Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Especially Without Looking Too Close or Thinking Too Hard, A Night of Fun, Fun, Fun -- Concert Review: The Beach Boys

Concert Review

The Beach Boys
Chicago Theatre
May 22, 2012

(Note: I wasn't able to take photos inside the show; for an additional review, with photos and full setlists for both Monday and Tuesday night's shows, visit Consequence of Sound.)

In my admittedly convoluted mind, thoughts about the Beach Boys over the years have been somewhat confused and conflicted, which likely at times has shortchanged my appreciation for their legacy.

Too young for their initial wave, I think I came to know of the Beach Boys in the mid-to-late '70s, when their greatest hits set, Endless Summer, became part of my family's record collection.

I certainly enjoyed the myriad pop gems--"Help Me, Rhonda," "Barbara Ann," "In My Room," "Surfin' Safari," "I Get Around" and on and on--but they just weren't as cool as what else I was getting to know in my youth, like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Queen and Pink Floyd.

It wasn't until many years later that I became aware of the brilliance of Pet Sounds and widespread reverence for Brian Wilson as a songwriter and innovator on par with Lennon & McCartney. And learning about Brian also meant learning about his mental health and substance abuse issues, his much devolved role with the band, his controversial therapy with Eugene Landy, etc.

The Beach Boys of my lifetime always seemed like an overtly populist oldies act, replete with lawsuits between various band members over rights to the band name. Other than "Kokomo," which I didn't even love, whatever new music they created never made much of an impact. Although I didn't pay too close attention to their biography, Mike Love didn't always seem like a great guy, I learned that Dennis Wilson had befriended Charles Manson (before the murders) and Brian's story was such a sad one.

Hence, despite seeing concerts by hundreds of different artists, I've never seen the Beach Boys in any form, excepting--once I became well-acquainted with his genius--a solo performance by Brian Wilson in 2008.

Although Dennis and Carl Wilson passed away in 1983 and 1998, respectively, Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine and two other members from various early incarnations--David Marks and Bruce Johnston--are currently touring the U.S. to celebrate the Beach Boys' 50th anniversary (they actually formed in Hawthorne, CA in 1961 but didn't release their debut album until the next year).

Intrigued enough to want to see them, I was initially shut out when tickets went on sale, but was recently able to score an upper balcony ticket on StubHub for under face value.

I'm glad I did, for the music I heard--43 songs over 2-1/2 hours--was fantastic.

Of course, the five core members are a long way from being "boys" and thus were backed by 10 additional musicians.

Although Brian sat at a grand piano and Johnston stood at a keyboard, neither actually played anything. At times Brian became relatively animated and still sang beautifully, but more often he resembled a statue. Sadly, the man is still not running on all cylinders.

But even with such impurities, the Beach Boys were more than enjoyable. I'm glad I saw the real thing (or as close as I'll come) rather than "The Beach Boys' Vegas Revue" or some other such concoction.

I'm not certain who is handling the musical direction for this outing, but he--everyone on stage was male--deserves high praise. The musicians sounded great--many of them had previously backed Brian on solo tours--and Jeff Foskett, a guitarist who also provided backing vocals, helped ensure that the glorious harmonies remained so while also hitting the falsetto notes when needed. Which isn't to imply that the five core members weren't singing live; all sounded in good voice.

I can be a purist at times, but on a night like this, there seemed to be no reason to get too particular about why things sounded so good; they just did. The Beach Boys have a new album coming out, from which they played the title track, "That's Why God Made the Radio," and if you had heard last night's concert on a radio, I'd suspect you'd think it sounded pretty wonderful.

While I probably haven't always given them their just due--on this 2010 list of My 100 All-Time Favorite Artists of Popular Music, I ranked the Beach Boys #81--I do now appreciate their brilliance. They have one of the greatest, and deepest, songbooks in rock history.

And most of the major chestnuts were mined last night--including "Good Vibrations," "Don't Worry Baby," "Fun, Fun, Fun" and many more you can see on the setlist. There were also a number of songs with which I wasn't familiar--"Cottonfields," "409" and others--that still sounded great, plus some choice covers such as "Then I Kissed Her" and "Why Do Fools Fall in Love."

It might sound somewhat maudlin that, in tribute to Dennis and Carl, the live musicians played and sang along with their recorded vocals on "Forever" and "God Only Knows," but these actually worked pretty well.

While standing and singing along with the full house--no, John Stamos wasn't there--on classics including "Sloop John B" and "Wouldn't It Be Nice" from Pet Sounds was as fun as I could have imagined, my favorite moment came when Brian Wilson followed these two songs with another from his masterpiece, "I Wasn't Made For These Times." He sang it beautifully, and it was hard not to be moved.

So even if the Beach Boys don't move with the same spring in their step anymore, and should be thankful they've surrounded themselves with such stellar singers and musicians, far from being a superficial showcase, their concert last night at the Chicago Theatre only helped take my regard for their legacy to even higher tide.

No comments: