Concert Review: The Beach Boys @ Proctors, 11/19/2023
The Beach Boys’ “Fun, Fun, Fun” 60s California escapism through cars, girls and surf has earned a permanent place in the hearts of boomers radio-raised on their harmonies, hot rods, and sun-tanned lust.
The nine-piece Mike Love-led band packed Proctors Sunday afternoon with a nostalgic summer soundtrack of can’t miss radio classics, plus surprises.
Over a pre-show beer at Ambition, saxophonist Randy Leago said the Proctors show would be the Beach Boys’ last of the year and that new members (since April) had brought fresh energy: lead guitarist John Wedemeyer and – especially! – drummer John Bolton.
On a low riser, stage right, Leago played between keyboardist-singer Bruce Johnston out front and keyboardist Tim Bonhomme alongside, with Bolton standing behind his drum kit: If he ever sat down during the two-set show (each an hour long, sandwiching a 25-minute break), I missed it. Bassist Keith Hubacher played close by to lock with Bolton’s beats.
Up front, stage right to left, stood Johnston (a member since 1966), guitarist Christian Love (son of) lead singer co-founder and sole original member Mike Love, singer-guitarist Brian Eichenberger and Wedemeyer.
Listing the personnel acknowledges that the band has inevitably changed over its 60 years; its consistency has varied. The crew at Proctors played and sang with practiced precision. They grooved with muscle car power glide, harmonized in lush chords and their solos sparkled.
Backdrop video goofed on the Beach Boys’ cultural pervasiveness before they started, and Love later noted he’d been at Proctors for its grand opening. (He was actually born 15 years later.)
Their opener “Do It Again” felt like a mission statement, Love’s voice a bit wobbly to start. Projected lyrics encouraged fans to sing “Surfin’ Safari” and later tunes; then the band stayed with seaside mid-tempo rockers “Catch a Wave” and “Hawaii.”
Pointing out the Ramones had covered the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ Safari,” Love delighted in returning the favor, singing all punk staccato in “Rockaway Beach.” Then another mid-tempo sand and surf anthem “Surfin’ USA” stretched some with organ and guitar breaks before the first ballad, “Surfer Girl.”
They held this romantic mood through “Getcha Back,” wrapped around the more familiar “Wendy” with another deep cut, “Kiss Me Baby,” then another, “Good to My Baby.”
Harmonies and lush guitars, six-string acoustic with 12-string electric, earned a good response; so did Leago’s baritone sax break in “Good to My Baby.”
The band was mostly workmanlike, un-showy; but drummer Bolton was all high-flying sticks and adrenaline, striking poses between phrases, smacking himself upside the head and singing “Darlin’” surprisingly well, for all the histrionics. Later, he took “Wild Honey” too far over the top.
Wedermeyer punched up “Be True to Your School,” Love recounting how sometime drummer John Stamos replied “That’s the year I was born” when Love told him it was written in 1963. While such school spirit seems obsolete, its groove still packed the punch of a parking lot burn-out.
“In My Room,” “Don’t Worry Baby” next and other high-range numbers featured guitarist Eichenberger’s faithful echo of the late Carl Wilson’s falsetto. Love took over again with car songs “Little Deuce Coupe,” “409,” “Shut Down” with another Leago baritone sax break, the playful cruise of “Little Honda” and the vocal powerhouse “I Get Around.”
The break ended with video reminders of how the Beach Boys and Beatles ruled late-60s radio pop. Johnston sang lead on “God Only Knows,” Eichenberger took over in “Then I Kissed Her” and Love next saluted “California Girls.” (The Beatles’ “Back in the U.S.S.R” is more fun, better guitars, too.)
“Girls” and “Sloop John B” got good claps and singalongs, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” got everybody up and Bolton’s big vocal on “California Dreamin’” kept everybody all in with it, especially with hot solos from Wedemeyer (12-string) and Leago (alto).
“The Warmth of the Sun,” slow and serene, served up sumptuous wordless vocals behind Eichenberger’s sky-high lead. From the familiar to the fresh (but also nostalgic), Love introduced “Pisces Brothers,” a new tune mourning George Harrison and commemorating the Beatles’ and Beach Boys’ introduction to TM in India.
Then they rocked back to jukebox classics, fans often singing along as video of departed Beach Boys and other stars pumped the nostalgia. “Barbara Ann” hit hardest in this late run; Love sang strong in “Kokomo” and Eichenberger falsetto’ed “Good Vibrations” over the moon.
Sole founding member Mike Love dominated. Just as he has always used the most minimal gestures, he has never had to push his voice in Beach Boys songs. Most were written for it, or Carl Wilson’s falsetto, so it has lasted well. Sunday’s feel-good show didn’t acknowledge past disputes between Love and main writer Brian Wilson, now seemingly retired. It was fun, fun, fun all the way.
Having seen the Beach Boys since JFK was still alive, in their striped shirts and Honda ride onstage days, I noticed that in those decades when they drew big SPAC crowds every summer, they alternated: good show one summer, weak show the next.
Sunday’s was a good one.
- Do It Again
- Surfin’ Safari
- Catch a Wave
- Rockaway Beach
- Surfiin’ USA
- Getcha Back
- Kiss Me Baby
- Good to My Baby
- Be True to Your School
- In My Room
- Don’t Worry Baby
- Little Deuce Coupe
- Shut Down
- Little Honda
- I Get Around
- God Only Knows
- Then I Kissed Her
- California Girls
- Sloop John B
- Wouldn’t It Be Nice
- California Dreamin’
- Warmth of the Sun
- Pisces Brothers
- When I Grow Up to Be a Man
- Help Me Rhonda
- Do You Wanna Dance
Rock and Roll Music
- Wild Honey
- Barbara Ann
- Good Vibrations
- Fun, Fun, Fun