Sunday, June 10, 2012

Back to the beach!

We saw the Beach Boys on Friday, making the trek up to the Woodlands to catch the venerable band at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion on one of only two Texas stops during their 50th anniversary reunion tour. With various factions of the band suing each other over the past decade, the cynic in me thinks back to the Rolling Stones and how many times that band has been at each others' throats until a lucrative concert tour and album deal proves that if you throw enough money at a problem, hurt feeling eventually go away. But cynicism aside, these were the Beach Boys for crying out loud. With Brian Wilson, who hasn't toured with the group since his infamous breakdown in '64. They're all in their 60s and 70s, with a good chance that this will be the last chance to ever catch them playing together--remember, brothers Carl and Dennis Wilson have already passed away. I missed several opportunities to see them live in the 80s, and with the family all fans of their, catching this show was a no-brainer.

We were nervous, though. We'd gotten lawn seats, which are uncovered, and the skies looked ominous all day. It rained on us briefly as we grabbed dinner before the show, and the air was thick and humid. Thankfully, the clouds kept temperatures relatively cool. We got in early and snagged a pretty prime location for the show, although to be honest, there aren't really any bad seats unless you get a view obstructed by one of the pavilion's support pillars. The clouds threatened, sprinkling a few times, but then the show started and blue sky opened up. We were off!

The show opened with "Do It Again," an obvious choice (curiously, their much-hyped re-recording of this tune promoting the tour doesn't appear on the new album), and the crowd ate it up. They followed it with "Little Honda" and "Catch a Wave" (I found myself really, really hoping they'd slip in a verse of "Sidewalk Surfing" but it was not to be). Brian sat behind his grand piano, with Bruce Johnston on the opposite end of the stage behind keybords and Mike Love, Al Jardine and David Marks in between. Scattered about the rest of the stage was Brian's backup band, the Wondermints, and several of Mike's backing musicians as well. It became clear early on why there were so many other performers--the Boys' voices weren't what they used to be, and couldn't hit all the high notes they were once known for. Brian, in particular, had issues with his vocals. His voice was thin early on, very apparent on "Surfer Girl" and "Marcella," and on a couple of occasions he just trailed off, not finishing the lyric at hand. He got stronger as the evening wore on, and sounded fantastic on "Isn't It Time?" one of two tracks from the new album. That song sounded great, too, as Monkey Girl and I looked at each other in surprise and agreed that we liked it very much--we'd expected the newer material to be lacking, but that and the title track off the new album, "That's Why God Made the Radio," are both keepers in my book.

The audience skewed older than most concerts--my 42 is the likely median age--but there were plenty of teens and younger kids along to balance us old (and older) farts. I will say I have never seen so many Hawaiian shirts in my life, although for the sake of full disclosure, I've never been to a Jimmy Buffett concert, either. But to show that it wasn't just the old, nostalgic folks getting into the music, I now share with you this clip of Bug showing off "his moves" during "Little Honda."

Brian seemed pretty fragile all night, although when he hit his stride, he was magnificent. Al gave a good accounting for himself as well, doing a rip-roarin' version of "Cotton Fields" that was light years better than the version from the 20/20 album. Bruce got to shine with his often overlooked "Disney Girls." But the man who impressed me most was Mike. Through all the squabbles and ill-advised comments to the press over the years, I'd gotten the impression that Mike had an ego bigger than California itself, with a sense of self-importance to match. That may be, but he was the prototypical front man, winning the crowd over immediately with easy humor and generously bragging about the skills and contributions of the other bandmembers without directly tooting his own horn. He really came off as someone you'd want to hang out with, and that's exactly what you want in a front man. He even made a series of potentially-awkward sales pitches funny when he announced (over and over again) that the new CD was available at the show for a surprisingly low price of $5 (doubly surprising when you saw the gouging prices of t-shirts and other souvenirs). The band had also autographed 50 of the discs, and randomly placed those sets in amongst the others to be sold. And that anyone with a signed CD would get to meet the Beach Boys (minus Brian, presumably) after the show. The reason? They'd been battling Adelle for the top spot on the Billboard album chart, and really, really, really wanted to score the no. 1 album for the week. Hence, they were pumping their numbers with sales at the show. It sounds kinda crass, but hearing Mike Love explain it was hilarious.

