wed 26/06/2019

The Beach Boys, Royal Albert Hall | reviews, news & interviews

The Beach Boys, Royal Albert Hall

The Beach Boys, Royal Albert Hall

Irresistible three-hour nostalgia fest from one of pop's greatest groups

Bruce Johnston, Al Jardine, Brian Wilson Mike Love and David Marks attempt harmony

There they are! It's The Beach Boys! They're playing "Wouldn't It Be Nice", halfway through their second set of the evening and it blossoms with harmonic beauty, with pop's finest, most glorious ambition. Sure, in the shadows behind them there are a bunch of session musicians carrying them. Particularly in the first half those guys made damn sure there was such a wall of vocals it would be hard to detect any flaws in the ageing voices (mostly around 70) of the original Beach Boys.

Now, however, they're in their stride. They may be relics from another era but it's hard to over-estimate the importance of the Beach Boys in the history of pop. They will always be primarily associated with surf-crazed, squeaky clean, all American, pre-countercultural pop, but it’s worth remembering that all four Beatles – the biggest pop group ever - consistently acknowledged they would never have been pushed to the creative heights of Sergeant Pepper and their late Sixties work if it hadn’t been for constantly striving to better the extraordinary output of Beach Boys chief songwriter Brian Wilson.

Bruce Johnston, well, he's a Johnny-come-lately, only joined 47 years ago

Stage left, there he is at a grand piano, looking like a Beach buddha as much as a Beach Boy, with a rotund belly and impassive face that occasionally bursts into toddler-ish glee. And there's Mike Love, centre front, all in black and baseball cap, topped with a shiny gold jacket, slick, his school bully face unreadable. And there's Al Jardine, playing guitar, smaller than the rest and the most wizened. David Marks, clad in denim and American casual, shades, baseball cap, was in the original version of the Beach Boys - 50 years ago - but spent most of the following decades not in the group. Bruce Johnston, well, he's a Johnny-come-lately, only joined 47 years ago, and looking sprightly, in pastel shirt and effervescently toothy Hollywood grin.

Mike Love has long been regarded as the pantomime villain in the Beach Boys story, partly because of his rabidly unlovely right-wing politics and ruthless career pragmatism, but mostly because of the way he jeered at his already psychologically delicate cousin Brian Wilson’s mid-Sixties attempts, with the Pet Sounds and Smile albums, to push the Beach Boys sound to places pop music hadn’t ever been before. His subsequent dismissive attitude towards his one-time songwriting partner only seemed to confirm his odiousness and then earlier this week, without his bandmates' knowledge, he made a unilateral announcement that original Beach Boys Wilson, Jardine and Marks would be leaving the group once this 50th Anniversary Tour finishes - and here’s the clincher – because otherwise it would affect the financial worth of the brand, which he owns. BOOOOOOO!!!

All of which adds up to the fact that this concert, and the one at Wembley tonight, may be the last ever by what’s left of the original Beach Boys, but these guys are pros and any animosity is left strictly to Twitter and newsfeeds. In front of the Albert Hall's packed, tiered audience, aged between approximately 30 and 70, Love tells us that the last time they played here was 17th December 1970 - "We'll have to get a bit more regular". The pre-interval half of the show is almost a warm-up - "Do It Again", "Hawaii", Wilson singing "Little Surfer Girl" in a frayed croon while the screen behind shows incongruous images of women who look like they'd be more at home in Loaded magazine than the sweetly retro Beach Boys universe.

 

New songs such as "Isn't It Time" are turned up louder but the first real spine-tingling moment is when Johnston - who wrote the deathless easy listening perennial "I Write The Songs", Love reminds us - sings us his lovely "Disney Girls". Then the show grabs us by the short'n'curlies, playing "Be True to Your School" as a montage of baby-faced Beach Boys shots flicker behind them. It's schmaltzy but it works, time is passing and that was long ago. They finish the first half with a feisty medley - "Little Deuce Coupe", "409" and, most fantastically, "I Get Around". What a song! The Ramones would never have existed without it and the like.

Any band that can hammer you in succession with 'Good Vibrations', 'California Girls', 'Help Me, Rhonda', and 'Surfin' USA' is inarguably fabulous

Part two is where they really pull out the stops. How many songs have they got? They start with "Pet Sounds" around the piano and by the time they reach the gorgeous "Heroes and Villains" it's clear their superb harmonic skills can, with some effort, be located. "Sloop John B" was never a favourite of mine - reminds me of primary school round-singing - but it pulls the Albert Hall to its feet and has real oomph. Their newie "That's Why God Made The Radio" fits neatly into the back catalogue and Wilson singing "In My Room" reminds again what a damaged talent he once was. In tribute to his fallen brothers they play two songs sung by them from the big screen, interweaving their own voices with Dennis and Carl Wilson. The former, who died in 1983, the only Beach Boy who actually ever had pop star looks, hairy and hunky, sings his delicious song from 1970, "Forever", while Carl, who died in 1998, gives us one of the greatest love songs ever written, "God Only Knows".

And then, well, then they slay us. Any band that can hammer you in succession with "Good Vibrations", "California Girls", "Help Me, Rhonda", and "Surfin' USA" is inarguably fabulous. They intersperse these with Chuck Berry's "Rock and Roll Music" and another cover, "Do You Wanna Dance", lathering on nostalgic black and white photos of days gone by, but it works a treat. This may be practically the same show, down to onstage patter, that they've been playing all year, and they may loathe each other in real life for all I know, but right here, right now, they seem glorious, they seem, creakily and with backing musicans taking the high notes, to capture a time when pop music was not background noise free in the ether but magically important. It is, of course, the calculated intention to muster these emotions but since they succeed lusciously, I'm inclined not to argue but to soak deep in it like everyone else.

