Beach Boys flog their endless summer
by Seth Rogovoy

(LENOX, Mass., August 25, 2004) – It felt like more of a fall sweater night than a summer beach party, but a few of the musicians on stage were wearing beach shirts and short pants and the soundtrack was heavily weighted toward summer fun – surfing, cruising, and just generally idling the warm days away. As sure as summer rolls around each year, the Beach Boys hit the road, and the rock ‘n’ roll group’s latest incarnation brought its endless summer – as well as the summer pop season to an end – at Tanglewood on Tuesday night.

By 1970, the Beach Boys were already primarily a nostalgia-based oldies group, hitting the road each summer to flog their old hits and memories of a more innocent, youthful time. Some three decades later, vocalist Mike Love, 63, keeps the engine rolling with the help of longtime singer/keyboardist Bruce Johnston and a band of hired hands filling in for his legal nemesis Al Jardine and the three Wilson brothers – two dead, one strange and estranged – who formed the core of the group in 1961.

If this hollow shell of the original group was vocally and rhythmically impaired, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Amidst a stage decorated with potted palms, the nine-member group burst out of the gates with a clunky, 20-minute-long, non-stop barrage of 11 hits, including “Surf City,” “Do You Wanna Dance” and “Catch a Wave,” which didn’t but did include the unprintable subliminal phrase included on the original recording.

It was clear from the start that Love and Johnston even moreso have lost most of the sweetness and roundness of their voices. But some of the hired hands, especially the one handling the falsetto parts on “Don’t Worry Baby,” ably filled in, and that number skipped along at a nice pace.

Love was an entertaining frontman, paying tribute to his Wilson cousins (and ignoring the lawsuits that have alienated him from Brian Wilson) and to the group’s musical forebears, including the Four Freshmen and ‘50s-era doo-wop groups. Johnston came in for some well-deserved ribbing for having written Barry Manilow’s mega-hit, “I Write the Songs,” and Love and Johnston had some fun mocking latter-day vocal groups like ‘N Sync.

There were a few moments when the band, which included vocalist/keyboardist John Cowsill from that other singing family, threatened to kick into second gear, such as on “I Get Around” and “Help Me Rhonda.” But typically as soon as things starting revving up, the band pulled back. Attempts to replicate the group’s more musically sophisticated, psychedelic pop, including “God Only Knows” and “Good Vibrations,” only highlighted the limitations of the touring band’s instrumentation – three guitars, three keyboards, bass and drums – at the expense of some of Brian Wilson’s visionary arrangements.

But little of this probably mattered to those who checked in for some “Fun, Fun, Fun” in the waning days of summer and these waning years of rock ‘n’ roll.

[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on August 26, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]

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