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The Beach Boys display fine-tuned nostalgia on anniversary tour

Brian Wilson at the tour kickoff April 24 in Tuscon, Ariz. Photo credit: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

Brian Wilson at the tour kickoff April 24 in Tuscon, Ariz. Photo credit: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

There is one point to a 50th anniversary tour: nostalgia.

 Of course, in the case of the Beach Boys there is the sidebar of fractured relationships, of the fact that until February’s Grammy Awards, Brian Wilson hadn’t graced the stage with bandmates Al Jardine, Dave Marks, Bruce Johnston and cousin Mike Love since 1996 or toured with them in 46 – yes, 46! – years.

 But the reason tickets are flying for this reunion – and indeed, Saturday’s show at Chastain Park Amphitheatre, the first of the season, was about 90 percent full – is that fans who grew up groovin’ to the group’s sun-dappled pop hits want to relive that magic one more time. Or at least bring their kids to witness it.

 In that regard, Saturday’s show, the fourth date on a tour slated to stretch through August, succeeded mightily. With a set list spanning more than 40 songs – a gasp-inducing mix of classics, covers and album cuts – fans could hardly gripe about not getting to hear their favorite.

 And the band backing the Beach Boys, a collection of the tremendous musicians who have toured with Wilson in recent years as well as John Cowsill and Scott Totten from Love’s version of the Beach Boys, can only be described as pillars of sound.

 So yes, Wilson recites lyrics more than sings them and Love brings a minimalist frontman approach, a hand wave here or a careful spin there, with both providing somewhat rough lead vocals. But throughout the 2 ½-hour two-set show, the Beach Boys’ hallmark – their harmonies – were impeccable, a collaboration among all 14 people on stage, but anchored by the searing falsetto of guitarist Jeff Foskett.

 The wonky lead vocals didn’t seem to faze the crowd too much, though, as they head-bobbed through “Surfin’ Safari” and swooned along with “Surfer Girl,” saving their get-up-and-clap energy for late-show singalongs “California Girls” and “Help Me, Rhonda.”

 While we all know the Beach Boys are one of the most chart-friendly acts in music history, hearing just a small portion of their catalog reminded not only of the breadth of their Wilson-led genius, but the quality of these songs. It might sound easy, but stuffing such monstrous amounts of melody into such compact compositions takes a skill rarely – if ever – heard since their heyday.

 And as much as casual fans engage with the frothy portion of their trove – such as the cute group of mature ladies who literally shook their pom-poms at the guys during the cheerleader ode, “Be True to Your School” – the most enduring Beach Boys songs are the ones shaded with introspection and melancholy.

 “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man),” “Don’t Worry Baby,” “In My Room” and “God Only Knows” are such poignant gems in pop music history, and they glisten agelessly on this tour. And as far as musical masterpieces go, “Heroes and Villains,” with all of its tempo changes and quirky percussion flourishes, stands shoulder to shoulder with the best of the Beatles’ ambitious works.

 “Brian thinks of everything. He had to put it all in one song,” Jardine quipped.

 Throughout the show, there wasn’t a huge amount of banter among the principals onstage, probably just as well considering the stilted give-and-take between Wilson and Love when Love told the story of the origin of “Surfer Girl” and Wilson responded mostly with a vacant stare from behind his white piano.

 

The Beach Boys (l-r) Al Jardine, Mike Love, David Marks and Bruce Johnston, at the band's 50th anniversary tour launch in Arizona. Photo credit: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

The Beach Boys (l-r) Al Jardine, Mike Love, David Marks and Bruce Johnston, at the band's 50th anniversary tour launch in Arizona. Photo credit: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

But there was no obvious Eagles-like feeling that this outing is staged solely for a paycheck and a victory lap, either.

 These guys seem to truly care about each other and love these songs, and they all took at least one turn in the spotlight – notably Johnston (whom Love reminded the crowd is the Grammy-winning songwriter of Barry Manilow’s “I Write the Songs”) on the sweet, nicely aged ballad “Disney Girls” and Jardine on a cover of The Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me,” tweaked for gender purposes to “Then I Kissed Her.”

 But the emotional apex of the night came with the appearance of the deceased Wilson brothers – Dennis and Carl – through the magic of video technology.

 As video of Dennis singing “Forever” played on a video screen behind the stage, the band played and harmonized in sync. A few songs later – after a chilling rendition of “In My Room” – the band repeated the trick with video of Carl performing “God Only Knows.”

“There is nothing like the real thing,” Love said at the close of the sublime song.

 The band took a quick break from looking back to give fans a preview of their new album, “That’s Why God Made the Radio,” expected to be released in June.

