Live: The Beach Boys, Houston
It’s really rather astonishing to realize that the reunited Beach Boys are currently touring the country to celebrate the band’s 50th anniversary with a pace that could make younger performers wilt. Each of the core band members may be hovering around 70 years old but the group’s music is as timeless and fresh as ever.
We caught the Boys Friday night for their show at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion just outside of Houston, and about a week removed from their triumphant sellout gig at the Hollywood Bowl near their hometown. As the band kicked in to “Do It Again” to start the show, it was amazing to hear the unique harmony of voices that seemed to have diminished very little over the course of time.
The band, consisting of Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Alan Jardine, David Marks and Bruce Johnston, along with members of Wilson’s and Love’s touring bands, ripped through 47 songs over a three-hour period with one intermission (a nap break?) and rocked a nearly sellout crowd of about 16,000. The set list was a nice mix of fast and slow, familiar hits and deep cuts arranged in a way to spotlight each member.
Wilson, the composer of many of these songs, sounded in weakest voice, particularly on the songs at the early point of the concert. He pulled off his solo vocal turn in “Surfer Girl” all right, but sounded rough on “Marcella” and, later in the show, his voice wavered on “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” from the classic album Pet Sounds. Although he’s also lost a bit of range, Love still sounded great on “Be True To Your School” and the rapid-fire barrage of car songs that ended the first half of the set: “Little Deuce Coupe,” “409,” “Shut Down” and “I Get Around.”
The night’s vocal MVP award has to be shared, though: Jardine sounded straight from the 1960s with his vocal spotlights on Leadbelly’s “Cotton Fields,” “Sloop John B,” his own “California Saga” and of course, “Help Me Rhonda.” The other MVP was Jeffrey Foskett of Brian Wilson’s backing band the Wondermints – Foskett held down the high vocal parts in place of original Beach Boy Carl Wilson, who died in 1998. When the Boys played two songs from their newest album That’s Why God Made The Radio (“Isn’t It Time?” and the title song) Foskett tracked Wilson’s vocal so closely that it almost seemed like they were singing along to a pre-recorded track.
The choice of non-hit, deep cuts was interesting to say the least: “This Whole World” from the 1970s, “Kiss Me, Baby” from the early days, the car song “Ballad of Ole Betsy,” and most regrettably, “All This Is That” from the equally regrettable Carl and the Passions album.
We had seen the Beach Boys a handful of times in the 1970s but we’d never experienced “Marcella,” “This Whole World,” “It’s OK” and “Add Some Music To Your Day” as well as “Sail On, Sailor” and “California Saga.” We felt privileged to have them Friday night.
Then there were covers of 1950s-1960s oldies: “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” by Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, “Then I Kissed Her,” reworked from the Crystals, and Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music.” But there was always a hit on deck, and the concert went into the home stretch with Bobby Freeman cover “Do You Want To Dance?” (which was a Beach Boys hit, too) and “Surfin’ U.S.A.” (swiped in part from Chuck Berry).
They came back for an encore with “Kokomo” then Wilson stepped out from behind his piano and strapped on a bass for “Barbara Ann” and “Fun,Fun,Fun.”
At a few points Love shamelessly hawked the band’s merchandise and the new album, explaining that they wanted to sell as many copies as possible so they could claim No. 1 on the Billboard album charts next week. That’s Why God Made The Radio was released last Tuesday, and when sales figures are released this Wednesday it is expected to be in the top three at least, making this the Beach Boys’ highest charting album in 37 years.
Observing that they are competing for that top spot with the likes of Alan Jackson and Adele, Love urged concertgoers to take advantage of a special offer: the CDs were marked down to five bucks apiece at the merch tables. As further incentive, each of the five core members of the Beach Boys autographed about 50 CDs, which were interspersed with the stacks of discs on sale.
And they sold a lot of them, as well – at one point someone announced the CDs were “sold out.” Making the whole evening a triumph for good old American capitalism, rock music and values. No better way to celebrate than with the Beach Boys; certainly it felt like the Fourth of July came a month early.
Sorry, we took the night off from taking photos to enjoy the music from up on the hill. Be sure and catch the Beach Boys live if you get a chance!
YouTube: Video clips from The Beach Boys’ show in Houston 6/8