The Beach Boys. Red Rocks. 07.09.12

The Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Reunion Tour is something I have been excited about ever since the rumors of Brian Wilson’s involvement started flying around.  My excitement built to an unexplainable level in the days leading up to last night’s Red Rocks performance.  I found myself consuming everything I could about this band, with an emphasis on the tragic journey of the only remaining Wilson brother.  Rolling Stone articles, Pop Matters features, Peter Ames Carlin’s Catch a Wave, Spotify playlists — I have literally been living in the sun soaked 60’s & 70’s, surrounded by overbearing fathers, evil doctors, feuding families, psychotropic drugs, mental illnesses, lawsuits, and the complete transformation of pop music.  The more I learned about the history of The Beach Boys, the more I realized what an unlikely reunion this really was.

The Beach Boys have been a part of my life since I was very young.  My dad had all their records and played them regularly from by the time I was born.  Endless Summer plays like a soundtrack to some of my earliest memories.  My 3rd grade teacher was also an avid fan, going as far as having a record player in the classroom and using songs like “Little Deuce Coupe” to teach us our times tables (4 x 8 = 32 Deuce Coupe).  Growing up in the 80’s, The Beach Boys were a throwback to simpler times.  The music was so innocent compared to what was happening in the Reagan era.  My 9-year-old self would have been shocked to learn that the man who wrote most of these songs was in and out of mental institutions due to drug abuse and mental instabilities.  I didn’t know Dennis Wilson had drown just a few years earlier — a death caused by diving in a marina looking for lost items after drinking all day.  If my younger self would have known who Charles Manson was, I would have also been shocked to learn of the connection between the Beach Boys and what would become his notorious family.  The music I heard in my 3rd grade classroom and on my dad’s records masked a much darker reality.

It wasn’t until I got older and started discovering music on my own that I realized what Brian Wilson had done for pop music.  I rediscovered Pet Sounds in my early 20’s, and it has since become one of my favorite albums of all time.  But this still doesn’t explain why I was on Google every day making sure the tour hadn’t gone off the rails.  It doesn’t explain why I was checking the weather reports for Red Rocks every hour — fingers crossed that we would not have torrential downpours and lightning storms while the band from California were trying to make the summer last forever.  The cause of my excitement will probably always remain a mystery, but I am happy to say that the talents of the old men who grew from those beach boys will not.  There is no doubt they are capable of putting their differences aside (at least while on stage) to give their fans what they expect.  In fact, my dad and I had our expectations met during the first set…and absolutely blown away during the second set!

The early evening thunder storms which have brought much needed rain to Colorado took a night off yesterday.  It was perfect weather as the 14 piece band took the stage.  One by one, The Beach  Boys were met with cheers from the crowd, but none more so than the man who made this a Red Rocks worthy show (vs. a casino or country fair).  Mr. Wilson gave a quick wave to the crowd before situating himself behind his white pian0, a place he would stay for the majority of the night.  It was 7:50pm when “Do It Again” opened  the first set of the show — a set that would rely heavily on to doo-wop sound that made The Beach Boys famous in the first place.  Not much different from a Mike Love Beach Boys show, we were led down memory lane with sing-along songs like “Catch A Wave”, “Surfin’ Safari”, “Be True To Your School”, “Little Douce Coup” and “409”.

The first thing I noticed was how good they sounded.  Especially Al Jardine, who’s surprisingly youthful voice really stood out in those famous harmonies.  The second thing was that, as well as being the ‘asshole’ of the group, Mike Love really is the entertainer.  Not only is he in the best shape, he is also a born showman.  He was the only one who truly engaged the crowd in any meaningful way.  Third, these guys have a great sense of humour.  They were only a few songs in before Love announced that it was time for an intermission, followed by oxygen and a nap.  This was followed by laughs before they went into one of the night’s highlights, “Surfer Girl”.  After that little flashback, Brian Wilson said his first words to the audience, “thank you ladies and gentlemen”, before giving it up for “the great Al Jardine”, to which Jardine returned the favor by introducing Wilson as “the great creator”.  Maybe it’s all an act, but they do seem to enjoy each other’s company onstage.  During one of the short pauses between songs, Love made a joke about Bruce Johnston’s Grammy-winning “I Write the Songs” — “we arn’t going to play it tonight…but you can hear it in any elevator” — to which Johnston quickly replied, “yeah, right after Kokomo”, referencing the only Beach Boys hit Love was able to make without Wilson’s assistance.  Johnston then performed the second highlight of the first set, “Disney Girls”, joking that it was “written in 1872” before dedicating it to a friend from Jr. High.

