It struck me amazing when I read the announcement that every living member of The Beach Boys were going to release a brand new album (with songs co-written by Brian Wilson) and even embark on a world tour together. In particular since they hadn’t released an album since 1992, and Wilson hadn’t toured with the group since 1965. In other words: This was history. (Or at least an afterthought of history, to those of you scratching your heads why I like going to see these dinosaur acts.) So naturally, I had to go to this. And how lucky I felt when I learned that they were going to stop by the Chateau Ste Michelle winery, a local venue I’ve been to four times in the past two years? Tickets went on sale exactly at 10 o’clock on April 28, and I was incessantly hitting the “refresh” button on my Internet browser to get tickets the exact millisecond they went on sale.
Last year, I claimed I was going to join their wine club for $400 a year, which would have allowed me to buy tickets a few days earlier. Doing that probably would have meant I could secure a seat somewhere in the first few rows. However, I didn’t end up doing that. I after all don’t have much use for wine, having approximately the culinary sophistication of a raccoon, and it’s difficult to get me to spend $400 on something that’s only liquid anyway. Nevertheless, I managed to score seats in the 13th row. Not too shabby at all.
The line-up they were advertising of course made me very eager to part with my hard-earned cash: This was Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks. Marks, in case you’re not a total geek, was the rhythm guitarist for the band during their first four albums. He was the replacement for Al Jardine who had been temporarily absent from the group. (Although there was a brief period when both Jardine and Marks were part of the Beach Boys roster.) Of course these classic five couldn’t have embarked on this tour to recreate live the lush sounds of their catalog without a little help. Or a lot of help, rather. As a matter of fact, they had so much help that I don’t think the actual sound of the concert would have been very much affected if the core-Five played absolutely nothing. (That is with the exception of David Marks who let rip two or three spirited electric guitar solos.) Naturally, I’m still highly appreciative of at least watching these guys play. We all would have been at a loss without those visuals. But anyway, the backing band they toured with practically constituted an entire army. Among them were three percussionists, a guy who played various woodwind instruments, and many-an-extra-guitarist. Most of these performers also helped provide the thick background vocals required for virtually all Beach Boys songs. One guy of special note was Jeff Fosket who sings all the falsetto stuff in lieu of Brian Wilson, who’s no longer able to reach such notes.
I’ll also mention with beaming eyes that I remember the very first song performed at the concert without help from reading set-lists. It was “Do it Again.” Although I figured that would be their first song, anyway. I mean, what a better choice? This would become the first of many, many, many songs they’d sing that evening. Fourty-seven in total for a concert spanning three hours. These songs were each performed each in their entirety (which wasn’t impossible since many of them are hardly two minutes long), but quite a few were done in succession without pauses in between. These guys of course didn’t go three hours without an intermission, but even the intermission seemed rather short. (I remember The Moody Blues last year taking their sweet old time to come back on stage after the intermission.)
Mike Love announced a few times to the crowd that he was up for going late, late, late into the night; however, the winery forces them to stop the show promptly at 10 o’clock. (His kind of circus-ringmaster tone when he talked made it pretty obvious he was insincere about that; I’m sure if they actually performed an extra song, he’d be at the gate collecting a few dollar bills from everybody leaving.) Love was also adamantly peddling Beach Boys merchandise in a manner that somehow managed to be jokey and serious at the same time. He said they wanted to sell as many copies of their new album as possible, so they bundled them together 10 for $100. The reason you’d actually want to buy this is because one copy of the CDs has their autographs on it. (One thing I refuse to do in life: Acquire autographs.) I caught a YouTube clip of Love in 1969 begging the audience to buy copies of all their albums, so I guess this is part of his standard schtick. I’ve never seen Love in concert before, so I am new to this.
By the way, I’m not a Mike Love basher. I might poke fun at him sometimes, but I’m not bashing him. As far as the mass-hatred this guy seems to receive, I don’t think it’s always so necessary. One thing that’s undeniable is that he’s an integral part of the band’s history. So many of the group’s classic tunes feature his vocals on lead, and they sure as hell wouldn’t have been the same without ’em. (You might argue they would have been better without him, but how would you ever know for sure?) However, I suppose I agree it’s annoying how often he seems to be suing his bandmates and perhaps even more annoying how proud he is of the #1 Hit Single “Kokomo.” Then again, I suppose he had good reasons for those lawsuits, and… er… “Kokomo” isn’t so awful anyway. The worst thing I can say about “Kokomo” is there are at least 75 Beach Boys songs I like better. But that really only goes to show how many great songs these guys have come up with over the years.
