The Beach Boys Are On Top of the World

25 Jun

The Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Tour at Jones Beach in New York last night

It was 47 years ago when everything changed for the Beach Boys. Before that year, the original boys of summer were founded by a 16-year-old music obsessed Brian Wilson who urged his two brothers Dennis and Carl to practice background harmonies with him in an attempt to emulate some of the vocal groups that were on the charts in 1961. The band originally consisted of the brothers, their cousin Mike Love, and Al Jardine, a friend of Brian’s. In 1962, the band added 13-year-old David Marks for two years.

Before 1965, only one other individual played in the band and that was the rhinestone cowboy himself, Mr. Glen Campbell, who joined the band in 1964 and played with them for a year as a tour replacement for Brian Wilson. Last night, as the Beach Boys hit Jones Beach on the way to several more 50th anniversary shows, 76-year-old Glen Campbell said farewell at the Hollywood Bowl, performing what was billed as his last show. Campbell revealed that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2011. It is truly strange how these things work out.

In the first few years of their creation, The Beach Boys were heavily influenced by Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and Chuck Berry’s ubiquitous guitar riff, so much so that a couple of their songs were variations of Chuck Berry’s material (most notably “Surfing USA” compared with “Sweet Little Sixteen”). The music was quick and catchy. The harmonies perfect. The Beach Boys reached a level of immense success from their juvenile endeavors. Across the pond, a band named the Beatles were doing something similar. In 1964, the Beatles stepped on American soil, albeit on the other side of the United States in New York, but this symbolically and literally meant that the Beatles had crossed over onto the turf of the Beach Boys.

In 1965, 47 years ago, The Beatles released Rubber Soul, an album that inspired Brian Wilson to quite literally go straight to the piano and bang out “God Only Knows” which Paul McCartney has said is the greatest song ever written. Pet Sounds was released in 1966. The Beach Boys now had a new key member, Bruce Johnston, who joined the band in 1965. Pet Sounds is usually rated as the second greatest album of all time. Some view it as number one and the case can certainly be made for that ranking. What is ranked number one? The Beatles’ follow-up to Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which when it was released in 1967 combined with Pet Sounds to prove to musicians everywhere that anything is possible. These are arguably the two most influential albums ever. Brian Wilson then attempted to one-up Sgt. Peppers and, in many ways he was far too advanced for his time. If you listen to Smile, Brian Wilson’s masterpiece that took him more than 40 years and full mental breakdown to complete, the music is doused in complex harmonies, intricate and excentric melodies, and, as Mike Love put it in a recent interview, what he thought were “obtuse” lyrics. I think they are genius. The album, though, could never match with Sgt. Pepper’s because it wasn’t completed.

Why did Brian Wilson snap? He was an incredibly hard worker and eager drug taker. Generally those two do not mix well for long. He certainly may have driven himself to insanity. Many individuals, though, believe that this was just one factor. The Wilson father, Murry, was the band’s manager, and while he pushed the band to improve, he was verbally abusive and controlling. Brian Wilson has come out and said that his fear of his father hung around his head. Unquestionably, a lot of factors combined, and thankfully Brian Wilson is currently doing alright and seems to be having a good time on stage with his band mates.

One of the only tastes that people got from Smile was Brian Wilson’s pocket symphony called “Good Vibrations,” which only topped both the British and American charts when it was released as a single prior to Sgt. Pepper’s in 1966.

Wow. That is around 600 words and I haven’t even gotten to the concert review yet. To celebrate 50 years, the Beach Boys reunited and have been touring this year to sold-out crowds across the country. Brian Wilson is joined by Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and even David Marks. Behind them stands a full ensemble that help create the full-on wall-of-sound. Jeff Foskett most notably sings the famous Beach Boys falsetto and did so throughout the show last night.

Why did I mention the number 47? Well, the Beach Boys performed 47 songs last night at Jones Beach. Yes, many of them are surf dittys, but please do keep in mind we are not talking about 35-year-old musicians here. Love, Wilson, Johnston, and Jardine are either already 70-71 or 69. Whoever said age is just a number is absolutely correct in the case of the Beach Boys. The show they put on was energetic, vivacious, and fun, fun, fun. I’ll try not to make any more song name puns in this review.