 The title track, a midtempo chugger is stocked with familiar chiming guitar and a wistful glance at the emotional importance of music. But while it, too, is laced with nostalgia, it at least signifies a Beach Boys future.

28 comments Add your comment

Bob Savino

April 29th, 2012
8:28 am

I have followed them since 1962 and I hope that, once and for all, this tour cements them in their rightful place as America’s Band. No other group or solo performer is within hundreds of miles of them. May they keep on going as long as they want. Imagine the gaping void in our culture without Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys.

Kahuna

April 29th, 2012
8:52 am

Having seen the group nine other times since 1974 (and Brian was on stage twice, but almost catatonic), I had mixed emotions about last night. It was great to see them once again. The sound was awesome. Great interaction with the crowd by Mike, Al, and Bruce. They signed autographs while on stage. But there are signs that another tour after this is doubtful. Mike is getting old and had a hard time picking up the tambourine. The tribute to Dennis and Carl was a nice touch. Brian has rightfully earned his spot in musical history. And I’m glad they all made up, at least until the end of the tour. Thanks for one indelible memory and bringing back all of those special memories from high school and college.

Keebs

April 29th, 2012
9:06 am

Agree, the Beach Boys are definitely the “American Band.” Their music is about fun, cars, girls, beach, surfing, and all the good ‘ole fun things of the past good ‘ole days. It is nice to see them on tour again and refresh the memories. I keep three of their CD’s in my six disc CD player in my car because their music is just plain fun to listen to.

claytondawg

April 29th, 2012
9:20 am

BEACH BOYS and music; it doesn’t get any better than this.

MJB

April 29th, 2012
9:23 am

EXCELLENT CONCERT! HAVING SEEN BRIAN WILSON WITH HIS BAND 4 TIMES N THE LAST 7 YEARS, I FELT HIS VERSION WAS BETTER. THIS WAS VERY GOOD, BUT THE BRIAN WILSON WITH HIS BAND IS MUCH MORE EXCITING AND BETTER. BRIAN’S VOICE IS EXCEPTIONAL GIVEN HIS AGE, FORMER LIFESTYLE, ETC. THE SONG CHOICES WERE EXCELLENT, HOWEVER. I HAD SEEN THE MIKE LOVE BEACH BOYS ABOUT 4 YEARS AGO, AND THIS WAS MUCH BETTER. MIKE LOVE’S VOICE SEEMED TO BE BETTER LAST NIGHT THAN IT WAS ON THE GRAMMYS A FEW MONTHS AGO. OVERALL A GOOD TIME WAS HAD BY ALL. I HOPE WHEN THIS TOUR IS OVER, BRIAN AND HIS BAND WILL CONTINUE TO TOUR.

Smarty

April 29th, 2012
9:58 am

We went last night and they sounded GREAT!! Truly great songs. You forget how well the all sing together. If you get a chance to see them GO! Especially with Brian Wilson touring with them for the first time in 46 years. Awesome!

MET

April 29th, 2012
10:03 am

Glad I got to witness this reunion. Could still feel the “chill in the air.” I Hope this tour doesn’t fall apart, but I could see it happening.

Bemused Beach Boy Fan

April 29th, 2012
11:21 am

I have every studio album they ever did, and all of the live ones too. Having seen them in London just before Yuletide in 1970 and again at the Royal Festival Hall in 1972 on the Holland tour this was very sadly a pale imitation of what they used to be. We saw Mike Love’s version up in Rome several years ago in a severe thunder storm and even the much smaller band were vastly better than last night, Love hit every note that night.

The reviewer was unbelievably generous. The vocals last night were often appalling. Although mostly the harmonies sounded much better than the individual efforts. Clearly age has very understandably really taken its toll. Al Jardine and Mike Love’s vocals frequently just died in mid phrase during many songs. Or else the sound man was utterly incompetent. Cottonfields, one of their best upbeat singles was ruined by Jardine’s weak voice. Bruce Johnstone’s version of Disney Girls wasn’t even close to karaoke standard. There was little if any zip in most of the set. This was way more about going through the motions – for a paycheck – than I’ve ever seen The Eagles do.

But last night was about a celebration of the Beach Boys unparalleled contribution to pop/rock history. Just seeing the survivors playing on stage together after all the bitterness was quite something. Mike Love and Brian Wilson came back together after the break – after all the others which helped show the burying of the hatchet.

I really hope this is the last tour. As a huge, life long Beach Boy fan I was pretty disappointed last night Happily there’s enough dvd’s and remastered cd’s to preserve their superb musical legacy for ever.

I’ll be at The Eagles gig this coming Friday nite. The show they did in Biloxi a few years back was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen.