And I know writing this is going to be like a dagger in the heart to the Mike Love haters, but here I go: I saw Brian Wilson sing along a little bit with “Kokomo.” I know. A lot of people wish he would cover his ears and cower in pain every time that song pops up, but it was no dice. He was even grinning ear-to-ear as it was starting. …Although that might not have been specifically because of “Kokomo.” He might have had a funny thought, or something.
…By the way, even though Wilson has approximately the stage presence of Frankenstein’s Monster, I think he’s far more lucid than he seems. Check out some of his recent television interviews where he not only talks coherently in a jovial manner but also jokes around and pulls out deep memories from childhood that he’s never told anyone before. The reason for his heavy touring over these last 10 years, I think, must have been to make up for lost time. Though he does seem awfully out of it on stage; he was seated at a white baby grand piano for the vast majority of the show, sometimes watching the band almost as if he were an audience member. And I’m positive a teleprompter or something was telling him to turn to the audience occasionally and wave. Whenever he’d wave, those moments came off as sudden and quite awkward. (I remember vividly seeing him perform the Smile album in 2005 and he was even reading out loud things on the teleprompter written in brackets, such as [Instrumental].) But as awkward as he might be on stage, it’s great he can still get out and tour with The Beach Boys. I know this has been said a million times already, but I don’t think anyone would have predicted he’d have been the one to survive into his 70s without either of his brothers by his side. Perhaps it’s nothing short of a miracle.
And even though Dennis Wilson and Carl Wilson couldn’t have been there in person (and I found myself really yearning for that), The Beach Boys found a way to bring them back in spirit. Brian Wilson read off a line stating that the next portion of the show we were about to experience was to honor their memories. What we got first was a video of Dennis singing “Forever,” and the remaining Beach Boys provided background vocals and instruments. It was quite a moment. That song easily is one of the most beautiful they have ever done–and by proxy, it’s one of the most beautiful songs ever written. Amazingly, isn’t as celebrated as it should be. (Hmm… I haven’t even celebrated that song; I just looked at my review of Sunflower from four or five years ago, and I only gave it a B+. I’m going to write myself some flame-mail for that.) After that, we got a video of Carl singing “God Only Knows,” and this marked another intensely beautiful moment.
The massive running length of this show certainly allotted them enough time to perform every Greatest Hit you could possibly think of. They lumped together all their famous cars songs like this: “Little Deuce Coupe,” “409,” “Shut Down,” and “I Get Around.” The second song performed that evening, “Little Honda,” was not part of this group, because that’s about a motorcycle, duh! (OK, OK, I don’t think I knew that until now!) They also performed all their surfing/beach songs at the beginning of the show: “Catch a Wave,” “Hawaii,” “Don’t Back Down,” “Surfin’ Safari,” and “Surfer Girl.” However, they saved “Surfin’ USA” for their final song of that night, sans the encore.
They also played one song early on in the show that I couldn’t quite place. It turns out it was “Getcha Back” from The Beach Boys ’85. So far I’ve avoided what has been called their “horrible ’80s,” but that will be rectified soon enough. Yes, I’m even going to take a gander at Keepin’ the Summer Alive. Even though “Getcha Back” has nothing on their classics, it was quite a lot of fun to see them do. (This just goes to show that I found everything enjoyable at the show. And I truly did.) There was even a selection from vastly non-celebrated album L.A. Light Album, “Good Timin’.” …Again, not that great of a song compared to their ‘hits,’ but it was nice to hear anyway. More than anything, this shows us that they’re not blowing their noses at any particular part of their back-catalog. Naturally, of course the ’60s was the best part of their back-catalog. Everyone in the crowd probably realized that immediately when they gave their highly spirited rendition of “Wendy,” which was clearly one of the highlights of the show’s first half. One of my favorite portions of the second half was “All Summer Long” from the same album, a song I’ve been listening to a lot leading up to this concert. (Whatever it is about that song *clicked* with me suddenly.)
