Reunited with Brian Wilson, California's most iconic pop export performs on Hollywood's most iconic stage
By Melinda Newman
Special to MSN Music
In the '60s, the Beach Boys' music brought Southern California to life for the rest of the world, portraying the sun-kissed coast not only as the perpetual land of girls, sand and surf, but as a state of mind that promised blue skies and eternal youth.
At their hometown sold-out Hollywood Bowl show June 2, the ultimate boys of summer celebrated their 50th anniversary, selling nostalgia and fun, fun, fun. The tour, which started three weeks earlier, marks the first time that Brian Wilson has played extensively with fellow founding members Mike Love and Al Jardine (and '60s recruits David Marks and Bruce Johnston) in decades. With blended bands and 15 people onstage, the show could have been a train wreck, but instead it was a glorious celebration of some of the most beautiful pop music ever created.
Love acted as the ringleader, singing lead on the bulk of the tunes and keeping the pacing tight in between pitches to order the band's 29th studio album, "That's Why God Made the Radio," (and first with Wilson in decades), released on June 5.
Wilson remained largely inscrutable, seated like a benevolent overload behind his white grand piano stage right, watching the proceedings from a bit of a remove, often raising a hand to direct or act out a lyric. Wilson has ceded his falsetto parts on such songs as "Catch a Wave" and "California Girls" to Jeffrey Foskett, who is a vocal doppelganger for Wilson, and who has been the leader for Wilson's band since he resumed touring 14 years ago. However, Wilson ably, if slightly robotically, handled leads on several songs, including "Sloop John B," "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" and even "Sail On, Sailor," standing in for Blondie Chaplin, who sang lead on the record.
While there is admittedly something slightly out of sync with hearing men in their late 60s and early 70s sing the teen yearnings of "In My Room," "Be True to Your School," and "When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)," any discomforting weirdness was more than compensated by the beautiful sonic landscape created by the harmonies.
His bandmates always served as the vocal realization of the music Wilson heard in his head. These complete symphonies, often with staggeringly complex arrangements, were brought to life through the heavenly harmonies originally rendered by his brothers (the late Carl and Dennis Wilson, both of whom received video salutes), Jardine, cousin Love and Johnston. Impossible as it seemed, a half-century later and after more feuds, breakups, breakdowns and tragedies than imaginable, the vocal bloom remained angelically intact, undiminished by time and decades of rancor.
Nowhere was that clearer than on the calliope swirl of "Heroes and Villains," from "Smile." The song features some of the most intricate, ambitious vocal arrangements ever featured in a pop song, and the band pulled it off with mesmerizing beauty. The backing band was certainly bolstering the sound, but the Beach Boys were doing the bulk of the heavy lifting.
More on Bing: The Beach Boys
While most acts with so vast a catalog resort to medleys or snippets of songs, the Beach Boys were able to perform a wide swath of their hits in full -- thanks to the two-minute single length prevalent in the '60s -- and still have room for a wide range of B-sides and obscure tunes, such as "Please Let Me Wonder," "Marcella," "Kiss Me, Baby" and "Ballad of Ole' Betsy." Plus, in their 46(!)-song set, the Beach Boys threw in a handful of tunes that influenced them (and which they later recorded), including Leadbelly's "Cotton Fields" and the Crystals' "Then He Kissed Me" (changed to "Then I Kissed Her"), as well as two tracks from the new set. Of course, it helped that tunes came in four- or five-song rapid bursts, one rolling right into the next, and often grouped together by themes, such as car songs or a suite from their masterpiece, "Pet Sounds."
The nearly three-hour show had a number of high points, but the image sure to stay with many longtime fans was that of the five members, clustered around Wilson and the piano to sing "Add Some Music to Your Day." It's a lesser song in the Beach Boys canon, but the striking visual of the quintet so close together, harmonizing just as they did 50 years ago, made it easy to believe that an endless summer could truly be more than just a myth.
Melinda Newman is the former West Coast bureau chief for Billboard magazine. She has covered music and entertainment for the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, MSN, AOL Music, Hitfix.com, Variety, People Country and other outlets. Recent interviews include Taylor Swift, Susan Sarandon, Pink, Jeff Bridges, Brad Paisley, Foo Fighters, Katy Perry and Carly Simon.