LIVE: The Beach Boys @ SPAC, 6/23/12

The Beach Boys @ SPAC

Review by Kirsten Ferguson
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk

A recent profile in Rolling Stone magazine captured the Beach Boys in characteristic disagreement over the song choices for their 50th anniversary reunion tour, which came to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs on Saturday night along with a sea of Hawaiian shirts, white haired fans and gravity-defying beach balls.

Reliving an argument that’s lasted for decades, de facto frontman Mike Love — who licenses the Beach Boys name to tour with his own band most of the year — argued for sticking to the hits, primarily the teenage surf numbers that fans all know and want to hear. Meanwhile, Beach Boys musical mastermind Brian Wilson begged for a few obscurities, like the gospel-tinged “Add Some Music to Your Day” from 1970’s “Sunflower.”

Of course, it’s quite amazing that Love and Wilson, the eternally feuding cousins, were able to put aside their considerable personal and musical differences to undertake this reunion tour at all. The ambitious tour — on the back of an equally unlikely new album, “That’s Why God Made The Radio” — not only merges members of Love’s and Wilson’s personal touring bands but also includes original Beach Boys Al Jardine, David Marks and Bruce Johnston (who joined in 1965) and 30-year member Jeff Foskett.

Miraculously, it all worked, as well as the beautiful Art Deco-style drive-in movie screen that lit up the back of the stage with images of golden-hued sand and surf and vintage B&W clips of the Beach Boys in the early days — a reminder of their precociousness as a family of handsome jocks who also had gorgeous voices.

Onstage at SPAC, their collective voices still sounded great: clear and strong. And maybe Love and Wilson resolved their set list differences by playing nearly everything they both wanted, because the remarkable 46-song set covered not only the early-’60s hits — often played in a fast-shifting medley style that kept the nearly three-hour show moving at a thrilling pace early on and to close the show — but also the more contemplative, Brian Wilson-centric tunes of the “Pet Sounds” era and beyond.

Interesting, one of the night’s most touching moments came when Wilson — who turned 70 just two days earlier, and had sat stoically at his piano for much of the night — got to sing “Add Some Music to Your Day,” while his four surviving bandmates gathered around his gleaming white piano to harmonize. The second and third most touching moments came later in the night, when departed Beach Boys Dennis and Carl Wilson were memorialized on the stage’s video screen — a long-haired, hippie Dennis singing along to the beautiful “Forever” and a better-scrubbed Carl performing the stunning “God Only Knows.”

From the ’60s-heavy first set to the ending volley of “Barbara Ann” and “Fun, Fun, Fun,” the crowd — twisting the night away — had a blast. At the same time, it was hard not to be struck by the stark contrast between the competing visions of Love and Wilson. To this day, Love capitalizes on the image packaged by the Beach Boys early on — the quintessential California dream of eternal youth and endless summer days. But the band is still dependent on the musical genius of the troubled Wilson, the reclusive outcast who sang most poignantly at SPAC about the joys of isolation (“In My Room”) and his feelings of not belonging (“I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times”).

Betsy DeMars’ review at The Saratogian
Shannon Fromma’s review at The Times Union
Sara Foss’ review at Foss Forward
Excerpt from Michael Hochanadel’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Just as their new ‘That’s Why God Made the Radio’ album was way better than it needed to be to declare these ‘boys’ are still rocking after 50 years, so was the show. Original Beach Boys Mike Love, Al Jardine and Brian Wilson played and sang at the front, flanked by longtime member Bruce Johnston and Jeff Foskett, the 30-year sideman who sang the highest part in their harmonies — fantastically, it must be said. Eight supporting players rocked on an arched riser behind them. While their 1960s radio hits celebrated motorized adrenaline or ocean-powered fun, the Beach Boys are really about celebrating the human voice, linked in Wilson’s sumptuous super-pop arrangements. Wilson sang few leads in the first set, which — apart from ‘Isn’t It Time’ and ‘California Sun’ from the new album (they played the title track later) — dove deep into the 1960s. This was the Beach Boys of easy, fast fun, mostly in the high, nasal voice of Mike Love. Fans slow-danced to ‘Surfer Girl’ and cheered Wilson’s short lead vocal, but he totally owned ‘Please Let Me Wander.'”

Do It Again
Little Honda
Catch a Wave
Don’t Back Down
Surfin’ Safari
Surfer Girl
Please Let Me Wonder
Getcha Back
Then I Kissed Her (Phil Spector/The Crystals)
Kiss Me Baby
Why Do Fools Fall in Love (Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers)
When I Grow Up (to Be a Man)
Disney Girls
Isn’t It Time
California Saga
In Them Old Cotton Fields Back Home (Lead Belly)
Be True To Your School
Don’t Worry Baby
Little Deuce Coupe

Shut Down
I Get Around
Pet Sounds
Add Some Music to Your Day
Heroes and Villains
Sloop John B
Wouldn’t It Be Nice
I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times
Sail on Sailor
All This Is That
That’s Why God Made the Radio
In My Room
God Only Knows
Good Vibrations
California Girls
All Summer Long
Help Me Rhonda
Rock and Roll Music (Chuck Berry)
Do You Wanna Dance? (Bobby Freeman)
Surfin’ USA
Barbara Ann
Fun, Fun, Fun

The Beach Boys @ SPAC 6/23/12
The Beach Boys @ SPAC 6/23/12
The Beach Boys @ SPAC 6/23/12
  1. Jim Green says

    Having now seen this Beach Boy reunion concert three times (New Orleans, Westchester and SPAC), I am still amazed just how good the vibrations have been emanating from the stage. As one of the legion of true believers in the artistry of Brian Wilson (and possessing the corresponding antipathy towards Mike Love, the entertainer), I first went expecting much less than what these events have turned out to be – true Beach Boy concerts. Not a Brian Wilson concert. Not a Mike Love oldies show relying on the Beach Boy brand to attract concert-goers. Instead there was a true melding of Brian’s artistry and Mike’s emphasis on entertainment. That this marriage worked so well and exceeded everybody’s expectations made for a memorable evening for all – even for those old folks up on the stage.

  2. Mike L. says

    Great review. Eternally grateful that I got to see Brian Wilson on stage as a Beach Boy. I saw him and his band when they came to town with “Smile” a few years back, and it was amazing. But I really needed to see him with the Beach Boys to be able to die in peace.

Comments are closed.