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The Beach Boys at Hollywood Bowl: Concert Review

Beach Boy 50 Year Tour Hollywood Bowl - H 2012
Kyleen James

The Bottom Line

God only knows what it took to get The Beach Boys back together, but Saturday's homecoming show with Brian Wilson was one of their post-'60s high-water marks.

Venue

Hollywood Bowl

(Saturday, June 2)

Reunited with Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys sell out the Hollywood Bowl in the first of two weekend Southern California stops on their 50th anniversary tour.

"Thanks for coming to our hometown reunion -- so cool!" said Mike Love during The Beach Boys' three-hour 50th anniversary concert Saturday at the Hollywood Bowl. The show was an exhilarating barrage of hits performed far better than this reviewer expected, and more inspiringly harmonious. Instead of reading about the battles between the band's factions, most notoriously between fragile, arty Brian Wilson and his not-always-kissy cousin Love, a sold-out crowd got to see how clashing natures can be creative together.

From the slow, loping opening number "Do It Again," in which Love's lyrical nostalgia for their first wave of surf-culture fame blended stunningly with Wilson's mournfully gorgeous music, to the final euphoric encore, "Fun, Fun, Fun," the Boys proved they're not dead yet. Even the new tunes off their album due June 5 were surprisingly good: the title track "That's Why God Made the Radio" and "Isn't It Time," which is so like a Beach Boys oldie it might as well have been called "Do It Again Again."

True, you could tell their vocal cords are not 25. All except the surftastically jangly early Beach Boys guitarist David Marks, 63, will have hit 70 when this summer's over and this tour ends. So it's good that Wilson, Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and Marks had 10 younger backing musicians onstage. But the old boys are chronic workaholics who never lost their chops, and the backup band is basically a mashup of the Boys' own individual bands. Things jelled, and all juggled those intricate harmonies with skill. Lead singer Love was in good voice. Jardine knocked "Help Me Rhonda" out of the park, and he got to sing tributes to two of the band's big influences, Phil Spector's "Then He Kissed Me" (redone as "Then I Kissed Her") and "Cotton Fields," a nod to the folk music Jardine especially loves. Johnston's falsetto soared without falling on "Fun, Fun, Fun" and showed why his own "Disney Girls" was a hit. Most high-altitude falsetto duties fell to Jeffrey Foskett, 56. Can he handle the parts the young Brian Wilson once piloted to the empyrean? Don't worry, baby.

The old Brian Wilson looked a bit scarily stone-faced for most of the show, but that lent an interesting tension. Yes, he sang just plain flat sometimes, but that made it all the cooler when he sang strongly, as on "Marcella," the lower part on the eerily exquisite "In My Room" and his phenomenal melody and time signature shapeshifter "Heroes and Villains." And when he did falter, as when he sang "sometimes I feel very sad" in "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times," his very quaveriness made the performance, taking us all the way into the center of that strange, haunted place: Brian's mind. His new lower range wasn't always bad, either. In the superb "Sail on Sailor" he achieved a gutteral quality worthy of Randy Newman. And in many of the songs, you didn't get the usual ironic sensation you do when an old guy plays his young self's songs about youth. Brian always looked back on life with an old man's sorrowful poignance, even when he was a kid who caught a pop wave and sat on top of the world.

Brian wasn't completely impassive. He got up from his white piano to play bass, and he was even animated enough at times to mime a line or two, singing the "Marcella" lyric "one arm over my shoulder" while putting one arm over his shoulder. Maybe he was covertly poking fun at Love, who mimed lots of lines with an infectious ebullience. Love put up three fingers to indicate "third gear" on "Little Honda" and raised his hands high, then low, while singing "it's not a big motorcycle, just a groovy little motorbike." On what he called "the California state song," he mimed punching someone to indicate Southern girls knock him out and hugged himself to show how Northern girls warm their boyfriends at night.

You never saw anybody have as much fun as Mike Love at the ultralucrative Beach Boys reunion, not even the audience, many of them dancing after casting their canes aside -- miraculously healed by 50 tunes that will never age or die. Love repeatedly urged the crowd to buy the new album right away, to make it No. 1 on Amazon. "Call Amazon tonight!" he said, momentarily too carried away to remember Amazon doesn't take phone orders. "It's $9.95 I think, such a deal. ... It's been a long time since we did anything together in the studio, but it's as if it were 1965 again, I'll tell you!"

For about three hours, it really did feel like 1965 again. And the reunion show is a good deal indeed.

Set List:

Do It Again

Little Honda

Catch a Wave

Hawaii

Don't Back Down

Surfin' Safari

Surfer Girl

Please Let Me Wonder

Marcella

This Whole World

Then I Kissed Her

Disney Girls

In My Room

Kiss Me, Baby

Isn't It Time

Why Do Fools Fall in Love

When I Grow Up (to Be a Man)

Cotton Fields

Be True to Your School

Ballad of Ole Betsy

Don't Worry Baby

Little Deuce Coupe

409

Shut Down

I Get Around

(Intermission)

Add Some Music to Your Day


Friends

All This Is That

California Saga: California

Sloop John B

Wouldn't It Be Nice

I Just Wasn't Made for These Times

Sail on Sailor

Heroes and Villains

That's Why God Made the Radio

Forever

God Only Knows

Good Vibrations

California Girls

Help Me Rhonda

Rock and Roll Music

Do You Wanna Dance?

Surfin' USA

Encore:

Kokomo

Barbara Ann

Fun, Fun, Fun