Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Beach Boys, Chicago Theater, May 22

A cameraphone foto of someone taking a cameraphone foto of the Beach Boys
gathered around Brian's piano
For their 50th anniversary tour, which took place any way you count it during their 51st year, the Beach Boys put on a bizarrely awesome show. Awesome because the songs are so great, the energy was amazing, the crowd was excited, and 51 years deserves celebratin'. Bizarre because the balance between the PBS oldies special/state fair circuit showbiz shows Mike Love and Bruce Johnston and the active Beach Boys have been polishing for the last half of that half century jibes askewedly with the specialness of having Al Jardine, David Marks, and the worshipped-like-a-god Brian Wilson join them for an event. But Love's slick crowdpleasing was not unpleasant, just odd. At one point when he took out his iPhone I was confused and had to ask people what that meant (it as supposed to be the equivalent of holding up a lighter for an encore...though someone on stage holding up  a lighter for themself would be strange enough...and a performer having a phone in their pocket on stage seems equivalent to someone in KISS wearing a Timex over their space devil costume) Also, as the show wound down and they did "Good VIbrations" and "California Girls" it became apparent that Love would stand victorious..."Kokomo" would be the closer! (thankfully they did "Barbara Ann"  and "Fun Fun Fun" after "Kokomo".) As far as the surviving early 60s BBs being on stage, the secret weapon was David Marks, who was in the band very early and appears on the first few singles. Though there were probably two-dozen gifted musicians/singers, mostly incredibly young looking, on stage to fill out the sounds and the harmonies, Marks took almost every guitar solo, and skill-wise Marks can be described as the best guitar player in high school. Not to say that he was bad in any way, he was really great, but these were not slick Wrecking Crew solos, his style/skillset reminded you that Beach Boys was at its inception and its heart a talented teen band elevated by Wilson's wonderful sensibilities. Wilson seemed fully engaged and on board and the crowd went nuts whenever he sang lead (sounding like you'd expect him to sound, which is fine). His mic was always up and he sang harmonies...even on "Kokomo." That said, he plinked away at the piano all night and I don't recall ever actually hearing any piano, and certainly when he took centerstage with the others for an encore and was handed a bass (or guitar, it doesn't matter) that thing was not plugged in to anything. But he was into it, which is all that mattered. Al Jardine looked and sounded great, and he (as did everyone) took a spotlight song, doing a stellar job on "Cotton Fields." There was talk of a lot of interesting tracks using old Dennis tracks that didn;t end up on the new Beach Boys album, and I suspect we may see them on the upcoming jardine solo disc. Don't know if Bruce Johnston (the new kid, who joined in '65) always does "Disney Girls" at the state fai shows, but the knowledgeable crowd here sure appreciated it. Their new song "That's Why God Made the Radio" had the group singing their tightest harmonies (still excited abut recording the new material, I suppose) and sounded amazing. And at one point the jumbotron (definitely falling on the State Fair side of the mostly mixed Happy Days 50s imagery with surprisingly short and repetitive images of surfers or 80s California GIrls in bikinis) did a tasteful tribute to Carl and Dennis Wilson, including mixing some archival vocal tracks of the late Wilson siblings mixed with live music from the satge. And there were almost 50 songs performed, beach balls bounced around the crowd, and guys pushing 70 singing "When I Grow Up to Be A Man." Wouldn't it be nice if all shows were this great?
  (here's my pre-concert interview from Time Out)

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