Reviews of shows I've been to (and maybe you have too!)

The Beach Boys @ Merriweather Post Pavilion (6/15/12)

Is there a better way to spend a summer day than by listening to the Beach Boys? Through 50 years of Endless Summer, their soaring harmonies and catchy tunes have kept the good vibrations going. At least musically. The off-stage acrimony and drama that underlay their entire career was such a complete contrast to their on-stage image that few could believe that such tension could produce such beauty. After decades of keeping everything hidden, the  cover finally blew off during the 1990’s, when Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Al Jardine each split from the Beach Boys enterprise to form their own touring band, a poor substitution for the real thing. Thus, it was with great surprise that the world greeted a somewhat reunited band for a summer tour. Wilson, Love and Jardine put away their disagreements (and recognized the profits to be made) and finally rejoined forces, bringing along longtime 6th Beach Boy Bruce Johnston, as well as original member David Marks. For a public obsessed with nostalgia (to the point that two of the biggest summer tours involved D-list 90’s bands such as Gin Blossoms, Marcy Playground and Creed), it was perfect timing.

My expectations had been primed by last year’s Brian Wilson show, so I was ready for a night full of sing-alongs and competent yet rarely exciting performances. The band managed to easily scale this barrier, coming out alternating their classic hits with lesser known album cuts, starting with the appropriate “Do It Again.” They dug into their catalogue for “Disney Girls” and “It’s OK,” before swinging back to hitsville with “Surfin’ Safari” and “Surfer Girl.” Obviously, the band is smart enough to know what the fans want and expect. However, I was impressed as they continued to throw in a few jabs even as they stuck to the tightly-crafted nostalgia script. Following a two-for of “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?”and “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man),” the group threw in winking nod to the absurdity of men in their late-60s singing teenage love songs, singing “It’s so sadddd.”

The biggest question for me was how the group’s harmonies would hold up, especially on the more intricate songs. Brian has long since lost his famous falsetto, and Carl Wilson’s death removed the other tenor voice. Thankfully, the Beach Boys are smart enough to have a top-notch backing band that can hit the famous high notes, so their vocal failings were easily hidden. The group perfectly hit the ending of “This Whole World,” before moving into a perfect rendition of “Kiss Me, Baby” that they followed with a surprisingly top notch version of “Please Let Me Wonder.” Sadly, few in the crowd appreciated these non-standards, spending most of the evening treating the performance as background music. Not helping matters, Mike spent every song interval hawking the band’s new CD, which was represented by two bland cuts that had the crowd stuck to their chairs or running to the bathroom. “I Get Around” led into the set break, which Mike jokingly referred to as naptime.

The second set began with all five members huddled around Wilson’s white baby grand piano, singing out the luscious “Add Some Music to Your Day.” At this point, it seemed like the group had managed to turn back the clock to their heyday. That illusion was quickly shattered when, during “Heroes and Villains,” Wilson unleashed a clearly audible throat clear mid-verse. To his credit, he kept singing, but it was a pointed reminder of the ravages of age that did not escape anyone (I can only imagine the anger seething within Love at that point). A mini-Pet Sounds suite, fittingly topped off by “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times,” eased the atmosphere.

For a night already drenched in nostalgia, it made little difference that performances of “God Only Knows” and “Forever” were performed by video versions of Carl and Dennis Wilson, respectively. The set finished with a run through their biggest sing-alongs, including “California Girls,” “Help Me Rhonda” and “Surfin’ USA,” though my friend Brett ironically pointed out that several of the best-received songs they did (“Rock and Roll Music,” “Peggy Sue,” etc.) were covers. Sadly, though not surprisingly, the group broke out “Kokomo” for the encore. They earned slight redemption for closing with “Barbara Ann” and “Fun, Fun, Fun” to let the crowd escape into the night on an up note. The Beach Boys were back, even if they had never really left. “So I’m going away/but not forever.” How true.

Set List:

  1. Do It Again
  2. Little Honda
  3. Catch a Wave
  4. Hawaii
  5. Don’t Back Down
  6. Surfin’ Safari
  7. Surfer Girl
  8. Wendy
  9. Then I Kissed Her (The Crystals cover)
  10. It’s OK
  11. This Whole World
  12. Kiss Me, Baby
  13. Isn’t It Time
  14. Why Do Fools Fall in Love (Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers cover)
  15. When I Grow Up (to Be a Man)
  16. Darlin’
  17. Please Let Me Wonder
  18. Be True to Your School
  19. Cotton Fields (Lead Belly cover)
  20. Disney Girls
  21. Ballad of Ole’ Betsy
  22. Don’t Worry Baby
  23. Little Deuce Coupe
  24. 409
  25. Shut Down
  26. I Get Around

Set 2

  1. Add Some Music to Your Day
  2. Heroes and Villains
  3. California Saga: California
  4. Sloop John B
  5. Wouldn’t It Be Nice
  6. I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times
  7. Sail on, Sailor
  8. In My Room
  9. All This Is That
  10. That’s Why God Made the Radio
  11. Forever (Dennis Wilson on video)
  12. God Only Knows (Carl Wilson on video)
  13. Good Vibrations
  14. California Girls
  15. All Summer Long
  16. Help Me, Rhonda
  17. Rock and Roll Music (Chuck Berry cover)
  18. Do You Wanna Dance? (Bobby Freeman cover)
  19. Surfin’ USA

Encore:

  1. Kokomo
  2. Barbara Ann (The Regents cover)
  3. Fun, Fun, Fun
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