The Beach Boys Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion June 8, 2012
The Beach Boys taught a generation of American kids how to be teenagers. With songs about the perils of love, the magic of cars, school ties, faceless authority, and depression and isolation, they wrote the book on high-octane hormonal rock. Almost 50 years removed, the songs remain vital Rosetta Stones for most every (well-built) pop record.
Pop culture has made sure they stay ever-present in our ears, even as films and commercials plunder the Boys' music for their own means. This makes the Beach Boys at once corny and vital. This new 50th anniversary tour didn't come without jokes about Depends, dementia and money-grabbing.
The Beach Boys and the Beatles represent two halves of the classic rock and roll experience, though one group had the chance continue to record and play into their late '60s and '70s, while the other splintered into a myth curated by four men and their wives and children.
I mention the Beatles because time has been kinder to them than the Beach Boys, but the Beach Boys deserve to be mentioned in the same breath with them, even though the Beatles legend is sexier and comes with more manufactured luster.
The Beach Boys grew up with their audience and got to evolve and deviate from their sound, with alternately lauded and laughable results along the way. They had the luck to be able to screw up their legacy, which is why a lot of detractors have seen this reunion run with less than reverent eyes. But then again, for the past two decades most music journalists have either only seen Brian Wilson solo or a half-ass touring version of the Beach Boys .
Thank God for this tour to fix that.
Friday night's set at The Woodlands was separated into two parts. The first half was very much for the band and for super-fans looking for chestnuts and B-sides; the second half reaffirmed their legacy with some of the biggest and most cherished compositions of their career rocketing into the crowd. You shouldn't have been bored on Friday night.
"Please Let Me Wonder" was on the flip side of "Do You Wanna Dance?." The album track "Don't Back Down" came from 1963's album All Summer Long, and Bruce Johnston's showcase "Disney Girls (1957)" was from 1971's Surf's Up. This wasn't entirely a cheap and easy hits night.
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Most welcoming to the Beach nerds in the crowd were the cuts from 1972's Carl and the Passions LP, which saw the addition of Blondie Chaplin -- best known now as one of the Rolling Stones' longtime touring sidemen -- to the band. "Marcella" and "All This Is That" were both nestled into the set. Al Jardine introduced the latter by crediting Transcendental Meditation with keeping the band floating in darker times. Check out "TM Song" from their 1976 studio effort 15 Big Ones too.
It's that period with Chaplin as a full-fledged member of the Boys that gets overlooked, even though the material is worth taking in, especially "Sail On, Sailor" which came in the second set of the evening. You may know it from the soundtrack to The Departed. "It's O.K." even came out to play, sitting nicely next to "Cotton Fields."
De facto front man Mike Love made a few groan-worthy hard sells for the band's new album That's Why God Made the Radio most of the night. The disc was on sale for $5 at the merch stands and a few came signed by the full band. By the end of Friday's show Love said they had pushed out a few thousand copies, making the guilt-tripping worth it.
At that low price, it was a worthy and cheaper concert souvenir alternative than a $40 shirt or a $65 hoodie that Houstonians won't need to use until three weeks in November.
Late this weekend word would come that the album would become their highest-charting album since their hits set Endless Summer topped the charts back in October 1974. We'll find out for sure on Wednesday morning.
"We're battling it out with Adele, so buy American," said Love at one point during just one of his numerous pitches. It's true, a recent airing of an Adele special on network television has her hovering back at the top of the charts, and Alan Jackson's newest could also cause trouble for Radio too.
Love has never been anyone's "favorite" band member, as he is always seen as the corporate face of the group, the one that is more interested in selling shit and making money with the name, no matter how awkward it looked.
Even though he has been up front singing most of their songs these past 50 years, he's still seen as secondary to Brian. Love mentioned his beloved Bentley while introducing "Ballad of Ole' Betsy," which is either cute or douchey depending on how you look at it.
The four-pack of "Little Deuce Coupe," "409," "Shut Down" and "I Get Around" closed out the first set before intermission, waking up the audience and re-energizing the band for the next half.
The second set was near-biblical, in rock terms at least, with previously-dormant godhead Brian Wilson attacking the band's monolithic Pet Sounds material with gusto. It was as if he sat around during that first set bored, waiting to show off his legend for that second half. From my vantage I could detect boredom and some understimulation in him when the show started, but that changed after intermission and he got to dig into his calling cards.