One album that was especially well-represented was Today!, which should have been good news to anyone who thinks that’s their best album. All that stuff constituted some of the show’s main highlights. Among them were “Please Let Me Wonder” and “Kiss Me Baby.” Their cover of “Do You Wanna Dance?” was the middle song performed in the encore, which lent its hand in helping the concert end on an explosive note. However, the final song from the encore was “Fun, Fun, Fun,” that ditty ‘inspired’ by Chuck Berry. That was some pure old-school electricity there. (Another massively upbeat song I would have wished to hear from Today! was “Dance, Dance, Dance,” but with a catalog like theirs, I guess it had to be left off!)
But another song from Today! they did perform was “When I Grow Up to Be a Man.” When it started, though, it was only a few seconds before it was suddenly halted by Mike Love. He screamed in his microphone: “Stop! This isn’t right!” The players on stage looked confused. Al Jardine said “Well, we got a few notes out.” What I thought Love was going to do next was a joke–something along the lines of “Look at us! Haven’t we grown into men by now?” What he said instead was simply that the intro was botched and that we in the audience deserved better. So, he directed the group to start over. I’m not exactly sure what was botched about it, but I wouldn’t want to question his judgement. Speaking of botching things, I could barely hear Love’s vocals in “Kokomo.” Maybe there was a certain Brian-Wilson-fanboy in the sound-mixing station who did that on purpose?
There were one or two pretty substantial cracks at their old ages at the show. Love knelt on the ground to sing the blaring-saxophone intro to “Be True To Your School,” but he had to enlist the younger members of the group to help him back up. As they did so, there were sound effects of bones cracking. Also, about three songs into the set, Love jokingly announced that it was time for an intermission, because they needed a nap. Another thing Love did was lay thickly some pretty big compliments on his band-mates, especially Brian Wilson. “How do you like those chord progressions? That’s pure Brian Wilson there,” he said at one point. The cynic in me, of course, assumes Love only said those things to appease people in the crowd who wouldn’t have attended this concert if Wilson wasn’t there. But on the other hand, how about those chord progressions?
Love’s repartee with the crowd was usually very corny and he almost certainly said the same things everywhere he went on this tour. But I nevertheless enjoyed watching him. I figured, before the show, I’d only want to keep my eyes fixed on pop-royalty Brian Wilson, but I found out that Love was hogging my attention more than anyone. Also earning quite a bit of my attention was the insatiably spirited Al Jardine. He was probably the only Beach Boy people in the crowd were able to recognize, if they only knew them from their old photographs. His voice was also the most preserved.
The evening’s definitive WTF moment was a rendition of their psychedelic oddity from Carl and the Passions called “All This is That.” Even though a set-list published the day after the show confirmed that I’d heard that song, as well as distinctly recalling them singing that familiar nursery-rhyme melody, I could have sworn I’d also heard a little smidgeon of “Transcendental Meditation” played before it. (I was probably confused, because I remember distinctly Mike Love saying “Transcendental Meditation” before the performance.) I’m not sure exactly why they needed to play “All This is That” when I’m sure the crowd would have reacted far more positively to at least 40 other songs in The Beach Boys’ catalog that I can rattle of off the top of my head. But whatever. As they were singing it, I had a thought that I should rush up to the stage and yell at Mike Love to play “Student Demonstration Time.” …He probably would have loved that. However, my ultimate idea of a WTF moment would be for them to play “Johnny Carson” and supplement it with random photos of Johnny Carson on their big screen. That would have caused mass confusion. Except to the few people who’ve actually heard that album, and I don’t think a whole lot of people there have. (Speaking of the big screen, what’s with all those bikini girl models they kept showing there? I found that very distracting. And we can all go home and see that stuff in the privacy of our own Internet, thanks. With that said, something they also showed frequently on their screen that I did appreciate was classic footage of the band.)