Watch an hour long Beach Boys live set (for QVC, of all people!) from May 2012

Comments

Great review Thomas - your views coincide with mine totally. I was puzzled by the lack of chat during the first 30 minutes too. However it fell into place when they told us they were trying to get through 60 songs. Had they chatted more we could have been sitting there 'till midnight. For 'old geezers' their stamina was amazing. No sooner had one song ended, then the next began, almost as if they were joined, usually with no more than a 1 or 2 second gap. I was sitting in the restricted view seats; there was nothing wrong with the view, they should be renamed restricted legroom, darned uncomfortable, but it was worth it just for the sheer joy of seeing them onstage. Talk about getting your money's worth, 180 minutes of songs, plus 30 minute intermission (American word) is 2 football matches long for my 58 quid. Sad to hear of the decision to leave out the 3 founder members from future touring. For me that new band with session musicians will have to be referred to as the each Boys. Brian Wilson, the most important member is the only man that can put the B into the Beach Boys.

I was up there in the restricted view seats too. I reckoned buying that seat was worth the gamble as I'd probably never see them together again, and it was the right choice. The show was magnificent, they never seemed to tire, it was a back catalogue which can't fail, and ending with Summer's Gone was a gloriously appropriate and poignant choice. And I agree - it ain't the Beach boys without Brian!

As a 49 year old fan since my teens in the seventies I just had to be there to see what looks to be the penultimate performance of this particular line up. I was not disappointed. I admit to being in awe of Brian Wilson; a legend amongst legends....it was great to see him and the rest of the band together for the first time too....... Many firsts last night for me. First time at the Albert Hall. Simply stunning venue. Must go back for the Pomp and Circumstance! First time driving to London from Liverpool and back for a night out too! Might take a Beatles reunion WITH John Lennon for me to repeat that feat! I love The Beach Boys and I loved seeing them. It was brill!

Just got back home to Somerset from the Wembley concert. I am 50 now and have been a fan all my life (keeping the records hidden in my punk days). The second half was so good I was on the verge of tears for most of it. "Heroes and Villians" on its own was THE BEST song I have ever heard live. It was musical heaven, and Brian was absolutely rocking for 30 minutes. So glad to have actually seen them live. I saw Brian Wilson with Wondermints last year - they were good but this was so much better. Al Jardine was the pick of the voices and I even managed to put my animosity towards Mike Love aside for 4 hours! Without a doubt the best live concert I have ever seen - knocking the Clash on the London Calling tour off their previously long-occupied perch

Saw the Royal Albert Hall show & I've never experienced 3 hours passing so quickly! 61 songs with barely seconds between each song. The crowd loved it & just about all were on their feet for "Wouldn't it be nice" & "Help me Rhonda" in particular. The car section just before the break I think was one of the highlights, Mike Love was hinting that they were going for a break but then the launched into Deuce Coupe/409/Shut Down/I Get Around - my jaw hit the ground I was so in awe. It was also nice to see Dennis & Carl so affectionately remembered too, it nearly brought a tear to my eye - but then so did hearing "Be true to Your School" in the flesh by these guys who sang it all those years ago. This line up was too good to miss & I don't think we'll ever see it again (hope I'm wrong) so for me was worth the 500 mile round trip to see them. 5*

Last night, at Wembley Arena, was the 4th time I've seen the Beach Boys in concert ... first record I ever bought to play on our 'Dansette' was a Beach Boys" LP! Concert 1: Wembley Stadium, 38(?) years ago, when they blew Elton John off the stage; concert 2: Wembley Empire Pool (as it was then!); concert 3: Birmingham NEC - a real all-American day, having been at the drag-racing near Stratford-on-Avon earlier in the day. BUT last night was the very best for atmosphere ... lump in my throat for almost the whole concert! The (real) Beach Boys still rock!!!

Some very important points: Brian Wilson and the other Boys are NOT leaving the band. It's NOT Mike Love's band that they are in - it's the Beach Boys reunion tour they're in. Love can't fire them, he can only go on with his own show, which is what he's doing. So if anyone is leaving the band, it is Love. A no-class way to end a reunion, but then we should not be surprised by his behavior.

I still haven't come down from the concert.I have loved the Beach Boys songs all my life and growing up with Beatles songs and melodies, the Beach Boys always kept pace and begun my love affair with America. The concert was a breathtaking experience.It was like the best sing along party you could go to.Song after song and the most wonderful backing band and singers.I don't think I will see the likes again and am so glad to have seen them at their very best.The venue was great and seeing Brian Wilson wiil live with me forever.A magical night.........thank you Beach Boys

Thomas H Green's comment - "Sure, in the shadows behind them there are a bunch of session musicians carrying them" relates to Brian Wilson's brilliant touring band (particularly Jeff Foskett) who are among the best musicians we have ever seen at Brian Wilson concerts for several years running. Despite being avid Beach Boys fans since 1964, we chose not to go to either of the BB reunion concerts as we'd seen the Beach Boys (without Brian Wilson) several years ago and they were pretty poor! Mike Love's voice was technically enhanced so that he could reach the higher notes. We didn't want to see Brian Wilson side-lined by the other members of the original band when it is obvious that he is the genius in the line-up. News items about Brian Wilson being fired is nonsense - Brian Wilson IS the Beach Boys and it's not up to Mike Love to hire or fire Brian Wilson - he does extremely well without the other members of the band.

Well you missed a truly incredible cincert. We saw Brian and his wonderful band in Manchester a few years ago and had a great night but the Royal Albert Hall gig was something special. A night to remember.

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