The Beach Boys

June 3, 2012
Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
Irvine, CA

Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Maria Younghans

Milestones are running rampant, summoning old and crusty rock n’ roll heroes from a by-gone era when the sky was chemtrail-free and long-playing vinyl was all the rage. For 2012, a couple of dusty codgers are ringing in their golden anniversaries: the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys. The Stones, in their own insolent, nefarious fashion (even in their autumn years), are waiting until 2013 to “officially” celebrate their 50th. The Beach Boys, on the other hand, have seized the moment by reuniting key members, recording a new album and hitting the road for a world tour.

The weekend before the release of That’s Why God Made The Radio — the first Beach Boys album in decades to feature all of the band’s surviving original members — Southern California played host to two concerts at the Hollywood Bowl and Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Irvine. Needless to say, it was a homecoming for the Hawthorne-based band. Prepared and ready to remind everyone of their importance in the evolution of rock, the group played the usual hits, unusual bits and a couple of new ones for a solid two-set, two-hour show.

Clearly, seeing Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks together is the culmination of a finely tuned celebration of one of America’s greatest musical treasures. The entire evening was a healthy overview of classic songs, rich harmonies, subtle instrumentation and those unique personalities, including the late Carl and Dennis Wilson.

For this weekend only, the audience was treated to a special opening act introduced by Wilson, Love and Jardine: California Saga. The group comprises Beach Boys sons and daughters, including Carnie and Wendy Wilson (Brian Wilson's daughters), Christian and Ambha Love (Mike Love's son and daughter), Justyn Wilson (Carl Wilson's son), Carl B. Wilson (Dennis Wilson's son), and Matt and Adam Jardine (Alan Jardine's sons).

The whole idea behind this group of worthy descendents is to sing, mostly a capella with minimal instrumentation from Billy Hinsche (Justyn Wilson's uncle) and Rob Bonfiglio (Carnie Wilson's husband), deeper Beach Boys cuts. So they began, in earnest, with the first Dennis Wilson song recorded by the Beach Boys, “Little Bird,” and followed by a Brian Wilson-Mike Love number originally sung by Carl Wilson called “Darlin’.”

Carnie Wilson, no stranger to the filled amphitheatre, then announced the group was going to sing one from Pet Sounds, “the greatest album of all time.” And off they went, beautifully traipsing through “You Still Believe In Me.” A second Brian Wilson-Mike Love song, again originally sung by Carl Wilson, “Anna Lee, The Healer”; Brian Wilson’s "Til I Die" from 1971's Surf's Up; and Phil Spector's "I Can Hear Music," originally with Carl Wilson singing the 1969 recorded cover, finished off the set to polite applause.

The mood was set, the amphitheatre filled and at precisely 8:15, Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks hit the stage. They were joined by 12 other musicians, most with a previous association to the band and/or Brian Wilson, including Jeff Foskett, Darian Sahanaja, Scott Bennett, John Cowsill, Probyn Gregory, Scott Totten, Paul von Mertens and Nick Walusko.

With the five Beach Boys plus Foskett and Totten out front, and 10 more players on the backline, every melody, harmony, chord change and backbeat was well executed. The opening “Do It Again” had Love baby-stepping from side to side while Wilson reigned supreme behind a white baby grand. With the audience on their feet, the screen on the backdrop began flashing images of cars and surfing, prompting the group to fall into a rich medley of early classics, including “Little Honda,” “Catch A Wave,” “Hawaii,” “Don't Back Down,” “Surfin' Safari” and “Surfer Girl.”

At one point, Love told the audience there would be an intermission so he could take a nap. He also constantly reminded everyone that they could purchase the new album on Amazon. “Then I Kissed Her,” a sprite male twist on the Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me,” featured Jardine slipping the lead vocal on like an old coat. Johnston, introduced as the man who wrote Barry Manilow’s “I Write The Songs,” was then handed the spotlight for his own, “Disney Girls.”

“Isn't It Time,” the first of two new songs trotted out, received a warm reception, but it became apparent the audience was vying for something closer to home. Covers of Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers’ “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” and Lead Belly’s “Cotton Fields” provided ample filler before another run-through of favorites — “Be True To Your School,” “Don't Worry Baby,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” “409,” “Shut Down” and “I Get Around.”

The first set was a history lesson on the Beach Boys’ early days. The second set dug deeper into the psyche of Brian Wilson, and the memory of his two late brothers. “Sloop John B” charted the course, while “Wouldn't It Be Nice” rode high on an avalanche of sweetened harmonics, meticulously orchestrated by Wilson’s innate sense of arrangement. And then the majesty of his songbook, beyond teenage whimsy, took hold — “I Just Wasn't Made For These Times,” “Sail On, Sailor,” “Heroes And Villains” and “In My Room.”

A faithful reading of the new single, “That's Why God Made The Radio,” failed to excite the crowd out of their chairs, but tears flowed freely during “Forever” and “God Only Knows,” which featured the recorded lead vocals of Dennis Wilson and Carl Wilson, ably accompanied by the 17 musicians and singers on stage.

For as much as one could have yearned for more from Smile, it took “Good Vibrations” to pave the way for a succession of Beach Boys staples — “California Girls,” “Help Me, Rhonda” and “Surfin’ USA.” The encore began with “Kokomo,” a song the group apologized for earlier in the evening, but quickly regained its balance once Dean Torrence joined in for ripe and ready blasts through “Barbara Ann” and “Fun, Fun, Fun.”

Over the course of the night, it was difficult to not get caught up in the feel-good nostalgia that permeated the venue. Everyone’s chops are intact. David Marks, out of the Beach Boys spotlight for most of their career, swings a mean six-stringer, thanks to a prolific career as a session musician. Jardine and Johnston can still hit their marks, while Love’s self-deprecating comments between songs actually made him far more endearing and lovable to factions of Beach Boys scholars ordinarily disenchanted with the singer’s antics. Somehow, that made the guy’s distinctive baritone a little warmer.

And there was Brian Wilson, who eventually abandoned his perch behind the piano and strapped on a bass guitar. Surrounded by musicians from his distant past blending in with more recent collaborators, he couldn’t possibly give any less than his absolute best. At times, he looked uncomfortable and ill at ease, but once he seized the melody, it was as if the 60s had never ended.

A truly tasteful celebration of the Beach Boys, tonight was an astute reminder of the power of music, transcending generations of fans who came together to rejoice in its purity and innocence. Maybe a couple more from the new album would have been cool, but when you consider the body of work, time allotted and really what the people came to hear, there’s little room for improvisation. Which pretty much explains both sides of the story — a snitch of introspection, suavely tempered and swept up by a wave of girls, cars, the sea, the sand and the warmth of the sun.

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