When recalling the classic bands of the ’60s, the usual suspects are always to be found. Of course, you have the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Then you may hear mention of the Grateful Dead, The Who and Led Zeppelin. Finally, right before you hit the cheesiness of The Monkees, The Beach Boys might just get their turn. Unfortunately, for the longest time the band originally made up of the three Wilson brothers (Brian, Dennis and Carl) and their two childhood friends (Mike Love and Al Jardine) were referenced by casual listeners alongside their most embarrassing hit, 1988’s “Kokomo.”
Fast-forward to 2012, where the Beach Boys are reaping the rewards of a decade long re-examination of their legacy. Thanks to a slew of rereleases dating back to 1997’s Pet Sounds Sessions box set and most recently 2011’s Smile Sessions, the group has been rightfully propped up alongside their rivals from the ’60s. It’s then easy to see why a 50th anniversary tour is so very necessary at this particular moment.
But what makes this latest tour any different from the Beach Boys that performed in the Bay Area last year or two years ago for that matter? After nearly 15 years of leading their own separate tours under the title of The Beach Boys or as solo artists, Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Al Jardine (the only remaining original members) graced the Greek Theater.
It seemed like something of a miracle to see them on-stage together again. With the death of his brother Carl in 1998 and a rising, revived solo career with the release of 2004’s Smile, Wilson appeared adamantly against rejoining the Beach Boys whenever asked about the topic. And as Jardine and Love made clear in-between sets at last Friday’s performance, “Without Brian Wilson there would be no Beach Boys…Brian is the soul of the Beach Boys.”
Fortunately, something changed Wilson’s mind and the band started the night off right with a medley of their surf-inspired hits. Lead vocal duties were evenly dispersed amongst the band members, with each singer sticking to the songs they sang lead on in the original recordings. Additional band members of the 15-piece ensemble took up the roles left vacant by Carl and Dennis Wilson. Yet in a somewhat strange Tupac-esque sentimental move, the Beach Boys reunited with the two Wilson brothers for performances of “God Only Knows” and “Forever” by displaying recorded performances on-screen.
For much of the night, the crowd pleasing Mike Love took center stage as Wilson retreated to his favorite spot — hiding behind the piano. If one were unfamiliar with the Brian Wilson of the last few years, it would have been easy to assume that his heart was not in Friday’s performance. Sitting with a blank stare and his head down, Wilson appeared listless, as if he was dragged into the show. But when he got his first chance to take the lead vocals with “Please Let Me Wander,” it became clear that the symphonic savant had truly arrived.
Although not in the best vocal form, Wilson lent an authenticity to the overall performance that would have been sorely lacking without his presence. Hearing Wilson perform the songs that he wrote and arranged is akin to listening to a live performance by Bob Dylan; he may not have the prettiest voice in the world or even sound like he once did, but it really shouldn’t be any other way. The rest of the band members however were able to recreate the memorable harmonies anchored by that famous falsetto that the Beach Boys have become synonymous with.
Though largely sticking to their most well-known hits, the band offered avid listeners such fan favorites as “Sail On, Sailor” and “Ballad of Ole’ Betsy,” while still peppering in a few covers like Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music.” Preparing for the release of their latest album, the Beach Boys offered two new songs, reminding the audience that they still knew how to craft timeless tracks. Still, the highlight of the night came when the band returned from their intermission into a medley of classic songs written by Brian Wilson from the Pet Sounds and Smile era.
The only real glitch of the performance came when the group returned for a four-song encore, embarrassingly opening with “Kokomo.” Luckily, the magic of the Beach Boys’ classics still lingered in the air, overshadowing the hiccup that still stands as his their best-selling single to date.
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