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Beach Boy Brian makes fans 'Smile'

Wilson was greeted warmly by his fans.
Wilson was greeted warmly by his fans.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Former Beach Boys star Brian Wilson has received glowing reviews after performing his lost masterpiece "Smile" for the first time in public.

The 61-year-old American, who worked for months on the album in the late 1960s but never released it, brought the house down at London's Royal Festival Hall Friday as the forgotten work received its world premiere.

On Saturday fans of the troubled musician were unrestrained in their praise of the sell-out concert, the first of a series around Britain. "I am completely overwhelmed by what I saw and heard last night," said one typical message posted by Sue on Wilson's official Website.

"There really are no words to fully describe Smile, it was the most magnificent concert I have ever seen. What a beautiful surprise, those of you waiting to see Brian unfold his TREASURE will be stunned by the whole concert. The set list was awesome, I sat there shaking by head thinking am I really here?"

The Press Association reported that grown men wept as Wilson performed about 20 songs, including Beach Boys classics such as "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "California Girls."

Wilson, dressed in black and seated at a keyboard he played only occasionally, opened the concert with an unplugged set accompanied by his 11-strong band. Then he played "Smile" in its entirety in the second-half, concluding with the pop classic "Good Vibrations."

The star looked frail but upbeat, PA reported, as he introduced the songs -- but occasionally forgot his own lyrics.

1979 photo of the Beach Boys. They are, back row: Brian Wilson; Al Jardine; and Dennis Wilson. Front row: Mike Love; and Carl Wilson.
1979 photo of the Beach Boys. They are, back row: Brian Wilson; Al Jardine; and Dennis Wilson. Front row: Mike Love; and Carl Wilson.

The Guardian newspaper reported Saturday that fans "were neither shocked nor deterred by the diminished vocal powers of a man who once played a leading role in pop's greatest harmony group."

"In his grainy, sometimes quavering voice, his listeners could hear a poignant reflection of everything that has happened to him in the four decades since he brought a mythical California to life with songs such as 'I Get Around,' 'California Girls' and 'Fun Fun Fun.'"

"Smile" was designed to be a follow-up to the 1966 album "Pet Sounds" and an attempt to match the Beatles' "Revolver." However Wilson suffered a mental breakdown during the recording of the 1967 album and it was never released.

Legend has it that a spate of fires near Wilson's studio during a section of the album called "Fire" prompted him to shelve the project. He justified the decision by saying the songs were "not commercial."

The tapes are believed to have been sealed in a vault, with fragments of the songs only surfacing on other Beach Boys releases and bootlegs, giving rise to the 37-year "Smile" legend. As the Guardian said, its "very non-existence has made it an object of febrile speculation."

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