Beach Boys - Hard Rock Live - May 4

Categories: Concert Review
Beach Boys 50th Anniversary (Robert Matheu).jpg
Robert Matheu

Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Tour 
Hard Rock Live, Hollywood 
May 4, 2012 

Better Than: Brian, Mike, or Al on their own 

Okay, let's all take a collective breath here... Friday night's Beach Boys concert was not only a lot of fun, fun, fun, but a humbling experience as well. Seeped in nostalgia, it proved that a band, now embarking into its sixth decade, still has the ability to pull itself together, replay the hits, bury the hatchet, and delight fans of all ages. Okay, so two critical members of the group -- brothers Carl and Dennis Wilson -- are dearly departed, and the original line-up is augmented by a ten-piece backing band that literally plays a second tier role. The songs themselves still sound as wonderful as ever and in some cases even better. 

Naturally then, Mike Love still acts the role of the evening's emcee, hamming it up on several occasions, relating incidental anecdotes about the boys growing up in Hawthorne (even eliciting a grunt of agreement from cousin Brian), and crossing the generational divide as expected (his explanation to the unawares about 45s and their flip-sides was especially age appropriate). 

As the one member who's kept the Beach Boys banner intact across the decades - even when it was more brand than band - he seems to revel in the fact that all the other survivors are back in the fold. He and long time co-conspirator Bruce Johnston seemed to be having the most fun of the evening (other than the backing band, that is) and the two practically looked liked twins, both in the way they were attired in similar loose-fitting outfits and official Beach Boys baseball caps (which, by the way, cost an exorbitant $35 at the merch stand!), and in the way they bounded about the stage and interacted with fans. Johnston in particular was beaming with delight.

When Love actually introduced Johnston's solo spot for "Disney Girls" one song too early, it provided a spontaneous senior moment. "We do have a set list," he explained. "If only I had my reading glasses." Considering the average age of the audience was well within their parameters, it was little wonder that this particular remark elicited lots of knowing laughter.

As for the rest of the band, suffice it to say each of the front-line members did themselves proud. Al Jardine, looking somewhat diminutive next to his compatriots, was as reliable as ever, providing spot-on harmonies and riveting lead vocals on "Cotton Fields" ("A huge hit all over the world... but not in America...") and the sure-shot crowd pleaser "Help Me Rhonda." 

David Marks, the Pete Best of the band, was pulled out of retirement and a career-long separation from the rest of the group. He left after playing on the first four albums and well before they became a national sensation. He also acquitted himself well, both in his backing vocals and in snappy lead guitar licks that found him as adept as ever. Carl and Dennis weren't there of course, but the concert provided a touching tribute to both men via film clips of Dennis singing his signature song "Forever" and Carl, in what was easily the most emotional moment of the evening, intoning that lovely lead vocal for "God Only Knows." Love momentarily turned his back to the audience and watched the video of his fallen comrade, no doubt as moved as the other observers. Theirs were tragic losses indeed. 

Then there was brother Brian. As anyone who's seen him on his solo tours over the past dozen years can attest, the man still seems shell-shocked. This is the result of personal issues, past drug use, therapy, remedies, and his own insecurities. For most of the concert, he appeared expression-less, attempting to do his due diligence, but otherwise indifferent to the point of looking catatonic. He had to be helped to his place at the piano (the man is 70 years old, after all) and much of the time while there, it was questionable how much he played. During his solo shows, his keyboards were little more than a prop. On the final songs, he switched to bass, but at best he looked awkward and displaced among his band mates, and once the set was over, he seemed all to eager to exit the stage. 

That said, he sang well, especially on "Please Let Me Wonder," "Surfer Girl," Wendy," and "She's Not the Little Girl I Once Knew," hitting the high notes with admirable aplomb. It was curious then that he relinquished the lead vocal on "Don't Worry Baby" to one of the two back-up players in the front line without tackling it on his own. 

Speaking of that backing band - known under their own auspices as the Wondermints - they enhanced the material by fleshing out every nuance and bringing Brian's original arrangements from the studio to the stage. Situated on a riser behind the front five and the two stringers who played guitar and sang harmonies, they added the musical might needed to bring those old 45s back to life. 

While older members of the audience might have memories of seeing the original Beach Boys on their own and unadorned back in the '60s and '70s, it's also worth remembering that studio session players were the real architects when it came to crafting the material and realizing Brian's ambitions. Bandleader Darian Sahanaja deserves special kudos for keeping these often-unwieldy arrangements in sync and ensuring that everyone behind the scenes stayed faithful to the sound. 

As a result, any age-related inconsistencies aside, the show was terrific, all memories and memorable music, performed by one of America's definitive and iconic cultural institutions. 

Clearly, no one in the sold-old Hard Rock was unmoved as hit after hit -- a phenomenal 42 in all -- was rolled out for the audience's ears. Everyone was up dancing from the get-go, both reliving a cherished youth and basking in the moment. When they played "Be True to Your School," several women shook pom-poms (and body parts as well) and during the second set, beach balls were flying fast and furious and tossed from crowd to band and back again. 

The encore - consisting of the final official Beach Boys chart topper "Kokomo," the still-dazzling "Good Vibrations," and the keynote anthem and song that summarizes everything, "Fun Fun Fun" - seemed all too abbreviated. When they took that final brief bow and left the stage, it was clear there were other songs that could have been played to keep them on stage not only all night long, but all summer long as well. 

Critic's Notebook

Personal bias: I can't complain about the song selection - I loved the one new song incidentally, "That's Why God Made the Radio" - but I also would have loved to hear "Caroline No," "Surf's Up," and "I can Hear Music," among others.

Random detail: It really was an all-ages show. Two girls sitting behind us were all of nine years-old and for one of them, this was their second Beach Boys show. The two guys next to me were likely in their 30s. One summed it up by saying," Timeless music, man." 

By the way: Did I mention those $35 baseball caps!? 

Set List 
Do It Again 
Catch a Wave 
Don't Back Down 
Surfin' Safari 
Surfer Girl 
You're So Good to Me
Wendy 
Then I Kissed Her 
The Little Girl I Once Knew 
Why Do Fools Fall in Love (Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers cover) 
When I Grow Up To Be a Man 
Cotton Fields (Leadbelly cover) 
Be True to Your School 
Disney Girls Please 
Let Me Wonder 
Don't Worry Baby 
Little Honda 
Little Deuce Coupe 
409 Shut Down
I Get Around

Intermission 
California Dreamin' (The Mamas and Papas cover) 
Sloop John B 
Wouldn't It Be Nice 
This Whole World 
Forever 
All This Is That 
Sail On Sailor 
Heroes and Villains 
In My Room 
I Just Wasn't Made for These Times 
That's Why God Made the Radio 
California Girls 
All Summer Long 
Help Me Rhonda 
Rock 'n' Roll Music (Chuck Berry cover) 
Do You Wanna Dance (Bobby Freeman cover) 
Barbara Ann 
Surfin' USA

Encore
Kokomo
Good Vibrations
Fun Fun Fun


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