Another unexpected song that I actually loved hearing was Al Jardine’s “California Saga/California.” This was the moment of the show Jardine was especially allowed to shine, even though that wasn’t the only time he sang lead vocals. Additionally, Bruce Johnston’s special moment was “Disney Girls (1957),” which was a lovely and unexpected pick from their ’70s catalog. However, it’s not too well known; while he sang that, I heard a macaw-voiced woman behind me screech “What song is that?!” (Awwww… Everyone who went to that show should own a copy of Surf’s Up, dang it!) Somehow through age, Johnston’s voice gained more of a cutesy, sugar-encrusted tinge to it than it ever had before. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a song like that. Mike Love was even threatening to let Johnston sing “I Write the Songs,” the world-famous tune that ended up with Barry Manilow. But no. They weren’t allowed to let the concert go past 10. (In my opinion “Disney Girls” is far superior, but of course the schlock-ridden Manilow song gets all the love!)
During the intermission, I had noted that I had heard nothing from Pet Sounds. Fortunately, my desires to hear anything they could muster from that album were quenched swimmingly immediately after. That was when David Marks came on stage to play that guitar line from the title track I have so engrained in my mind. The rest of the backing band came on to accompany him for that, of course. Soon after, he was joined by the rest of The Beach Boys who played through three Pet Sounds songs without pauses: “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” (featuring the lead vocals of Brian Wilson), “Sloop John B,” and the most electrifying of the bunch, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”
There were only two songs from the Smile era, and they naturally picked the two I assume everybody yearned to hear most: “Heroes and Villains” and “Good Vibrations.” Naturally, every song at this concert was played as closely to their studio counterparts as possible; “Good Vibrations” even went so far as to use a modified theremin. (It wasn’t actually a theremin, but it also wasn’t a keyboard. It was a special instrument with a giant knob that sat idle most of the concert.)
Now, more about Mike Love. (As if he didn’t hog most of this review anyway!) I was witness to something a little bit creepy that went on between him and a girl seated two rows in front of me. She must’ve been about 18 with long dirty blond hair and a cleavage revealing green striped beach-party shirt. Most people at the show were seated in their chairs most the time–because that’s this venue’s policy. However, she was one of the few people who stood up and danced through much of the show. At one point, I saw Mike Love point to this girl and then loosely wiggle his ring-encrusted fingers at her like some kind of prissy French monarch. He then made a poppy-eyed expression and mouthed “Whoah!” What I don’t think he noticed was that this young lady happened to be standing between her parents. I laughed at that, thinking the parents were going to tell their daughter “OK, maybe you should sit down now, sweetie.” Instead, the father enthusiastically gave Love the thumbs-up sign. ……..Brrrr. Am I wrong to think that’s creepy? What was a far cuter scene, though, was when Love invited her on the stage to dance and sing along to “Barbara Ann,” and she was as spirited as can be. She was even allowed to sing in a microphone (I think taking the place of Johnston at the keyboards), and she knew all the words. Far better than I would’ve done, that’s for sure. (The sound-mixers must’ve been very on-the-ball, because I couldn’t hear a female voice singing there at all.)
Another thing that was going on at the concert was that people were tossing around plastic beach balls. I’m sure the band’s roadies had unleashed these things on the crowd; they do that at all the shows. But the problem with doing that at this venue was that it was a winery, and a lot of people were sitting in chairs sipping on glasses of wine. …So a common sight I saw was someone in the middle of sipping a glass of wine and BAM be hit in the back of the head with a beach ball! There was one lady in particular nearby me who got hit five or six times. Hilarious. How many times did I get hit, you might ask? Zero. That’s because I’ve got mojo.
It’s unclear whether The Beach Boys will ever tour again in this capacity, and if they came to your town, I hope you took the opportunity to go to it. You were probably able to tell from the tone-of-voice in this review that I thought this concert was a blast and a half, and as old as these guys might be, they can still put on an electrifying time. (That is, thanks in a large part to the help of their army of back-up singers and musicians! Which, you know, helped make the show worth the steep $125 per ticket.) My only complaint about it is that as long as they were bringing back old Beach Boys members, why couldn’t they also have dug up Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar? Chaplin, after all, was the original lead singer of “Sail on, Sailor.” …However, perhaps it was best that that the song was returned to Brian Wilson, perhaps its rightful owner, who sang it at the show.