The Beach Boys 50th anniversary concert tour is a real musical milestone. At least it was for me, when I caught their stop in Las Vegas last month. And on some level, a bit of a tear-jerker.
It’s the first time the band, with founder and spiritual leader Brian Wilson, have toured together since 1965. I caught the last big concert they did as the complete, original group, at the Hollywood Bowl, in an extravaganza that was billed – without irony – as their Summer Spectacular.
The bill included the Righteous Brothers, Sonny & Cher, The Byrds, The Kinks, Sir Douglas Quintet, Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs, Ian Whitcomb and Dino, Desi & Billy – among others. All were at the top of the charts then; it was indeed nothing short of spectacular!
Of course, the The Beach Boys’ core back then was Brian Wilson and his brothers Carl and Dennis, cousin Mike Love and school pal Al Jardine. Carl and Dennis have since died; Brian stopped touring in 1965 as he was consumed by song writing, studio work and – later – drug abuse.
In the decades since, the band’s composition has changed; musicians have come and gone. David Marks and Bruce Johnston are now counted as official “Beach Boys” members.
As with a lot of rock bands, there have times of great acrimony, splits, partial reunions and talk of new recordings. The Beach Boys probably have set some kind of rock ‘n’ roll record, however, for the number of times band members have sued each other, the band itself, its record companies and just about anyone else it could go after – in a series of battles over use of the Beach Boys name, royalties, recording rights and public appearances. I believe that for a time one or more of the band members had restraining orders against others.
But as Brian has emerged from long years in a near-stupor from heavy drug use, and physical degeneration – long story short – the hatchet was gradually buried. They performed together on the 2012 Grammy Awards show in February and then announced the 50th year tour idea, and plans for a new studio album.
It’s wonderful that the spotlight is again being focused on the band, which for all its acknowledged greatness, is still one of the most under-rated musical groups – not just rockers – of all time. I believe the set list for their Vegas concert contained 40 of their biggest hits – and still some were left off because of lack of time. And, in some cases, for the absence of the voices that originally sang them.
I suppose, in the beginning anyway, they all seemed too normal. Too much like the boys next door. For me, they were; for a time the Wilson family lived in a house across the street. For those of us who grew up in those times, in that place, it really was like “The Endless Summer”.
Success really came before the Beach Boys were ready for it – before they were even the Beach Boys. Brian scored an immediate and unexpectedly huge hit in 1961 with “Surfin’”. And then it was “game on.” This, even though musically challenged Carl and Dennis were pretty much included only at the insistence of their mom; each eventually learned to play musical instruments, write songs, sing lead vocals and even act – well after they were already famous. They even took turns leading the band, when Brian slipped into the background.
When charismatic, handsome Dennis drowned in 1983, trying to retrieve some personal items he had angrily thrown overboard from a boat in Marina Del Rey, it was a tragedy of staggering proportions. But the public outpouring of grief was nothing like the death three years earlier for Beatle John Lennon, although Dennis’ death was arguably a comparable blow to the music industry. Perhaps the low-key treatment of it had something to do with the fact the Beach Boys (not to mention surf bands, in general) were flirting with irrelevance then.
Dennis may finally get his due with a new movie about his life – or at least his torrid affair with Fleetwood Mac’s Christine (Perfect) McVie – that is due out within the year. Aaron Eckhart will play Dennis in “The Drummer”; maybe Dennis’ haunting “Pacific Ocean Blue” solo album will get the renewed interest – as it is due. (Don’t forget Brian’s worthy solo efforts, including the incredible, symphonic “Smile”.)
Carl died in 1998 from lung cancer, touring until nearly the end. It was painful for fans to watch; he had to sit down and take oxygen between numbers; he was clearly dying before our eyes.
Carl and Dennis is each remembered during the 2012 tour, in not only a series of photos flashed upon a drive-in movie type screen, but also on tape singing songs for which they will never be forgotten: Dennis crooning “Forever” and Carl appropriately on lead vocal for the monster hit, “God Only Knows.” The band seems to be still struggling to find a way to include the voices of Carl and Dennis on their new album, “That’s Why God Made the Radio.” (Due out today, btw.)
But the solo performances of Carl and Dennis on tape only reminded audiences on the 50thanniversary tour stops what a versatile group the Beach Boys were and still are.
Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Al Jardine also are all accomplished musicians, songwriters, arrangers and lead singers in their own right. Long-time band members David Marks’ and Bruce Johnston’s contributions also cannot be overlooked.
Seeing them all perform once again, as they did that one cool night May 27 at Vegas’ Red Rock Casino, brought back nostalgic memories of that similar July 3 night so many years ago at the Hollywood Bowl.
Maybe, after all, the summer really is endless.
June 5, 2012