Saturday, May 12, 2012

Review: The Beach Boys' 50th Anniversary Reunion Tour

Ah yes... The Beach Boys... I love The Beach Boys. I believe they are one of America's finest bands, if not THE American band. From the early surfing days to the beautiful baroque experiments of the mid-1960s to the turbulent post-Pet Sounds era... They are a wonderful band, and they have given us some of the finest songs in music history. To me, they're up their with who I consider the giants of the 1960s and 1970s, from The Beatles to Frank Zappa. For their 50th Anniversary (which should've been last year, since they formed in 1961, not 1962), they are on tour right now and have a new album hitting stores on June 5th titled That's Why God Made The Radio. So I went to see them, as they played in my home state just a few hours ago. It was a two-hour show consisting of over 40 of their songs from 1962 to now... And how were they? Nothing short of phenomenal... They still have got it!

When their set-list was unveiled a few months back, I was beyond excited. I am a huge fan of The Beach Boys. I know there's more to them than "Surfin' USA", much much more... The history of the band fascinates me, and I believe that they were truly a great band whose talents were never really recognized. That said, their set-list was very satisfying. It was a mix of the band's most famous hits and somewhat unknown album cuts from both the 1960s albums and the 1970s albums, along with some other hits and their newest single, "That's Why God Made The Radio".

The concert opened up with "Do It Again", which was their successful 1968 single that was a much-needed hit for them at the time (which would appear as the opening track to their 1969 album 20/20). The energy and the harmonies were there, the band hasn't lost it one bit. Seeing Brian Wilson behind the piano was a sight to see. The band (Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks) was giving it their all, and the concert was very loud. The band literally rocked. After that, we got a diverse set-list.

The Hits: We got the hits. We got "Surfin' Safari", "Surfin' USA", "Catch a Wave" and "Surfer Girl", all pulled off well. We also got a medley of their hit car songs: "Little Deuce Coupe", "409" and "Shut Down". All of those songs were given great energy and hot rod sound effects for a nice extra effect. Other hits? "California Girls" and "Help Me, Rhonda" were played. The version of "Help Me, Rhonda" they played was much more like the rough version on Today! as opposed to the more polished re-recording from Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!). "Be True To Your School" was played with our state's university team used in the background. "Do You Wanna Dance?" was also played, and pulled off well. "When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)" was set against a Big Ben visual, which was rather interesting. Oh, and everyone got up to sing a lot of them, including an energetic "Barbara Ann". "Be True To Your School" was introducing by some incredibly awkward Mike Love banter, which was expected.

Album Cuts: Aside from the hits, we got some album cuts from the early-to-mid 1960s that weren't necessarily huge hits for the band but still well-known to some extent. For instance, they played "Wendy", a wonderful song from All Summer Long and delivered a spot-on performance. I was almost expecting them to replicate the accidental cough during the middle eight from the original recording. Another All Summer Long cut made it onto the set-list, "Little Honda", along with "Hawaii" and "Don't Back Down". "Please Let Me Wonder" from Today!, one of the tracks the signified that the band was already aiming for a level of sophistication that wasn't seen in most pop and rock music at the time of its release. A beautiful song, this performance was very faithful to the original. "Then I Kissed Her" and "You're So Good To Me" from Summer Days also made the cut, pulled off excellently, particularly the former. The other best surprise here was their cover of Frankie Lymon's doo-wop classic, "Why Do Fools Fall in Love", which perfectly replicated the band's cover and arrangement.

Pet Sounds and SMiLEPet Sounds got some love for this concert, as we got four tracks from the album. We got the three well-known tracks ("Wouldn't It Be Nice", "Sloop John B" and "God Only Knows") plus Brian's sublime "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times", which was always one of my personal favorites from that album and the performance recaptured the magic of that wonderful recording. "God Only Knows" was an affectionate tribute to Carl Wilson. When they played "Sloop John B", they showed all of their album covers on the big screen behind them. It was nice to see them, the only omissions were Summer in Paradise and Stars and Stripes Vol. 1, which probably weren't shown for a good reason. Even the band wants to forget those two albums ever happened, and I don't blame them!

"Heroes and Villains" was an epic highlight, using some pieces from the SMiLE version: "You're under arrest!"from the cantina section (in the original SMiLE recording, there was the infamous "cantina section" in the middle of the song) and the "Bicycle Rider" section of another SMiLE track called "Do You Like Worms? (Roll Plymouth Rock)".

The Post-Pet Sounds Years: Now that we got the early-to-mid 1960s stuff out of the way, let's move on to the post-1966 songs. What really made me happy about this show was that they used a good amount of material from the 1967-1973 period, their brief "renaissance" if you will. While we didn't get any cuts from Wild Honey and Friends, we got material from the Brother/Reprise era. Three songs from Sunflower, one of their finest albums, were played. "This Whole World", Brian's mini-masterpiece, was translated to stage quite well. "Forever" was played as a touching tribute to Dennis Wilson (Mike Love sort of tripped up when introducing the song), and a lovely performance "Add Some Music to Your Day" opened the second half of the show, to my surprise. The 1970 single version of "Cotton Fields" (which was on Capitol) was also played with a nice introduction.