The concert was understandably absolutely sold out and the crowd was an excellent mixture of original Beach Boys fans and the new generation of Beach Boys fans (myself). Jones Beach Theater (as one can imagine) is on the water, which is a perfect setting for a Beach Boys concert. I’ve never seen a concert so relaxed. Several beach balls were blown up and dispersed throughout the crowd and while the ushers usually put an end to the balls pretty quickly, I was convinced that they were actually blowing the balls up themselves. Now, of course, with the cross wind, most of the balls ended up in the water, but the ushers were retrieving the balls in the aisles and throwing them back into the crowd. 

The Beach Boys opened with a string of short pieces like “Catch a Wave” and “Surfin Safari.” From the beginning of the concert, the band was on target with their harmonies and moving around the stage like kids. Brian Wilson remained at the piano for most of the show. Think of the most recent Beach Boys line-ups prior to this show and the semi-novelty acts that they have put on and combine that with like 50x the enthusiasm. They seemed like they just couldn’t wait to show the crowd what they had next and the crowd ate it all up.

One of the best things about the Beach Boys is you do not have to be a big fanatic to have a good time at the show. Yes, this is the same with most bands, but with the Beach Boys it is a little different. Even if you do not know all of the songs, you know a few. You’ve heard “Wouldn’t it Be Nice” and “Surfer Girl” before. The music puts a smile on your face.

The first set ended with a five-song hit-parade beginning with track 20 of the night, “Be True to Your School” and followed by “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” “409,” “Shut Down,” and “I Get Around.” I found a video of this set starting from “Little Deuce Coupe” on Youtube. This was around where I was sitting (up and to the left). Take a listen.

See the big beach ball? I hit that around this song. I’m sure you all care so much. Just listen to this. How great do they sound? The best part is the mass sing-along during “I Get Around” which pretty much drowns out the performance. This is how it was for a lot of the night. I must continue to give credit to Jeff Foskett who carried a difficult falsetto through the entire performance. He also looks like a combination between Jon Lovitz and Ted from Scrubs (Sam Lloyd).

After a well-deserved intermission, the Boys came out with an intimate version of “Add Some Music to Your Day” where they all huddled around Brian Wilson’s piano (like old times) and supported him throughout the song.

One of my favorite songs of the night was “Heroes and Villains,” which was supposed to appear on Smile. This song, which sounds like no other, was co-written by Van Dyke Parks. Here is Brian Wilson performing this song recently solo.

Couple of things to keep in mind. The song is incredibly intricate. Brian Wilson may be the unparalleled master of vocal layering. The music is also eerie. It swoons and changes so many times that in a Broadway-esque fashion you do not know what to expect. Wilson played with a string section, several pianos, and horns to create this song. The song was also created in 1967. It is even beyond the progressive rock that it had a part in inspiring. It’s not just a song. It is a work of art, and it was awesome hearing it live.

Towards the end of the show, the band put together two songs back-to-back to honor Dennis and Carl Wilson who have both passed away – Dennis drowned in 1983 at Marina Del Rey (he had been drinking all day and had major issues with alcohol abuse) and Carl died in 1998 from cancer. The way they did this was pretty awesome. For Dennis they put up a video of him singing “Forever” and harmonized with him like he was there, and they did the same with Carl singing my favorite Beach Boys song (and Paul McCartney’s) “God Only Knows.”

After “God Only Knows” the Beach Boys went into one of their lesser known songs, “Good Vibrations,” (haha) and, well, it was incredible. What else can I say. We hit some “Help me Rhonda” and “Surfin USA” and then the encore rolled around and we had this:

You may hear some louder-than-usual cheers during the song. That are the ladies in the audience screaming at John Stamos who is playing with the Beach Boys during their tour (he was in the “Kokomo” video if you remember). He is on stage playing bongos. The audio was strangely low for the song. It turned up for the song #46 “Barbara Ann,” which I actually think was the best performed song of the night – at #46. They ended with “Fun, Fun, Fun” and isn’t that fitting. It describes the concert better than any of my words can!

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