The Beach Boys at Mystic Amphitheater, 7/31/11
The Beach Boys July 31, 2011 Mystic Amphitheater
The year is 1993, 30 years after the birth of John Stamos. My best friend Amy and I are sitting in her family's basement rec room, arguing again.
Amy is pro-Beach Boys. I'm pro-Beatles. And we're each anti- the other. I thought the Beach Boys, her favorite band, were an unsophisticated little kids' band. The Beatles were all maturity and style, not surfing and girls. My main argument: "The Beach Boys have a song called 'Surfin' USA.' And another called 'Surfin' Safari.' And another called 'Surfer Girl.'"
My friend came around to the Beatles in no time, but it took me the maturity brought on by another ten years to realize the melodic pop brilliance of those songs about surfing and girls, to dig the wooshy groove of a song like "Good Vibrations."
Fans new and (mostly) old gathered in the feels-like-a-hundred-degrees humidity early Sunday evening for the Mystic Amphitheater's first sold-out show, a performance by the current lineup of the Beach Boys. Two of the original members, brothers Dennis and Carl Wilson, have both passed away, and while there have been talks of a 50th anniversary show featuring all living members including Brian Wilson, these days you're most likely to catch Mike Love or Al Jardine fronting the band. Sunday night was Love's show, with a band comprised of among others Love's son Christian, John Cowsill (who knows a thing or two about sibling bands), and Bruce Johnston, who in 1965 replaced Glen Campbell. Campbell had been filling in for Brian Wilson on tour but had by then made it big in his own right.
Taking to a stage decorated in surf boards and palm trees, the band was as tight as you'd expect any touring act should be -- noting that some touring acts of their vintage seem to not even try. Major props to bandleader/lead guitarist Scott Totten, for what I imagine is his part in maintaining a 50-year-old band that keeps true to its original vivacity and sound. The current lineup has all the energy and attitude and heart of the band of young men that first made it big singing about cars and romance in 1962. Nearly all the band's members traded lead vocal duties, with the rest of the bunch chiming in with those familiar, neatly replicated close harmonies. Taking on the bulk of lead vocal duties, Mike Love has the same nasally, disaffected, wiseacre teenage voice he had back when he was a kid playing with his cousins at Hawthorne High.
Barreling through most of the Beach Boys' biggest hits and a few covers that stayed true to themes of summer and love and fun and dancing, the band were champs sticking out a nearly two-hour performance in the heat without ever losing an ounce of enthusiasm. The audience responded in kind, bouncing beach balls, dancing in the aisles, singing along. I even saw an old man, his Hawaiian shirt unbuttoned in the heat, flash his nipples at the two old ladies sitting next to him.
Remarking that this was the first sellout for the Amphitheater, Love talked about another sellout in Minnesota -- when the band first played at the Minnetonka Ballroom in 1962 and fans broke through windows to get in. While the crowd was orderly, their well-behaved excitement was contagious, and this was one of the most fun shows I've seen all year. I say this in spite of my 13-year-old self.
Critic's bias: Where the Beach Boys are concerned, I've come around (round, round, round wah wah waoo). The crowd: Judging by the men in attendance, if ever there was an excuse to pull that ugly Hawaiian shirt out of your closet, this show was it. Overheard in the crowd: "Okay, so the encore will be...'Kokomo' and... What else?" "'Little St. Nick.'" (No such luck.) Random notebook dump: 1963, the year John Stamos was born. For more photos: See my full slideshow here. Setlist: "Catch a Wave"/"Hawaii"/"Little Honda"/"Do it again"/"Surf City"/"Surfin' Safari"/"Surfer Girl"/"Don't Worry Baby"/"Little Deuce Coupe"/"409"/"Little Old Lady from Pasadena"/"Shut Down"/"I Get Around"/"The Ballad of Old Betsy"/"Get You Back"/"Darlin'"/"Why Do Fools Fall in Love"/ "When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)"/"Be True to Your School"/"In My Room"/"God Only Knows"/"Good Vibrations"/"California Dreaming"/"Sloop John B"/"Wouldn't It Be Nice"/"Then I Kissed Her"/"California Girls"/"Dance Dance Dance"/"Do You Wanna Dance"/"Help Me Rhonda"/"Rock and Roll Music"/"Barbara Ann"/"Surfin' USA" Encore: "Kokomo"/"Summertime Blues"/"Fun Fun Fun"
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