DC

April 29th, 2012
11:57 am

My wife and I went to the show last night and had a blast!!! It was great seeing everyone together on stage singing all of the classics!!! I would highly recommend seeing The Beach Boys if you ever get a chance!!!

Gary Z

April 29th, 2012
1:02 pm

As a lifelong Beach Boys fan, I approached last night’s concert with equal parts anticipation and dread. The good news was that it was (in my opinion) a little shaky in some spots, but overall, a memorable and worthwhile experience. It was my wife’s first — and probably last for us both — BB concert and she loved it. Here’s my general observations:

SONG SELECTION: a personal and subjective topic of course, but mostly satisfying for me. This was clearly a Beach Boys, not a Brian Wilson, concert. They obviously tried for a mix of representative hits, album cuts and covers from each era of their career and it mostly worked, but I could have done without some (”The Little Girl I Once Knew”, “Please Let Me Wonder”, “Disney Girls”) and missed many others (”This Whole World” was on their published set list but dropped last night for some reason; “I Can Hear Music” was MIA too but probably not worth hearing without Carl’s lead) “Don’t Back Down” looked like a questionable choice on the set list, but worked surprisingly well.

PERFORMANCE: Overall OK, if you don’t compare it to peak-form shows remembered from the 70s, 80s and even 90s. Harmonies were OK on most songs, great on some songs and totally botched on others (e.g., “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, a personal favorite, was painful to hear and “I Get Around” took a beating too). Jeff Foskett handles the high notes now, but sometimes he hit them and sometimes he didn’t. Brian was Brian: in the first half of mostly unchallenging early surfing songs, he blankly plunked the piano while staring into space, but seemed to come alive in the 2nd set filled with songs mostly from “Pet Sounds” and beyond. He even left the piano and strapped on the Fender bass for the hits medley at the end. Generally, I think they all tried to deliver the best show they could, but there was just no escaping the age factor. Like comparing the early ’30s Marx Brothers classics to their late ’40s flops, the overall energy level was noticeably lower. Even many songs sounded slower than I remember them, but then again I’m a lot older too. The crowd (about 80-90% full) was mostly enthusiastic throughout and especially at the non-stop hits finale, but never hit the all-out frenzy level that was a given in the past. With all that said, hearing the first few notes of “Fun, Fun,Fun” was bittersweet, as it’s always the highpoint of every show, but also the last song of the last Beach Boys concert that I’ll probably ever see. Yes, I had a lump in my throat.

HIGH POINTS:
- video tributes to Carl and Dennis
- seeing so many people under 50 in the crowd
- 40+ song set list
- support band made up mostly of members of Brian’s excellent touring band and not Mike Love’s
anonymous pay-for-players
- the new song, “That’s Why God Made The Radio”, didn’t totally suck
- just seeing them all (what’s left of them) together again — with Brian — and not embarrassing themselves

LOW POINTS
- spotty harmonies
- technical difficulties — I think. Vocals were frequently dropped, either because of mike (as in microphone) or Mike (as in Love) problems.
- $35 t-shirts and caps (which I bought anyway)

I agree with the earlier writer who said that this morning’s AJC review was very generous. The writer is obviously a fan, but I think we super-fans hold the Boys to higher standards. Overall, my wife and I enjoyed the show. It may not be what it once was, but what is? I thought briefly about timing a trip to Ohio to visit my parents and catch another show when they play Blossom Music Center there, but after last night, I’ve decided to just keep this as my final memory of the Beach Boy concert experience.
If you’ve never seen them, you should catch a nearby future show in Tennessee or Florida. Despite a few creaks and groans, they are legends and you really should take advantage of this one final chance to see them live and in person.

Thanks for all the great music, guys

Dave

April 29th, 2012
1:26 pm

When i saw the Clip on TV this morning I was thrilled they had buried the hatchet. They played in Marquette Michigan twice. With the exception of Brian & Dennis, it was the original band.
Both Marquette shows were greaaaaat!

Kat

April 29th, 2012
4:20 pm

Gary Z: I think (after your review) when you end it with “Thanks for all the great music, guys” the BBs would have just said – keep your thanks to yourself, loser. We did good for our age. You are no spring chicken yourself!

AzCat

April 29th, 2012
8:27 pm

Gary Z=thoughtful, well-written review from the standpoint of a devoted but pained fan. The review was 60-65% positive and the negatives were an honest appraisal.

Kat=troll, who thinks a left-handed compliment like “We did good (sic) for our age” is praise.

Obvious who the real loser is, Kat.

Just let it go

April 29th, 2012
9:02 pm

Doesn’t anyone get tired of hearing the same stupid songs for 50 years? It is so sad that some of these “acts” can’t fade gracefully into the sunset.