It seemed the songs that he was around and cognizant for the birthing of, the ones that he has been touring behind solo with his own backing band, were the ones that he pushed his heart into the most. The Sounds stuff, those depressive teen sagas, lit a fire under him.
The big-budget choral anthems like "Sloop John B" and "Wouldn't It Be Nice" became church-ready singalongs. It was during the second half that the show stopped being a Beach Boys variety revue and turned into a classical recital. No doubt it was designed this way.
A tribute to departed brothers Dennis and Carl Wilson came halfway through the second set, with the surviving brothers and band members backing the departed's recorded voices on "Forever" and "God Only Knows".
Love reminded us that Uncle Jesse sang "Forever" to Rebecca on Full House, making the one and only mention of the sitcom of the night. Sporadic Beach Boys member John Stamos wasn't onstage on Friday night, to the disappointment of some of the '80s babies in the crowd, though he has made appearances with them on this tour, just not in Houston.
The band's late start (around 8:15 p.m.) meant that they would be pressed for time coming up on the venue's 11 p.m. curfew, and speeding up the tempo of the last few songs and encore. Sped-up versions of Chuck Berry's "Rock and Roll Music," "Do You Wanna Dance?" and "Surfin' USA" tested the seaworthiness of the 14-member band and they survived.
It would have been easy for the Beach Boys to mirror one of their greatest hits collections, cutting the show's running time in half and grabbing a paycheck, but instead they seem to have put some thought and loving care into this reunion setlist.
Early on during this reunion cycle there were rumors and questionable about backing tracks and lip-syncing, but on Friday night I didn't detect anything spurious, though the massive backing band probably acted as safety net for any issues.
It's not clear yet if this reunion will last, but from talking Jardine a few weeks back, he said he wouldn't mind doing these shows every two years or so. I speak for most fans when I say I wouldn't mind a Pet Sounds album-slash-rarities tour, or even a Smile excursion. Here's hoping that time and the band's nerves hold up for more magic to happen.
Essential Cuts of the Night: For me it was "Don't Worry Baby," "In My Room" and "God Only Knows." Few songs in the history of pop music have been able to liquify my heart like those can.
Most Valuable Player: Drummer John Cowsill, because he slammed the point home that part of the magic of the band's sound was the energizing drumming, either from session men or Dennis himself.
The Crowd: A lot of the older folks were still raving about Jimmy Buffett's show the week before, and probably didn't bother to change their Hawaiian shirts for the Beach Boys gig. Us younger fans came ready to dance to songs we grew up with on oldies radio and to gawk at Brian Wilson, whose brain has helped inform and shape the sound of most of the bands that are called "indie-rock" these days.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Dennis was the hottest Beach Boy." Looking at the photo montages and early music videos of the band running on the big screen behind them, they were rightfully heartthrobs in their day, with their sun-kissed and windswept hair.
Random Notebook Dump: Yes, the band did "Kokomo" from the Cocktail soundtrack, and it was the single whitest concert moment I have ever been part of, and I knew all the words verbatim and I can scratch that one off my bucket list. Have mercy.
Do It Again Little Honda Catch a Wave Hawaii Don't Back Down Surfin' Safari Surfer Girl Please Let Me Wonder Marcella This Whole World Disney Girls Then I Kissed Her (The Crystals cover) Kiss Me, Baby Isn't It Time? Why Do Fools Fall in Love (Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers cover) When I Grow Up (to Be a Man) Cotton Fields (Leadbelly cover) It's OK Be True to Your School (pics of "surviving" band members from high school, no Dennis or Carl though) Ballad of Ole' Betsy (Beach Boys Music Director Scott Totten on lead vocals) Don't Worry Baby Little Deuce Coupe 409 Shut Down I Get Around
Add Some Music to Your Day (band standing around Brian at piano) California Saga: California Sloop John B Wouldn't It Be Nice I Just Wasn't Made for These Times Sail On, Sailor Heroes and Villains In My Room All This Is That That's Why God Made the Radio Forever (Dennis tribute) God Only Knows (Carl tribute) Good Vibrations California Girls All Summer Long Help Me, Rhonda Rock and Roll Music (Chuck Berry cover) Do You Wanna Dance? (Bobby Freeman cover) Surfin' USA
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Kokomo Barbara Ann (The Regents cover) Fun, Fun, Fun