June 17th, 2012 | Published in Stage and Street
By Pete Roche
Talk about an Endless Summer.
The Beach Boys have put aside personal (and legal) differences to record a new album—their first since 1996—and tour the world with all five surviving members.
They’re all pushing seventy. But don’t think for a minute that Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and David Marks aren’t capable of keeping the sounds of summer alive for 21st century audiences.
The 1988 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees rolled into Cuyahoga Falls again on June 13th for a 50th Anniversary bash at Blossom Music Center. The venue probably hasn’t hosted a show this top-heavy in recent memory; The Beach Boys predate the construction of Blossom’s distinctive parabolic pavilion by at least five years.
The first of two lengthy sets was book-ended by vintage tracks about water and woodies. “Do It Again,” “Little Honda,” “Catch a Wave” and “Hawaii” set a nostalgic, celebratory tone that lasted the entire evening.
Most of the actual music was provided by an elite squad comprised of members of Love’s Endless Summer Beach Band (Jeff Foskett, Scott Totten) and Wilson’s own well-rehearsed ensemble (Darian Sahanaja). John Cowsill’s crack drumming was augmented by Probyn Gregory’s percussion, woodwinds, and horns. Mike D’Amico assumed bass duties.
Johnston dabbled on keyboards stage right but didn’t hesitate waving or giving a thumbs-up to the folks down front. The smallest Beach Boy, Al Jardine, now boasts the group’s richest voice.
Goateed guitarist Marks seemed to relish his return; he left the band after falling out with manager Murry Wilson in 1965.
Murry’s eldest son surveyed the scene from a white piano at stage right.
Brian Wilson didn’t exhibit much movement and appeared to take lyrical cues from a teleprompter. But if anyone’s earned the right to cheat a little in his golden years, it’s Wilson, who spent the better part of the Seventies and Eighties struggling with substance abuse and mental illness. And while only those seated nearby saw how often the former bed-bound recluse really tickled the ivories, it was a treat just watching Wilson up there, thoughtfully absorbing the fruits of his labor.
Dressed in a busy paisley print shirt and matching mint-colored slacks, Love was the band’s emcee, engaging the crowd early for a hop-scotch through time that spanned five decades. He described “Be True to Your School” as a patriotic song for women in uniform (meaning cheerleaders) and there was an uproar when the band’s large video screen flashed logos for local learning institutions like Cleveland State University.
Hits “Surfin’ Safari” and “Surfer Girl” were juxtaposed with back-tracks like “Wendy,” “Marcella” (featuring Brian) and “Then I Kissed Her” (with Jardine on lead). Calypso-flavored “Isn’t It Time” gave fans a taste of the new album That’s Why God Made the Radio. Jardine played banjo on 20/20 cut “Cotton Fields,” while Surf’s Up ballad “Disney Girls” gave songwriter Johnston a chance to shine. Remember Barry Manilow’s “I Write the Songs?” It was Bruce—not Barry—who penned the 1975 smash.
Comfortably clad in a polo shirt, track pants, and Nikes,Wilson sang lively on “Please Let Me Wonder” but deferred to longtime Foskett for an elegant “Don’t Worry, Baby.” Love took the wheel again on rollicking renditions of “Little Deuce Coupe,” “409,” “Shut Down,” and “I Get Around,” all delivered in rapid-fire succession—a motorway medley that got everyone’s pistons firing.
Set Two commenced with the surviving Beach Boys taking the stage by themselves, huddling ‘round Wilson to sing Sunflower’s sparkling church-hymn “Add Some Music.” The latter part of the evening focused on Wilson’s experimental suites and Baroque pop, with the ensemble faithfully recreating “Heroes and Villains” right down to the song’s extraneous bells and whistles.
Pet Sounds classics “Sloop John B” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” shimmered. Brian took the spotlight for poignant piano ballad “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times.” His slightly-slurred delivery made for a loose-but-effective “Sail On, Sailor.” Love and Jardine shared vocals on the Transcendental Meditation-inspired “All This Is That.”
“In My Room” was followed by a tribute to departed Wilson brothers Dennis and Carl, whose onscreen images made for a bittersweet pairing of “Forever” and “God Only Knows.” Theremin rocker “Good Vibrations” induced a mass case of Smiley Smiles. “California Girls” brought further excitations. “Do You Wanna Dance” and “Surfin’ U.S.A.” closed the show, but the hit parade continued with balmy encore “Kokomo.”
“Pumped Up Kicks” stars Foster the People opened with a forty-five minute set of electro-pop from their 2011 debut, Torches.
Dressed like a Miami Vice extra, bandleader Mark Foster switched between keyboards, drums, and guitar on “Miss You,” “Warrant” and “Life on the Nickel.” Bassist Cubbie Fink and drummer Mark Pontius created tight, tough rhythms while touring member Sean Cimino coaxed feedback from his guitar and triggered noises on a bank of synths and samplers.
New single “Houdini” and obligatory outro “Kicks” got some parents on their feet dancing with their teenagers. But the young hipsters didn’t clock out for the night; Foster the People joined The Beach Boys later to sing backup on “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Barbara Ann.” Visually, the round-robin made for a peculiar dichotomy of old school and new—but it sounded better at Blossom than when the two groups collaborated at the 54th Annual Grammy Awards.
Cleveland native Foster took an extra moment to thank the audience for its support, reserving a special shout-out for The Cleveland Orchestra Children’s Choir, in whose ranks he honed his now-familiar falsetto.