Fun, Fun, Fun

 Posted by
Jul 032012

The Beach Boys, Columbia, MD, June 15, 2012.

I suspect I have been to/go to far fewer concerts than most of my fellow RTHers. And I’d guess I’ve seen far fewer acts as I tend to see the same folks over and over.

Still and all, I’ve seen some shows that I think would inspire envy: Springsteen from second row center at the Tower in December 1975; Dylan’s 4-hour club show at Toad’s Place in New Haven; Beefheart, Talking Heads, and Costello in the very early days; Sinatra a couple of times…

But 2 weeks ago I saw what may have been the best concert in my life. which I suspect many of you won’t believe; I can hardly believe it myself. I’m talking about the Beach Boys’ 50th Reunion Tour.

First, the back story. (I’ve told some of this before but can’t find it to provide a link; maybe it was back in the RTH v1 days.) My kids are Beach Boys and Brian Wilson fans from back in the day when I could control the radio dial / cassette player / CD player in the car. We listened to oldies and Brian and the gang naturally figured prominently. So they’ve known the classic BB songs since they were toddlers.

In 1997, I took my daughters, then ages 9 and 6, to see the Beach Boys (of course without Brian but with Carl, who was only to live a few more months). It was the first time I had seen them as well. It was a fine concert that the girls absolutely loved. They sang along, danced in the aisle and still talk about it 15 years later.

In 1998, when Brian was promoting Imagination, he did a signing session at Borders in downtown Chicago. I took my daughters and my then-18-month-old son to meet Brian.

My daughters had been listening to and loving the Imagination album and were excited to meet Brian. We drove 2 hours into Chicago (we lived 35 miles northwest of the city but 2 hours wasn’t unusual for that trip), then waited 45 minutes in line. My daughters, in anticipation of meeting Brian, had drawn a poster for him. It contained little pictures depicting each song from the album. When it was our turn, they presented their original poster to Brian, while I explained what it was. Brian, sadly, didn’t acknowledge the poster or my daughters or son or me at all. He kept his head down, scrawled his name on the copy I had had made, and that was it. On the way home, my 7 year old, bless her heart, said that the whole thing was kind of disappointing but still she was glad that we went and she had the chance to “meet” Brian. (To add insult to injury, 6 years later his Getting in Over My Head album had a cover with little pictures depicting each song. I’m not saying he stole Kate & Rebecca’s idea, I’m just saying…)

"You scratch my back, I'll scratch Brian's."

That 7 year old is now 21 and spent the last school year at St. Andrew’s in Scotland. When she read about the reunion tour she sent off an e-mail to the family saying we had to go. Kate joined in on the request as did Matthew. He had no memories of the Chicago signing but he’d heard his sisters talk about that and the concert enough to be jealous so now he wanted his chance as well.

Kate now lives in Baltimore and, as it happened, the reunion tour was playing 20 minutes from her in Columbia, MD on June 15, the Friday of Father’s Day weekend.

It took a lot of internal monologue for me to convince myself that we should do this. $270 for 5 lawn tickets seemed like an awful lot for what I was sure was going to be a train wreck (and no way was I going to go 7 large for covered seats). But I decided what the heck, at least it would be a fun family outing and another memory for the kids.

In the lead-up I watched the Boys on Kimmel and Leno and watched a few YouTube videos of the early reunion shows. They were horrible. Brian was his usual deer-in-the-headlights mannequin in front of prop keyboards. Mike Love had no voice left. Vocals were clearly being doubled and tripled. And there were so many missed notes.

Well, June 15 came and it was certainly a perfect night for an outdoor concert. Comfortable temperatures, no bugs, lawn seats that were close to the end of the covered seats and right in front of a large video screen.

And you know what? From the moment they hit the stage to “Do It Again” it was close to perfect. Mike Love’s vocals were strong and there were precious few smarmy comments. David Marks played some nice restrained surf guitar licks. The backing band (a combination of the Mike & Bruce touring band and Brian’s Jeff Foskett/Wondermints band) was fantastic. Close to 50 songs spread over about 3 hours. All the hits and a few rarities, and the only real head scratcher was “Ballad of Old Betsy” (look it up). Nice video tributes to Dennis and Carl (each “taking” a lead vocal via video with live backing; no holograms).

And even Brian came through. Yeah, for most of the show he was a mannequin. And he missed a lot of notes. But there were two moments that were transcendent. “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” was unbelievable. I know there are those who think back story isn’t supposed to matter but knowing what Brian has been through and hearing him sing his soul out in a battered voice was so so good. And if anybody else said this I would totally dismiss it, but those missed notes on this song fit in just perfectly. And then he led the band for “Heroes & Villains,” singing the lead, directing everyone else, vocals and instruments, gesturing, and totally there. And I thought “This is what it would have been like if I could have been in the studio when he was recording Smile.”

So, was it really the best concert I ever saw? Well, on an absolute basis I can’t say it surpasses many other shows I’ve seen but on an absolute basis it was a fantastic concert. And compared to my expectations it surely had the largest gap between what I was prepared for and what was delivered and so in that respect it was the best. It was so good I sure wish I had spent the $700 for seats close to the stage!

And the better half and the kids just absolutely and totally loved it, from the opening note to the last; only if Uncle Jesse – John Stamos – had been there would it have been better for them. And so as a dad – on Father’s Day weekend no less – it was great for me to share music that I love with the family and create memories that will, I’m sure, be enjoyed and discussed long after I’m gone.

