They were a band. Take them for all in all. We shall not look upon their like again. With apologies to Shakespeare, watching The Beach Boys perform Saturday night, July 7, 2012 at the Grand Canyon University Arena, one felt as if they were witnessing history. Here was The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, David Marks and the new kid who joined the band in 1965, Bruce Johnston, reunited on stage for the first time in decades for their current Fiftieth Anniversary Reunion tour. Historic? Yes. Epic? Yes. If they never do it again, they will have left on top.
Fifty years signifies gold and it was the gold standard that The Beach Boys hit. Whether the coincidence in numbers was planned or not, The Beach Boys played fifty songs over two hours and forty five minutes that covered their history from their first hit single “Surfin’” to their latest one “That’s Why God Made The Radio.”
Even with a fifty song set list, not everyone’s favorite song was covered. However, the song selection was a good cross section of what The Beach Boys have accomplished during the last fifty years. Sprinkled among the mega hits like “Surfer Girl,” and “Good Vibrations,” were lesser known songs such as “The Ballad of Ole’ Betsy” and “All This Is That.”
That they included two songs each off of albums such as 1972’s “Carl and the Passions-So Tough,” (thank you Brian for insisting “Marcella” be made part of the set list) and 1973’s “Holland” showed that The Beach Boys’ magic didn’t stop with “Pet Sounds.”
It takes more than five musicians to recreate the intricacies of a Brian Wilson composition live and on that front, The Beach Boys know how to recruit. Their backing nine member band, comprised of members from Mike Love’s touring group and Brian Wilson’s touring group brought a rich, full texture to the sound both instrumentally and vocally.
Wilson and Love are both savvy enough to realize they shouldn’t handle every vocal. Long-time Beach Boy and Brian Wilson touring member, Jeff Foskett handled most of the falsetto parts. Guitarist and musical director Scott Totten had his vocal solo moment with “ Ballad of Ole’ Betsy.” With “Darlin,” keyboardist Darian Sahanaja got to show off his vocal prowess.
But it’s the big five that people associate with The Beach Boys and each one of them shinned as well. Love had command of the audience from the outset even though it appeared only the fans seated on the floor rose to their feet as he began the night with “Do It Again.”
Since the dawn of The Beach Boys, Love has always been the front man, comfortable with flirting with the females with a head nod or a finger point and keeping things light between songs with his banter. He has not lost any of that touch and although Love no longer goes for the high notes, he still sounds great in his range.
By contrast, Brian Wilson was never comfortable on stage, content to hide behind his piano. This evening he was behind his white grand but he was clearly the focus of everyone’s attention. When he took over the lead vocals, which he did for many numbers, he was always greeted with a standing ovation for his efforts. The audience was hypnotized as he sang the very personal “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times,” which kicked off a trilogy of songs from “Pet Sounds.”
When Wilson left the safety of his piano to go center stage to play bass on “Barbara Ann” and “Fun, Fun, Fun,” even though he didn’t need it, you could tell the audience was rooting for him. Seeing Wilson perform live gives you that surreal moment when you close your eyes and listen to the unmatched multipart harmonies found in a masterpiece such as “In My Room,” only to reopen them and see him right in front of you causing you to exclaim “my God, that’s Brian freakin’ Wilson!”
It was good to see Al Jardine back in the fold, wearing his signature white suit and sounding as good now as he always has. His doo-wop vocal of “Come Go With Me,” was well received and his “California Saga: California” was another nice deep cut to include in the program.
Grammy award winning Bruce Johnston, his award, it was humorously pointed out by Love, given for penning Barry Manilow’s “I Write The Songs,” entertained with his own Beach Boy creation “Disney Girls,” from “Surf’s Up,” an album Love called, “their album from 1872,” Johnston’s enthusiasm kept the crowd hand clapping throughout the night.
If there is a lost Beach Boy, then David Marks would be him. Although he appeared on the group’s first four albums, he has only occasionally been with the band since then. His surf guitar licks were perfect as were his vocals.
There were a multitude of highlights. The four song hot rod homage, “Little Deuce Coup,” “409,” “Shut Down,” and “I Get Around,” brought the entire crowd to their feet to end the first set. The second set vocal opener of “Add Some Music To Your Day,” had all five Beach Boys gathered around Brian Wilson’s piano much like those early 1960’s sing-a-longs in the Wilson house back in Hawthorne, California.
Moving were the tributes to the late Dennis and Carl Wilson, both Wilson brothers present via video presentation of their singing “Forever” and “God Only Knows,” respectively. As if “God Only Knows” needs any more emotional impact.
There might be some snickers when saying that a concert that ended with “Fun, Fun, Fun,” was historic. But seeing Wilson, Love, Jardine, Johnston and Marks all together and sounding as good live as anything you might hear from the recording studio exceeded all expectations. Fortunately PBS filmed the concert so there will be at least one last chance to see their like again.
Set One: Do It Again | Little Honda | Catch A Wave | Hawaii | Don’t Back Down | Surfin’ Safari | Surfer Girl | Come Go With Me | Why Do Fools Fall In Love? | When I Grow Up (To Be A Man) | Please Let Me Wonder | Getcha Back | Wendy | Marcella | Then I Kissed Her | Disney Girls | Good Timin’ | Darlin | Kiss Me Baby | Isn’t It Time | California Saga: California | Be True To Your School | Ballad of Ole’ Betsy | Still Cruisin’ | Don’t Worry Baby | Little Deuce Coup | 409 | Shut Down | I Get Around
Set Two: Pet Sounds | Add Some Music To Your Day | Heroes and Villains | I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times | Sloop John B | Wouldn’t It Be Nice | In My Room | All This Is That | That’s Why God Made The Radio | Sail On Sailor | Forever | God Only Knows | Good Vibrations | California Girls | Help Me Rhonda | Rock ‘n’ Roll Music | Do You Wanna Dance | Surfin’ USA
Encore: Kokomo | Barbara Ann | Fun, Fun, Fun
Written by: Ted Hansen, Mesa Classic Rock Music Examiner