The Beach Boys At the Beacon Theatre, Thursday, August 17th, 2017, Reviewed
The best moment at last night’s The Beach Boys’ Beacon Theatre concert wasn’t musical, while rhythm guitarist Jeff Foskett sang his lead on “Darlin’,” film of the late Carl Wilson singing the track showed behind him. I like Jeff, he is my favorite member of the current iteration of the Beach Boys. Foskett was Brian Wilson’s right hand man and musical director but he left in 2014. “After the Jeff Beck tour, I was completely stressed and burned out,” Foskett said. “That whole year, recording that album and that tour, because I knew Jeff (Beck) so well, a lot of things fell on me to get done that normally would have been other people’s responsibilities. They asked me to do certain things, and it was a lot of pressure. So at the end of that tour, I kind of snapped … and just said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’” Every Carl Wilson lead, from “God Only Knows” on down, were very finely performed by Jeff… but Jeff isn’t Carl. Carl was missed at the 50th Anniversary reunion tour in 2012, he is missed when Brian performs solo, and he was missed last night. Carl succumbed to cancer in 1998 at the age of 51, yet he still feels like the band’s soul. Brian can survive without him because Brian is the band’s heart, but Mike Love? Love has a problem and nothing he can do can separate from his inability to tap into either the heart or soul of the Beach Boys.
The problem is, Mike Love doesn’t understand the band he formed in 1962 with Brian, he saw himself as a conduit for youth and high spirits in the pre-67 California, but the Beach Boys are about Brian Wilson –a fragile genius, filled to overflowing with musical empathy, nobody but Brian could have given us “The Warmth Of The Sun”. Love keeps claiming “hey, it’s my band, I bought it” and we keep responding Francois Pinault owns paintings by everyone from Mondrian to Warhol, that doesn’t mean he painted them. This roughness towards Brian’s legacy, alongside his not negligible skills as a agent provocateur who undercuts any semblance of fair play by being tone deaf to how his actions appear, make him “a douche” and Public Enemy Number One for those who see the Beach Boys the only way you really can, through Brian Wilson, if not the greatest composer of the 20th Century, certainly one of a handful who can claim the title.
Mike Love… Brian looks so fragile, so timid, in even the earliest beach Boys pictures and Mike is such a gargantuan egomaniac strutting across the stage with his chin out front: even now the bellicose braggart of “Little Deuce Coupe” is his default. At the Beacon Theatre, with Brian Johnston on keyboards, the Beach Boys were fine on the high energy first five songs of the evening, “Surfin’ Safari,” “Catch A Wave,” “Little Honda” “Do It Again” (featuring Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath) and “Surfin’ USA” but couldn’t even pull off “Surfer Girl”. When they can karaoke out they are fine, but when they have to harmonize they don’t know how, when they need to reach down deep they have nowhere to go. They aren’t deep enough. Look, I preferred Wilson solo to even the 50th Anniversary reunion, so I have problems with the band whoever is performing, but even so… they could absolutely sing together, in 2012 as friends, as brothers. Without Brian, or Al Jardin, we are left with a Beach Boys who can’t get to the place they need to be to matter: we will singalong but we won’t sigh along.
The audience sang along joyfully, white haired 70 year old couples, and their grandchildren, got off their seats and boogied. Love can MC (though his fist pumps with audience members were embarrassing, and he isn’t a hog, he did his solos but he also did his harmonies, and he was a ringmaster but he treated his band with respect. Still, so much of what was happening was simply unacceptable, Scott Totten’s “Ballad Of Ole Betsy” was terrible, the doo wop “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” was a car wreck, “Be true to Your School” completely cynical.
Except for the brace of hits at the end of the evening, as well as the openers of each set, and the car songs outro to the first set, there were so many misfires, it was well intentioned and generous without being good. And sure, the septuagenarians loved it: why shouldn’t they? It took them back to a simpler, happier time , it was the essential heartbeat of nostalgia, a summer long thrill back step so far away perhaps only music can return them (me as well). But that’s to ignore the missing element. To put it bluntly: they could have added Brian on stage and unplugged his mic and keyboards, just to see him would have improved the set for me. So, yes, I’m being unfair. But as fair as I try to be, there is so much that was entirely unacceptable. Sure, Love is a terrific lyricist in the tradition of Chuck Berry, who wrote the fun fun fun we carry with us as a summertime template. But look at it this way, Ira was one of the greatest lyricists of ALL TIME, and he still wasn’t George Gershwin.
We can’t get Carl or Dennis back, Mike owns the name and has every right to turn a buck, and he gave a long and deep performance, including a brace of songs from the exceptional Wild Honey album, and it is really difficult to go too far off the deep end with these songs. He doesn’t scrimp on the hits, he insures the audience get what they want. But it just isn’t here, it has too much baggage, the Wilson brothers –all three, are missed, it has plenty of high spirits but no depth. I much, much prefer Brian. I saw Brian at Highline on the Sings Gershwin tour, and trust me pop pickers, this doesn’t come close. For his next tour, I hope Brian performs The Beach Boys Love You. As for Mike? I don’t care and I won’t be there.