So, have any other RTHers seen this reunion? What did you think? (Back in the RTH v1 days there was someone – Christian? [Mod. – Yes, a close, personal friend of HVB.] – who was a big Beach Boys fan. If he’s on v2 he’s a lurker, but I’d love to get his comments).

And what concerts have you seen that were vastly better than your expectations? Or I suppose, what concerts were vastly worse?


  8 Responses to “Fun, Fun, Fun”

  1. Good review. My wife and I and two friends went to this show too — took half a day off to make the trek to Merriweather Post from Northern VA. Supposedly they were going to blow the place up a few years ago, but it creaks on.

    I was skeptical about going — to say the least. I walked out on the Mike Love “Beach Boys Band” show in 2005 at Wolf Trap, vowing never to see him again. But I couldn’t stay away and coughed up the dough to get some tix on StubHub a couple of weeks before the show.

    For a bunch of over 60s dudes, they had good energy. Love kept the corny jokes and goofy gestures to a minimum, and David Marks was surprisingly good. Al Jardine may have the best voice of the bunch right now. We had an angle to see Brian’s keyboard playing – or lack thereof — but he did sing pretty well most of the time. I thought Love’s weakest moment was near the end on “Kokomo” — he was just gassed at that point.

    My wife said she never saw so many walkers at a show, but there were a lot of young people there too, so that was nice to see.

    I still remember a Beach Boys show I saw as teenager at the old Met Center, when Dennis and Carl were still alive. Dennis sang a couple of songs. One was “You Are So Beautiful,” which I didn’t realize until later that he co-wrote. Carl sang God Only Knows — so I really enjoyed that show — but of course — there was no Brian. Overall, this reunion show was nicely done — and it is very classy to give a nod to Dennis and Carl.

  2. There were a lot of walkers and wheelchairs for sure. And you are right – an awful lot of young kids just loving the music – and the beach balls!

  3. Great story, Al, and the ties with your kids are always fun to read. I like when a show ties back to moments through the ages.

  4. diskojoe

    It’s nice to know that you had a good time w/your family, Al. I was thinking of seeing them in Boston, but I guess I blew it. I did get to see Brian twice in 1999 & 2004, so I’m not totally bummed out about it. I think that the key to the sucess of tjis tour is that they are using Brian’s band, especially Jeff Foskett, who seems to be the leader & had worked w/the rest of the Beach boys.

  5. Happiness Stan

    Nice review Al, I’ve always been extremely nervous about broaching the Beach Boys live, and have never bitten the bullet – although I did see Brian at Glastonbury which was a great set even though he didn’t look well enough to be up there.

    Having been to lots of Glastonburies and other UK festivals I’ve quite a lot of people I just happened to catch in passing and been impressed by as well as a number of disappointments. Among the disappointments have been Marianne Faithfull, David Bowie at Phoenix in about 1995 or 96, although his Glastonbury set a few years back was amazing, Paul McCartney, although all pale in comparison to Rod Stewart, who so completely misjudged the mood that it was utterly embarrassing. The Cocteau Twins were disappointing the first time I saw them, but transcendent at the Phoenix Festival. Nirvana’s final show at Reading was bloody awful, however the legend would have it.

    Those approached with more or less trepidation but who turned in an absolute blinder include Rolf Harris, Tori Amos (when she played the main stage about twenty years ago, she was shocking the last time I saw her there), Jimmy Cliff, The Polyphonic Spree, Joan Armatrading, John Martyn, Neil Diamond all did the business.

    Greatest of all was Johnny Cash, who blew the festival away just before it became fashionable to admit to having liked him all along. The ground actually shook when he sang and it was like watching someone harnessing an earthquake. It was the greatest set I’ve seen by anyone ever, and I can’t imagine ever experiencing anything like it again.

  6. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the show. It really did exceed my expectations. I expected it to be Mike Loves traveling state fair show, plus Brian. It wasn’t. It was a very tastefully done, LONG set designed for the fan. YES, Mike’s voice sucks now. Bruce’s voice sucks way, way worse though – I felt truly bad for him during Disney Girls – a song I adore and always wanted to hear live. But all told the band sounded great together and can still harmonize like crazy, especially with the aid of ringers like Jeffrey Foskett (and more power to ’em for bringing in those ringers in my book!)

    Speaking of Foskett, his voice was a highlight of the show. Even if he’s not a Beach Boy, he’s the only person I’ve ever heard other than ’60s Brian who can sing falsetto like ’60s Brian – so I’ll take it!

    The band did sweet but sappy singalongs that paid tribute to Carl by singing with his vocal track for God Only Knows, followed by the same for Dennis singing with his Forever vocal. The highlight of the show for me wasn’t that – or Darian Sahanaja singing Sail On Sailor (though I loved that). The highlight for me was Brian singing “Please Let Me Wonder”. I’d heard him sing the Pet Sounds stuff before – but MAN hearing him do a song from Today! just blew me away. What a performance! And what a song!

    The show wasn’t a complete success – there were tons of shudder worthy moments, many of them from Mike – but overall the good way outweighed the bad. And I am VERY happy I got to see it, even if at 35 I felt like by far the youngest guy there.

  7. hrrundivbakshi

    Alright, Christian! Thanks for bringing your two cents to the fray. I know you’re a busy, busy dude, but we always extra-like and extra-appreciate a lurker who responds to the Rock Town Hall SUMMONS — no matter how long the wait.

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