Early on in the show, they belted out "Marcella" from Carl and the Passions - "So Tough", and I almost burst into excitement. I was hoping that they would play this, and they did. It's a fine, rocking tune that deserves to be played live. I was very happy to see it, although the audience wasn't as sucked in. The performance actually reminded me of the fine live version on The Beach Boys In Concert. "Sail On, Sailor", the moderately successful single from Holland, was also a highlight of the show. Another great surprise was "Disney Girls (1957)" from Surf's Up. Bruce Johnston gave an incredible performance of this song, as it is one of my favorites from that album. Another Carl and the Passions cut was played as well, "All This Is That", a fine quiet performance.

What I really wanted to hear was something from Wild Honey, one of my favorite Beach Boys albums. "Darlin'" would've been fine on stage, but without Carl, it wouldn't have been the same. Oh well, they could've done something unexpected, maybe something like "Country Air". I can understand somewhat why they didn't cover any material from the album (nothing from it is on the set-list at all), since Carl dominates that album. But Friends wasn't, but yet nothing from that album was played. I would've liked to have heard the title track or maybe "Busy Doin' Nothing", performed by Brian himself. Hey, I'll take it over "Kokomo" any day!

So only those two albums were left out, but it was wonderful to see the band actually giving these albums attention. The American public missed out on most of the post-1966 albums because the band was perceived as unhip after the critical and commercial debacle of Smiley Smile in 1967. I was afraid that they have forgotten about these albums by now, but they all have huge followings, which is great. Now that they are reintroducing audiences to what they missed out on, maybe this could influence people to seek out these gems.

The Post-Holland Years: Aside from "Kokomo", we got a few post-1973 songs here and there, we got "Rock and Roll Music" from 15 Big Ones and their cover of "California Dreamin'". "Rock and Roll Music" is not a good cover in my opinion, but this live version is what the song should've been. It's a little more rocking, and much more loose than its overproduced album counterpart. I certainly wasn't expecting anything from Love You, but maybe "Good Timin'" from L.A. (Light Album) would've been nice or maybe "Getcha Back" from The Beach Boys. (I find that song ridiculously catchy) "Come Go With Me" from M.I.U. Album was on the set-list, but wasn't played. Nothing from Keepin' the Summer Alive, thank goodness. Oh, and we also heard a nice live version of "That's Why God Made The Radio". Fantastic single, fantastic performance. The show's encore consisted of "Kokomo" (ugh!), "Good Vibrations" (yes!) and "Fun, Fun, Fun" (oh yeah!).

The only downfall of the show was "Kokomo", because "Kokomo" isn't a very good song to begin with (yes, I said it!) and it's out of place next to wonderful songs like "Please Let Me Wonder", "This Whole World" and "Heroes and Villains", to name a few. I don't know about you, but it annoys me that the song is one of The Beach Boys' most well-known songs, and also being their first and only #1 single since 1966's "Good Vibration". To me, it's just a cheesy novelty song that was only a hit because it was in a film that was popular for its time. But hey, everyone in the audience danced to it. Sorry, as someone who admires the serious artistic side of The Beach Boys, this song is just a silly throwaway to me. The performance was solid and all, and it is a fun little song, but it was certainly the low point of the show.

Something's Missing Here: Apparently the band played some songs for some states, and left them off of the list for other states. "The Little Girl I Once Knew" wasn't played, which somewhat bothered me. It's one of my favorite pre-1966 Beach Boys songs, and yet we didn't get it. We also didn't get "Dance, Dance, Dance" and "Come Go With Me". The other shocking omission for me was "She Knows Me Too Well", one of the excellent songs from the second side of Today!. Oh well...

Final Thoughts: This show pretty much encompassed everything about The Beach Boys that makes them one of the greatest and most successful bands of all time. The upcoming album apparently is doing this too, and that's a good thing. If this is the band's last tour and album, then they are certainly going out with a bang. They're appealing to the casual fans who know of the surf stuff and "Kokomo" while also introducing them to the beautiful music that they have never heard. I think this is a good thing, because whoever hasn't heard the band's 1966-1973 output is missing out. The performances were top-notch, the harmonies shook the auditorium and the set-list was a nice diverse selection. If they are coming to your home state soon, and if you happen to like the band, you should definitely see them.

If you have seen them, what did you think? Are you familiar with the band's later artistic material? Or are you more into their surf-era music? Do you think the band still has it? Sound off!

1 comment:

  1. The new Album comes out in a month and i think it will do so much better than their last effort, Summer in Paradise.They are on tour at the moment in the USA and Beach Boys tickets are cheap .. They sound really really good for a band where all the members are around 70 years old.