Saturday, February 06, 2010

Beach Boys today, and Brian Wilson's genius

A memorable comment from one of Brian Wilson's daughters was something to the effect that he may not have been a crash-hot father, but he was put on earth to create wonderful music.

I had the opportunity to see the Beach Boys on Thursday - a once in a lifetime opportunity, since I hadn't seen them before, and won't again.

I have an awful lot of respect for Brian Wilson as a composer and arranger, and he made much of the Beach Boys' music truly glorious.  But I have to acknowledge the part the rest of the group played in bringing his music to life.  That was what made the concert so worthwhile, despite Brian's absence.

They played at the Sydney Opera House, with backing from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, which certainly sweetened the experience.  They comprised Mike Love as the only original member, Bruce Johnston (a relative youngster, in the band for a tad under 40 years), plus five others.

The hirelings were particularly good at reproducing the vocal parts of Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Al Jardine - and even Mike Love.  With such a full reputation and catalogue, it's unsurprising they could attract the best; the music was quite professional, and well-arranged.  Mike Love, I have to say, would be hard-pressed today to make it through an audition.  He did contribute... but too often he came across like a grandfather on day release from a retirement home.  His movement was mostly confined to shuffling; his talk was cheesy, and he'd frequently start a song, only to let a younger colleague complete the parts he could no longer reach. Yet Love has to be given credit as the single important link to the past and the true band, and for that he has to be appreciated.

Love even participated in an a cappella rendition of Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring.  This was a nod to their roots, where the original Wilson brothers took their inspiration from the vocal harmonising of the Four Freshmen.  It was lovely to hear it; the original Beach Boys recording languished as an unreleased demo until 1993's five-disc box set Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys.

The concert's catalogue was, of course, drawn mostly from the 1960s, thus omitting some my later favourites.  But it was great to hear a couple of songs I hadn't heard before: The Ballad Of Betsy, and Kiss Me Baby (from the Deuce Coupe album and Help Me Rhonda b-side respectively).  The crowd got most roused for Good Vibrations and, for some reason, California Girls.  But the crowd was, for the most part real oldies.  It was the oldest-aged audience I've ever seen; my wife retured to the opera house the following night for some real opera (Tosca), and had to confess the audience was clearly much younger on the whole.

I can't pass up this opportunity to point to a recording on Youtube of Brian Wilson at his best.  For true aficionados, watch him perform Surf's Up solo in 1966.

The songs I'd have loved to hear, of those omitted, include:

Warmth Of The Sun
Surf's Up
Till I Die
California Saga: California
It's Okay

Songs they performed
Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring
Surfin' Safari
Surfin' USA
The Ballad Of Betsy
Little Deuce Coupe
Will I Grow Up To Be A Man
Be True To Your School

I Get Around
Barbara Anne
Do You Wanna Dance
Fun Fun Fun

Then I Kissed Her
Sloop John BGod Only Knows
Good Vibrations

Heroes And Villains
Disney Girls

California Girls
Don't Worry BabyHelp Me Rhonda
Kiss Me Baby
Wouldn't It Be Nice
Why Do Fools Fall In  Love


Mark said...

Apologists for Mike Love point out his contributions all the time, but it's not the point.
It's these fake Beach Boys shows that are the point. It's Mike Love's lawsuits over tunes he had little or no involvement with that are the point. These things can no more be ignored than his actual contributions.
If Love had followed Wilson's vision in the 60's, he would have gotten the money and respect he always wanted. But he's too resentful of his cousin's talents to have gone in for that. So let him rot in the musical purgatory of his own creation. I'd rather pay to watch Brian Wilson do a rap song than see Love's act.

bazza said...

Some years ago my daughter was working at Harrods in London when she served that 'new boy' Bruce Johnson. He gave her tickets for the VIP area and he asked "Are your parents cool"?
Naturally she said that we were (we are).
The outcome was that we all went to the concert at Wembley Arena in London. As we walked in the door upon arriving back home the phone was ringing and it was Bruce Johnson asking if we enjoyed the concert!
At that time Brian Wilson was not touring but Al Jardine was and they played practically the same set that they did in Sydney.
Apparently Bruce was a family man and missing his wife and four sons at home which was why he latched on to us (however he was charmed by my daughter but behaved impecably; ah, the Rock'n'Roll lifestyle, eh?)

S Simmonds said...

Hi Bazza,

Nice to hear of your personal connection.

Mike Love is a vexed issue for the Beach Boys. It's a constant irony to use the title 'Mike Love Not War' in a recording or release: Mike was definitely the combatative one.
He's also a revisionist, toning down his part in the great implosion of Brian Wilson's creativity.

People divide the Beach Boys into the Brian vs Mike camps, ie art vs commercialism. Mike _did_ have a significant part in the destruction of the original Smile project (thank goodness Brian resurrected it more recently! Nobody ever thought it could be recovered).

Equally, Mike is a significant voice in the Beach Boys sound. Although he is a serial litigant, he _did_ contribute to the songwriting (albeit probably not as much as he proclaims).

I have no problem with Mike Love being consigned to purgatory. And it was a bit embarrassing to see him so cheesy on stage. But I'm glad I saw that version of the Beach Boys live. Choosing between that and Brian Wilson doing rap? A tough choice. You could say it's worth seeing Brian Wilson do _anything_ musical, but then you'd end up in a debate about the status of rap.