All words: Ross Bonaime — All photos: Lauren Bulbin
My first concert ever was seeing The Beach Boys so long ago, it was probably one of my first memories. In fact the only thing I really remember about that show was that John Stamos was then in the band, and since Full House was the biggest thing in my elementary school at the time, this was a pretty huge deal. Now the idea of seeing Uncle Jessie performing with one of the most important bands of the 60s and 70s is a joke, but the idea of seeing the remaining Beach Boys, touring with Brian Wilson for the first time since 1965, this was just a chance to see history.
The 5 Beach Boys took to the stage, but with also a backing band of nine members to accompany them, giving their harmonies and songs about the surf and the sun much more depth. This tour is known as The Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Reunion Tour, and in three hours, the band would play 48 different songs spanning the decades of hits the band has created. Basically, if there’s a popular song you want to hear from The Beach Boys, you’re most likely going to hear it seeing them on this tour.
This first song, appropriately enough, was “Do It Again,” not a big song to start out the gates, but fitting nonetheless. But quickly, classics like “Little Honda” and “Catch A Wave” were played, but it was “Surfin’ Safari” that got the audience out of their seats. Mike Love stated that the song was released 50 years ago, and that after the first six songs they had just played, they were going to have a quick intermission, followed by a nap.
By the seventh song, “Surfer Girl,” we finally heard from Brian Wilson, who was sitting at his white piano, not really engaged with anyone else. After the life that Wilson has led, there is no surprise that he way seem a little unusual in his style, something that continued throughout the night on occasion, but there’s no denying that he is one of the greatest living musicians of our time. Listening to the arrangements and songs we wrote for The Beach Boys, he clearly is a genius, one that plays to his own tune however.
While The Beach Boys were front and center, much of the heavy lifting was done by their backing band, which had a sort of symbiotic relationship. Some songs the backing band would take over, allowing a few members of The Beach Boys to really showcase their talents, such as David Marks still incredible guitar playing. But then sometimes The Beach Boys would play backing band to the actual backing band, giving one of their crew the opportunity to sing one of their songs with they harmonized or handled the instruments. It came off as weird at first, but eventually worked quite nicely.
The Beach Boys only performed two songs from their newest album That’s Why God Made the Radio, which Mike Love wanted to make sure everyone knew was available for sale, since it made the Billboard charts at #3 and they need our help to take down Adele and Alan Jackson. The first of the new songs was “Isn’t It Love,” a song with doo-wop elements that captures the spirit of The Beach Boys. While older songs from The Beach Boys feel like the band remembering a summer that just ended, reminiscing about the times they had several weeks ago, the newer songs sound like the band’s nostalgia for a time long since past, retrieving those great memories and longing for those days once more. It’s a bit melancholy, but if this is their last album together as a band, what a great way to go out.
A performance of “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?” made audience members in the front pair off and start dancing. From there, the show mostly featured less popular cuts, like the banjo-heavy “Cotton Fields (The Cotton Song)” and “Ballad of Ole’ Betsy,” sprinkled with the big hits like “Be True To Your School,” “409” and their final song before intermission, “I Get Around.”
The second half of the evening allowed Wilson to do much more. The show restarted with the other four members surrounded around Wilson’s piano as they harmonized. Frankly, I could have watched three hours of toned down versions of their songs. After a few songs, their set became focused on songs from Pet Sounds, as we got “Sloop John B,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” which once again brought the audience to a standing ovation, and “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times.” Watching Wilson during these songs is fascinating, as he tries to sing and orchestrate the band. These songs clearly mean a lot to Wilson, and it’s great for him to have the opportunity to tour with his old band to perform them.
Their second song from their new album, which shares the album’s name, was a little less exciting than the first new song they played, and was made even weirder by the music video playing in the background. In the video, a bunch of hipsters spend a day at the beach, then arrive at their house to find The Beach Boys waiting in their garage to play. How long have they been waiting for? Are they getting paid for this? Have The Beach Boys been in a garage for all these years? These are questions I will surely never have answered.
The Beach Boys then focused on the two members they had lost, Carl and Dennis Wilson. The band performed to video of the two members singing their songs; Dennis with “Forever” and Carl singing “God Only Knows.” This does sound cheesy in theory (at least they weren’t holograms), but they emotional payoff was great. These songs are both gorgeous and hearing the original singers perform them one more time was quite touching.
As the night was winding down, The Beach Boys pulled out all the stops, performing many of their biggest songs in succession, like “Good Vibrations,” “California Girls,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” and “Surfin’ U.S.A.” before leaving the stage. Their encore started with “Kokomo,” then finally brought Wilson away from his piano to play with the rest of the band for the final two songs, “Barbara Ann” and “Fun, Fun, Fun.”
After growing up with The Beach Boys for as long as I can remember, I loved hearing these songs I’ve heard all my life being performed by the original band. The Beach Boys still put on a great show and how many other bands can you think of willing to play 48 songs at their concert? The Beach Boys are one of the most important bands of the last century and their anniversary show is a great look back at the unmistakably brilliant career they’ve had, and still continue to have.