Alas, the weather wasn't nearly so entertaining. Ominous clouds rolled over, and lightning came quicker and closer all the time. I breathed a sign of relief when they played "Sloop John B." mine and Monkey Girl's favorite Beach Boys song, hands down (yes, I know it's a Kingston Trio cover. Still, Brian's arrangement is monumentally spectacular). I checked the weather radar on my new smartphone, and discovered some seriously ugly storms moving toward us from the east. The Wife and I, on our own, might have stuck it out. But we had three kids on uncovered lawn seats. No way could we get caught in a nasty storm with them unprotected. Following a really nice rendition of "Heroes and Villains" halfway through the second set (Monkey Girl was extremely happy they played that--and when I informed here there was a supposedly lost 14-minute take of that song from the Smile sessions, she just about had a conniption), we packed our stuff and moved up the hill to the exit. We camped out near the gate through "That's Why God Made the Radio," but then the wind really picked up, and lightning really started flashing. Lots of people began leaving at that point. Considering the show was a near-sellout, with approximately 16,000 folks in attendance, we didn't want to get caught in a mad rush for the exits if the skies opened up. Over the kids' protests, we exited the venue. Which is a shame, because we missed seeing the Dennis/Carl tribute I'd heard quite a bit about, although we were able to hear both songs. We got down to the park below, and the weather seemed to back off a bit, so we found a park bench and took in the rest of the set. "Good Vibrations," "All Summer Long," "California Girls," "Help Me Rhonda," they all sounded great. We danced on the lawn. Bug ran around like a maniac. Some rain kicked up again during "Rock and Roll Music," so we headed out to the parking lot. We listened to "Do You Wanna Dance?" and "Surfin' USA" as we walked, and just as we got to the car, it started to pour. Even so, we sat there in the parking lot with the window opened, listening for what came next. Silence, except for the cheering of the crowd. "They've left the stage," I decided, then told the kids, "They'll be back for the encore in a moment. Listen." Just then, a huge roar went up. And that's all we heard. Between the wind and rain, all remaining sounds were drowned out. I later learned we'd missed "Kokomo"--not their best, but still an enjoyable tune--along with "Barbara Ann" and "Fun, Fun, Fun." That last song was one I'd really wanted to hear, but more than that, I regret missing Brian step out from behind his piano and strap on a bass for the final numbers. That would've been cool.

All in all, it was a fun show. That was the main takeaway. All of the core band members seemed to be enjoying the heck out of performing on stage in front of all of us, and even Brian offered up the occasional smile as he played. The backing musicians were unobtrusive, doing their best to pick up the slack when the original players couldn't play a particular note or sing in a particular register. The illusion worked well, for the most part. At any rate, it evoked visions of the Beach Boys from the 80s, when they were one of the busiest touring bands in the country. Of course, Carl was with them then, doing most of the vocal heavy lifting. Still, that version of the band didn't have Brian performing, and fragile or not, how many times do you get to see a veritable musical genius play in person? If they stick together long enough, I'll be more than happy to catch them again. Who knows? Maybe I'll get lucky and hear them sing "I Can Hear Music" or "Let Him Run Wild" or "Surf's Up." A guy can dream, can't he?

Beach Boys set list
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, The Woodlands, Texas
June 8, 2012

Do It Again
Little Honda
Catch a Wave
Don't Back Down
Surfin' Safari
Surfer Girl
Please Let Me Wonder
This Whole World
Disney Girls
Then I Kissed Her
Kiss Me, Baby
Isn't It Time?
Why Do Fools Fall in Love?
When I Grow Up (to Be a Man)
Cotton Fields
It's OK
Be True to Your School
Ballad of Ole' Betsy
Don't Worry Baby
Little Deuce Coupe
Shut Down
I Get Around


Add Some Music to Your Day
California Saga: California
Sloop John B.
Wouldn't It Be Nice
I Just Wasn't Made for These Times
Sail On Sailor
Heroes and Villains
In My Room
All This Is That
That's Why God Made the Radio
God Only Knows
Good Vibrations
California Girls
All Summer Long
Help Me, Rhonda
Rock and Roll Music
Do You Wanna Dance?
Surfin' USA

Barbara Ann
Fun, Fun, Fun
Now Playing: Brian Wilson Smile
Chicken Ranch Central

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the photos, and the review. We are going to see Journey and I was stressing over the lawn seats, but not enough to pay $100/ticket. ;-)