a star than a hood ornament. He struggled to hit the high notes on songs like "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "Don't Worry Baby," and often another singer doubled his parts. He wisely ceded the more demanding melodies to his backup vocalists, and his keyboard playing was negligible. Yet taken as a whole, the performance was sublime: in addition to the same crowd-pleasing classics the Beach Boys continue to peddle onstage, Wilson offered up half-forgotten gems like "Please Let Me Wonder" and "Kiss Me Baby" and songs from the band's less popular but ultimately more influential 1966 album Pet Sounds, all painstakingly arranged to re-create the insanely elaborate recordings that fascinate new listeners year after year. This long-sold-out program at the Chicago Theatre, part of a 28-city "Pet Sounds Symphony Tour," promises an even more grandiose version of that bizarre evening: backed by a full-scale orchestra, Wilson and his ten-piece band will perform the landmark album in its entirety. Van Dyke Parks (Wilson's collaborator on the aborted Pet Sounds follow-up Smile) has arranged an overture that covers 20 other Wilson songs, including inspired lesser-known numbers like "Cabinessence," "Time to Get Alone," "With Me Tonight," and "Wonderful." Wilson and the band will follow that with a set by themselves, and then the orchestra will rejoin them for the Pet Sounds segment, which concludes with a symphonic version of "Good Vibrations." Fans who've seen earlier shows on the tour have posted to www.cabinessence.com that Wilson seemed to be singing along with a tape of himself and that his keyboard was absent from the mix, so a more accurate bill for this gig might be "Pet Sounds With Special Guest Brian Wilson." It'll still be a historic celebration of a brilliant pop composer, but in a better world Wilson wouldn't have to put himself on display to see his work performed. Saturday, 8 PM, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State; 312-443-1130. J.R. JONES
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Brian Wilson photo by Neal Preston.