As the Beach Boys played their way around London last week, the word across town was of great sounds but bad vibrations. If the much-publicized rift in the familial ranks was ever going to show, it would surely be at this final date that may yet prove the swansong of the “original” group line-up. But the only thing emanating from the stage was sonic sunshine.
As the group’s reunion tour pulled up for its final laps around the 50th anniversary track, media engagements were fulfilled for BBC Radio 2 last Monday (24) and BBC2 TV’s “Later…With Jools Holland” on Tuesday, both broadcast live, or close to it. The Radio 2 show, and Thursday’s at the Royal Albert Hall, caught a wave of rapturous reviews. Among the “broadsheet” press, there were five stars from the Guardian, Daily Telegraph and Independent, four from the Times and Financial Times.
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But before school’s out, a familiar sourness was in the air. The law suits over copyright and name ownerships that had scarred the recent history of this American institution came sharply back into focus with the news that Mike Love was, effectively, firing Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and David Marks from the Beach Boys at the end of the tour and resuming commitments (from this Friday in Waco, Texas, it would appear) with only Johnston from the line-up, under the group name that he owns. Wilson expressed surprise; Jardine went so far as to start a petition, essentially to be allowed back into his own group. It could only happen in the Beach Boys’ world.
But if the Wembley Arena concert does prove to be the last breaker on the group’s illustrious shoreline, they could hardly have gone out on a sweeter note. Sticklers may have noted that, both on the remarkably strong “That’s Why God Made The Radio” album and on stage, the group’s sound is rounded out to almost unrealistic proportions by their superb backing band, fundamentally the same musicians who have accompanied Brian on his triumphant tours of the past decade-plus. But, in all honestly, when they sound this good, no one needs to be counting.
Better still, both for diehards and new converts, the expanded group played as if this might indeed be the last time we see them in this configuration, in a set of almost limitless ambition that ran to an incredible 55 tracks. They opened with the apt “Do It Again,” Mike Love working the crowd in gold jacket and trademark cap while Brian sat at the piano stage right and the other frontmen moved around them. The expanded group of 15-plus set about delivering an exhaustive resumé of those five decades, from all the major hits to the minor ones, with plenty of key album tracks along the way.
How many Beach Boys fans can have imagined they would see these four 70-somethings, plus early compadré Marks, a mere 64, playing early hot rod and surf tunes like “Little Honda,” “Catch A Wave” and “Kiss Me Baby” ever again, let alone relive the magnificence of Brian’s early soul-searching on “Please Let Me Wonder,” “Wendy” and “Don’t Worry Baby”?
We were already on song No. 30 when “I Get Around” brought the first half to a high-octane conclusion. But somehow this combination of veteran expertise and youthful exuberance found not one, but two extra gears for an extraordinary second half that included emotional tributes to departed brothers Dennis and Carl, in a truly bottomless casket of Californian treasure. Even if much of the apparent bonhomie on stage may have been polished over decades of stagecraft, the affection that flowed towards the stage was genuine and overwhelming.
Having stopped off at “Pet Sounds,” “Surf’s Up,” “Holland” and other lifetime landmarks, they departed, the first time, with a carousing “Surfin U.S.A.” We should have known there was more “Fun Fun Fun” in store; let’s just hope it can again, someday, be with a full complement of surviving Beach Boys and not just the fragmented components.