56 years after forming, the Beach Boys are still in existence, though as two separate groups – one led by Brian Wilson (performing as “Brian Wilson”) and one led by Mike Love (performing as “The Beach Boys”).
In this corner!
On August 17, the Mike Love faction took over NYC’s Beacon Theatre on their “2017 Wild Honey World Tour.” Mr. Love (sporting an orange Beach Boys logo baseball cap), along with long-time Beach Boy Bruce Johnston (wearing a navy blue one) and their since-1998, six-piece touring band featuring Jeff Foskett on guitar and vocals, let loose with an evening of California-themed showmanship and nostalgia. Entertainment was the name of the game, complete with a distracting video backdrop. And talk about audience participation – as soon as we took our seats there was annoyance behind, in front, and all around. Luckily there were empty seats (in fact an entire empty row) in a better section, so after intermission – and an overpriced cocktail at the bare-bones bar – it was time to move on down.
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wild Honey album, the show featured “Darlin’,” “Aren’t You Glad,” and, kicking off the encore, the lively, theremin-driven title track – with the stage bathed in honey-orange light. But that was it for Wild Honey. The rest of the 40-song performance hit the waves and the drag strips, fell for pretty girls, sailed ships, and, as expected, ended up in Kokomo. Along the voyage were the requisite collection of covers and even a few highlights from Pet Sounds, including “Caroline No” (didn’t expect that one without Brian around) and an eerie “God Only Knows” sung by the late Carl Wilson, his recorded voice dubbed over instead of Foskett, who sang most of Carl’s parts. The miracle of modern technology or just a macabre attempt to inject extra meaning into the song? Either way, both numbers came off kind of empty Brian-less.
Johnston offered up his composition from 1971’s Surf’s Up, “Disney Girls” (woulda rather heard anything else from that record, but Mike and Bruce were calling the shots). Love’s tribute to George Harrison, “Pisces Brothers,” with its accompanying visuals, seemed a bit overindulgent…and in the quietest moment of the night (yawn), an a cappella rendition of “Their Hearts Were Full of Spring,” originally by Beach Boys idols the Four Freshmen, showcased some proficient harmonies while the rest of the band took five. Okay, a concert can have its low points but…hey, at least we were spared the hokey “Transcendental Meditation” that closes 1968’s Friends album.
Oh these dudes are just too cool
And of course the greatest hits, the crowd-pleasers, the sing-alongs, with special guest burst-of-energy Mark McGrath (of late-90s band Sugar Ray) stirring up the audience at the beginning on “Do It Again” and at the end on “Barbara Ann” and “Fun, Fun, Fun.” And what would a Beach Boys show be without a spot-on rendition of their biggest, “Good Vibrations.” With cheesy slideshow of course.
Spot-on renditions. Entertainment. Nostalgia. Nothing wrong with that, but…
And in this corner!
On September 23, the Brian Wilson show lit up NYC’s elegant Radio City Music Hall in style with “Pet Sounds: The Final Performances.” Mr. Wilson, seated front-and-center at his white piano, with blue-suited original Beach Boy Al Jardine, flamboyant guitarist-vocalist Blondie Chaplin, and a nine-piece veritable rock ‘n’ roll orchestra, offered a heartfelt helping of hits, not-so-hits, and of course the iconic Pet Sounds in its entirety. And we got to witness it all just a few rows from the stage, thanks to Brian’s preference that, since the show was not a sell-out, those with nosebleed seats should be closer to him and take the empty orchestra seats.
Marking another 50th anniversary, that of Pet Sounds (the worldwide tour actually kicked off in 2016), the performance revolved – musically and physically – around the 75-year-old steadfast-yet-fragile heart and soul known as Brian Wilson. Beginning in the warm West Coast sun with “California Girls,” “I Get Around,” and the hot-rod hit singles, the first set featured a visibly emotional Brian singing “In My Room” and “Surfer Girl.” A bunch from the recent remix compilation 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow including “Let the Wind Blow” and “I’d Love Just Once to See You,” gorgeous lead vocals by Jardine’s son Matt on “Don’t Worry Baby” and “Let Him Run Wild” (and by Wondermint/keyboardist Darian Sahanaja on “Darlin’”), then it was time for life-of-the-party Blondie Chaplin’s entrance and a fun, fun, fun finish to set number one: “Feel Flows” from Surf’s Up (a pleasant surprise), “Wild Honey” (extended dance mix with Chaplin going punk-rock on guitar), and what’s become Chaplin’s signature Beach Boys lead vocal, “Sail On Sailor.”
A short intermission in the beautiful Radio City lobby sipping prosecco and admiring the grand staircase, and then…the main attraction. From the sparkling opening of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” to Brian’s unintentionally humorous intro to the instrumental “Let’s Go Away for Awhile” as a song with “no words or music” (what?), to – in many opinions – the greatest Beach Boys song ever, “God Only Knows” (in my opinion, one of the greatest songs period), in a genuinely tear-inducing interpretation miles above Mike Love’s resurrection of Carl Wilson. From Paul Von Mertens’ buzzing bass harmonica on “I Know There’s an Answer,” to more of Brian’s emotion surfacing on “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times,” to an extended percussion jam on “Pet Sounds” the song, to “Caroline No” which saw Brian get up and shuffle quickly offstage as the original album-ending dog and train sound effects plowed through the speakers, the stage dramatically backlit in sunset-red.
Radio City in Blue
Now the inevitable encores: “Good Vibrations” with a real artistic element adding to the original sound (and minus unnecessary eye candy in the background) – straight into a non-stop barrage of get-up-and-dance favorites culminating with “Fun, Fun, Fun” and a “Rhapsody in Blue” ending. How Brian is that. Finally, all was summed up by twelve voices and a piano with “Love and Mercy” from Wilson’s 1988 solo album. A hand-holding band bow, initiated by Brian, and the lights were up. For all of Mike Love’s purported transcendentalism, the Brian Wilson evening transcended just about everything.
And the winner! I don’t know, you decide.
images courtesy ultimateclassicrock.com, istockphoto.com, twitter.com, en.wikipedia.org, mikelove.com, brianwilson.com, kennethinthe212.com, gaming-awards.com
Brian Wilson YouTube videos courtesy tonyrx93 and Rick Malecz; Mike Love YouTube video courtesy rangersdcfan (from Vienna, VA 8/20/17, not NYC – but you get the picture)