The 50th Anniversary Tour of The Beach Boys is a Halley's Comet type of rock event. Miss it and you’ll likely never see this again. And the sight of Brian Wilson performing onstage with litigious cousin Mike Love and the rest of the surviving members of the legendary group was easily special enough to excuse a few off-key moments and Love’s unseemly panhandling.
Wilson last toured with the band in 1965 and since then has only joined scattered shows over the last four decades. For Brian geeks everywhere – including me – this has been a godsend. The recovery of the reclusive genius from addiction and mental illness has already seen him restore his lost masterpiece, Smile, twice. Once as a solo project and again last year in its originally intended Beach Boys form. Other solo albums in recent years have demonstrated Wilson’s creative juices are flowing again.
So much so that this tour wasn’t just a reunion, it was in support of a new album of all original material, another cause of excitement for us Brian geeks. Two of the new songs were included in the June 3 set at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine.
The sense of a tired oldies act being replaced by a rock band with renewed purpose was palpable and exciting as “Do It Again” rang out in the opening moments. In front of a large video screen made to look something like the marquee of a drive-in theater, original members Wilson, Love, Al Jardine, David Marks as well as Bruce Johnston (whose talent and low-key personality helped keep the band together when he joined them in the mid-1960s) and an 11-piece backing band offered up a sound as full and lush as the band had ever conjured on stage.
It must have been a challenge to find the right set list to deliver, especially with the new album being released two days after the show, yet it felt right and balanced with a mix of early hits, late '60s classics, a few '70s chestnuts, the two new songs, and well, “Kokomo.”
From the opener, the band went right into a medley of "Little Honda"/"Catch a Wave"/"Hawaii"/"Don’t Back Down" and "Surfin’ Safari," before Love took a moment to jokingly acknowledge the advancing age of the band, “We’d now like to take an intermission, followed by a nap and come back and finish this some other day,” he said.
Later, they would in fact take a 20-minute intermission, but not before a first half that included highlights such as Wilson’s “Surfer Girl,” Johnston’s “Disney Girls” and “Isn’t it Time,” from the new album That’s Why God Made the Radio, a song as much about the current reunion as anything, and reminiscent of The Beatles's “Free as a Bird.”
Opening the second half of the show with “Put Some Music to Your Day,” sung around and alone with Wilson’s grand piano, proved the band still has the vocal chops to carry off the most famous harmonies in rock history.
Wilson and his brothers would provide much of the highlights of the second half with Brian leading “Sloop John B,” “Just Wasn’t Made for These Times,” “Heroes and Villians,” and a magical “Sail On, Sailor.”
It’s not surprising the group would join in a recent trend to bring back long gone performers onstage via various technologies. The Beach Boys brought back the late Carl Wilson on video and tape for “God Only Knows” and the late Dennis Wilson the same way for “Forever.”
The very much alive Dean Torrance of Jan and Dean also joined them onstage for “Barbara Ann” during the encore to help send fans off with a smile.
If there was any low point, it was Love’s annoying efforts throughout the show to get the audience to order the new album via Amazon. The idea of a fresh, new collection of Beach Boys songs written and produced by Wilson is more than enough to send plenty of people off to buy or download the new album without Love’s repeated prompting. The album is likely to be one of the bigger popular and critical successes of the year and the tour a rare, but hopefully not fleeting glimpse of one of rock’s greatest acts. More than just a silly rock-and-roll “bucket list” item to be crossed off, it was pure fun, fun, fun.