Big JOhn

April 29th, 2012
10:26 pm

Most Georgia folks might find it interesting that Bruce Johnston’s birth Mother lived in Madison, Georgia. She raised 6 half brothers and sisters, most of which still live in Madison. Bruce was given up for adoption and found his birth mother a few years after her death.

Blacksox

April 29th, 2012
10:58 pm

Saw them Friday at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Sure would like to see them again during this tour. Watching music lovers of more than one generation sing along with lyrics that everyone knew was something special. And for Just Let It Go…. my sympathies to you that you have no memories from your childhood or teenage years that you wish to hold on to. What a sad life you must have had……

nope

April 29th, 2012
11:43 pm

@ just let it go

Nope don’t ever get tired of hearing the “stupid songs”………it beats the heck out so called “music” today of no talent bums that only talk and chant to a “beat”….Most of today’s “hits” are remakes from songs of the past as today there seems to be no talent to create real music

henry webb

April 30th, 2012
12:58 am

God Bless The Beach Boys forever. They are truely Americas band. May they continue to stay together, and keep the music coming. I never tire of The Beach Boys. Keep up the good work Boys, we love you forever. There just is no other band like them. Your the best.

knowledge

April 30th, 2012
2:22 am

Beach Boys suck! Straight up R&B. That’s real music!!

AL

April 30th, 2012
7:03 am

I think the phrase “Just let it go” is more aptly placed towards any hope that ANY musical act from the past few decades will have anything remotely resembling the cultural impact of the Beach Boys, much less be able to mount a 50th anniversary tour.

La La

April 30th, 2012
9:23 am

Thanks for the respectful review of music legends.

Sid

April 30th, 2012
9:29 am

Right on, Al! You hit the nail on the head!

JASon

April 30th, 2012
10:29 am

California Saga.

Dan

April 30th, 2012
11:30 am

I strongly disagree with “Bemused” regarding Al Jardine’s voice, which I thought was very strong. His youthful energy and enthusiasm (he seemed to genuinely be having fun) was exhilerating. Bruce Johnston, on the other hand, was clearly having voice problems; I wondered if he was sick. Nevertheless, I’m glad he got to sing “Disney Girls,” which is such a great song.

I second most of what Gary Z said, and I appreciate his thoughtful perspective. It was better than I expected, and much better than I feared. I saw them 30 years ago at a relatively low point in their career, without Brian or Carl, and this was, if not as energetic, musically tighter. It was also nice to hear Mike Love’s explain the Buddhism-inspired song he and Al wrote, which I had never heard before; he shared a bit of himself with us, which I appreciated. My wife had never seen the group, and her tastes lean toward blues and hard rock, but even she was enthralled. Overall, I thought it was very entertaining, a wonderful and moving experience.

Chuck UUGA

April 30th, 2012
4:33 pm

Very blessed to have seen them in 1983 (albeit without the genius, Brian). That was a spectacular show then. Hard to believe these guys (what’s left of the original band) are still getting around. Man I hate getting old.

RT

April 30th, 2012
9:17 pm

The Atlanta show was better than I hoped for and better than I expected. I’ve seen the boys many times over the years (with Carl & without Brian) and as much as I loved Carl’s voice & guitar playing, I thought they sounded better than ever in Atlanta. I went thinking it would be my only chance to see Brian, with or without The Beach Boys. I left knowing that they still “have it”. Their new single “That’s Why God Made The Radio” sounds better than anything they’ve done since the late 70’s and they reproduced it onstage almost perfectly! I only wish that I could see them one more time on this tour.

Amanda Miller/Johnston

April 30th, 2012
11:45 pm

Okay Going Doing Be So Perfect 50th Anniversary Concert i Am Your Favorite Right Now Wow I Miss
You And Guys So Much I Know Hard without Carl Many Years I Hard That’s Why God Made The Radio
Come Out I Remember Carl Was Alive I Was little.

Rich

May 4th, 2012
11:34 am

America’s Band…Back in the 60’s when my wife and I were dating our the first concert we went to was The Beach Boys. When our daughter was 5 years old, the first concert she went to was The Beach Boys. The Father Daughter dance at my daughter’s wedding was The Beach Boys Surfer Girl. The Mother and Grooms song was Wouldn’t Be Nice. For my daughter and her husbands first wedding anniversary I surprised them with front row center stage seats to see The Beach Boys. We have been behind stage for a “Meet n Greet” / autographs and on stage twice. We are going to the concert in Atlantic City May 19. My daughter just found out she won tickets to the show The Beach Boys have planned for QVC on May 16. Can’t Wait!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!