The Beach Boys
Better Than: Your average Carnie Wilson show.
This year in the UK, Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee is bringing together millions of her subjects (and plenty of outsiders) to commemorate her time on the throne. In America, we don't have an actual monarchy; we have rock stars, and there are none more vital to understanding our modern musical heritage than the Beach Boys and their own Crown Prince, Brian Wilson.
For the first time since Wilson stopped performing with the group in 1965 in order to focus on composing and recording (and dropping acid), he has joined his mates for a full-fledged tour, celebrating 50 years of their music. Saturday night's show also marked the first time since 1967 that the Beach Boys have performed at the Hollywood Bowl. For a band so acutely inspired by and connected to Southern California, it was long overdue.
They began their marathon performance with "Do It Again," a paean to the old days, pretty girls and chilling at the beach. A mid-tempo tune replete with handclaps and vocal harmonies, it was a pleasant way to ease into the set. "Catch a Wave" kicked things into gear, with a classic rock 'n' roll backbeat that sounded straight out of a Kennedy-era time capsule.
"You're all sitting down, and we're playing up-tempo songs," said Mike Love. "Maybe if we play some slow ones, you'll get up." And get up many did, for "Surfer Girl." The 1963 classic still packs an emotional wallop, and audience members of a certain age swayed back and forth in time.
The Beach Boys acknowledged their historical debt to Phil Spector and his groundbreaking wall of sound with "Then I Kissed Her," their cover of the Crystals' "Then He Kissed Me." The track has an undeniable melody no matter who sings it, and the still-vital Al Jardine did a commendable job.
"Be True to Your School" is, let's face it, one of the squarest sentiments ever espoused by a musician. However, much of the Beach Boys' charm lies in that sort of clean-cut and forthright attitude. In a nod to the locale, the screen behind the band displayed the names and logos of local universities like USC, UCLA and Pepperdine. "Don't Worry, Baby" was and is a stunner, a perfect encapsulation of Wilson's burgeoning lyrical and melodic sophistication in the mid-'60s. Longtime sideman Jeff Foskett handled lead vocal duties, giving the band a bit of a break, while also highlighting their knack for finding prodigiously talented musicians to back them up.
The first set concluded with a Mike Love-led four-song "car suite." Often derided as the corniest material of the group's early career, the tracks, especially "I Get Around," nevertheless sounded fresh after nearly half a century. After a well-deserved breather, the group of 15 (five Beach Boys and ten backing musicians, including L.A.'s fantastic, Brian Wilson-approved Wondermints) swelled even further, with the addition of California Saga, a gaggle of group members' children, including Carnie and Wendy Wilson of Wilson Phillips.