Fifty years after a group of California teenagers came up with a unique blend of harmonies and surf music, The Beachboys are touring with five of the original members on their 50th anniversary tour. As near as I can determine, this particular subset of the group has never previously toured together, owing to the many changes of personnel during their long California saga.
Fast forward to last Tuesday night, when the Beachboys reunion tour landed in Boston. The band kicked off with a medley of their upbeat songs, including Do It Again, Catch a Wave and Surfin' Safari. This early part sounded like the Mike Love version of the group -- catchy beats, Mike on lead vocals and mostly familiar songs. But then the group shifted gears, slowing down to sing the harmonies of Surfer Girl and Brian Wilson took over the lead vocals for the lesser known tunes Please Don't Let Me Wonder and Marcella.
The most impressive part of the show for me was the blend of harmonies. The five remaining Beachboys and a strong supporting cast, notably Jeff Foskett on high harmonies, still have a sound that is unmistakable. As I watched the group, I understood why Brian Wilson put aside his own group for a while in order to help the "boys" re-unite. As good as Brian's band is, there's still no substitute for hearing this set of voices take his music to another level. And despite the many years apart, the band put on a great show.
I got a renewed appreciation for each of the key members and what they add to this mosaic. Mike Love sings a lot of the uptempo hits, but can also contribute harmonies if that's what the songs call for. He also has a lot of energy and engages well with the audience and the other band members. Brian Wilson is the intellectual heart of the group, writing most of the songs and arranging the voices. He can't sing the high falsetto parts anymore, but still has a tenor voice that can cut through on rock songs and helps anchor the high end of the harmonies.
Al Jardine is singing with the group for the first time in about 12 years and is a consummate team player, singing effective leads on songs like Help Me Rhonda, playing rhythm guitar and adding mid-range harmonies. Bruce Johnston joined the group in the mid-Sixties, taking over when Brian stopped touring. He's a fine song writer and sang a wonderful rendition of his song Disney Girls from the Surf's Up album.
David Marks is the lesser known Beachboy. He played on the group's first four albums and his Chuck Berry style guitar parts became an important part of the band's sound. I'm not sure if I've ever seen him play with the group before, but on this night, his guitar chops contributed a lot to the authenticity of the early hits and he sang a fine lead vocal on Get You Back, reminding me more than a bit of Carl Wilson's original vocal. He also led off the second set with brilliant solo guitar work on the instrumental Pet Sounds, fronting the rest of the backup band. The unsung hero of the tour is Jeff Foskett. He's toured with both the Beachboys and Brian Wilson's band. In Boston, he was the emcee, introducing the band members, but more important, he can still hit the high notes that Brian originally made famous in the group harmonies and he sang a gorgeous lead vocal on Don't Worry Baby.
I alluded to the backup band. In addition to the original five and Jeff Foskett, about seven other musicians fill out the group sound with the rhythm section of bass, keyboards, drums and percussion, additional instruments such as saxophone and vibes, and of course, more vocals. This group included members from both Brian's band and Mike Love's version of the band.
This show had something for everybody. The band played a lot of their hits and got the audience up and dancing for much of the night. They also delved into the deeper reaches of the Beachboy catalog, playing fine versions of songs like Our Prayer, Heroes and Villains, and Sail on Sailor. Just as remarkable, they sang two songs from their brand new album That's Why God Made Radio and the music sounded fresh and exciting. Mike Love mentioned that the album had debuted at #3 on the Billboard charts and the pride shined through bright and clear. The band also did tributes to the missing members, the late Dennis and Carl Wilson, as the magic of high tech blended their voices and video clips with the live band.
I attended the show with my wife and we both had a fine time. The music made my emotions catch several times. One notable example was the rendition of Add Some Music To Your Day. Brian sang lead vocals, but the real star was the band as a whole. This is one of those songs where the harmonies are so compelling that they just take over the song.
The tour is continuing and soon the group moves from the US to Europe. If you have a chance to see them, it's really worthwhile. The show in Boston sold out and the band fully delivered. The members seems to be having a great time, but it's anybody's guess what might happen from here. In the meantime, there's still time to catch one of our national treasures, the re-constituted Beachboys.