The songs were accompanied by various photographs from decades long past.  Flashing across the big screen that hung above the stage, they were a reminder of how long the band has been in business, and of those who have been lost.  Carl and Dennis are long gone, but their images would be a constant fixture of the evening.   Knowing now what the future held for those smiling kids (however deceiving they are), did make the slideshow a little sad, but the saddest part of the evening came when Mike Love took time out to market their merchandise.  Taking it way beyond the ‘we have CDs and t-shirts for sale’, his pitch came across as crass and desperate.  I couldn’t help but notice that Wilson wouldn’t even look up during the whole thing.  It was seriously embarrassing, but at least it didn’t last long, and they went on to close strong with “I Get Around”.  The first set, consisting of 29 songs, came to a close around 9:15pm…and the best was still to come.

While the first set catered to the surf and sun and cars crowd, it was immediately evident that the second set would focus on Wilson’s more cerebral work.  I ended up with an extra pair of tickets, so we decided to relocate from our 5th row seats to more of a center view from the 15th row.  We were just settling in when David Marks took the stage with the instrumental “Pet Sounds”.  It was about 9:45pm when Wilson settled back in behind his piano.  Love, Jardine and Johnston surrounded him, just like the old days, for “Add Some Music to Your Day”, which led into one of the most impressive runs of the night.  After a shaky start, we went from take two of “Heroes and Villains” to “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” to “Sloop John B” to (the climax) “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”.  Parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren — everyone was on their feet singing and dancing along.  The crowd was ecstatic!  Even Wilson flashed a rare smile as he led us through some of his most exciting compositions.  “In My Room”, with thousands of cell phones in the air, brought us back to Earth before “That’s Why God Made The Radio” provided the perfect excuse to a beer and bathroom break.

During “Forever” and “God Only Knows”, the tributes to Wilson’s fallen brothers took on new gravity, as Dennis and Carl were shown signing along on the big screen.  Having his family in the audience probably gave Brian a certain level of peace, but it must be hard, especially for someone who doesn’t like being on stage, to see his brother’s ghosts up there like that.  It must be hard to hear those songs, much less perform them night after night.  But it wasn’t long after these heartbreakers that the rollercoaster of hits took us back up with “California Girls”, “All Summer Long” and “Help Me, Rhonda”, the latter in which Jardine proved once again he has the best voice in the bunch.

“Barbara Ann” saw Wilson strap on a guitar and set himself in a rare spot, center stage.  He even had a smile on his face.  “Surfin’ USA” had girls, young and old, screaming like it was 1963.  And while the encore got off to a rough start with the completely unnecessary “Kokomo”, it ended with “Fun, Fun, Fun”, sending everyone to their cars with huge smiles on their faces.

The show lasted around 3 hours (counting the intermission).  The rain only lasted 10 minutes.  And although the endless summer will never be more than a dream, I’m happy I got to see these guys perform together before The Beach Boys summer ends forever.

Set One:
Do It Again
Catch a Wave
Don’t Back Down
Surfin’ Safari
Surfer Girl
Come Go with Me
Why Do Fools Fall in Love
When I Grow Up (to Be a Man)
Please Let Me Wonder
Getcha Back
This Whole World
Then I Kissed Her
Disney Girls
Good Timin’
It’s OK
Cotton Fields
Kiss Me, Baby
Isn’t It Time
California Saga: California
Be True to Your School
Ballad of Ole’ Betsy
Don’t Worry Baby
Little Deuce Coupe
Shut Down
I Get Around

Set Two:
Pet Sounds
Add Some Music to Your Day
Heroes and Villains
I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times
Sloop John B
Wouldn’t It Be Nice
In My Room
All This Is That
That’s Why God Made the Radio
Sail on, Sailor
God Only Knows
Good Vibrations
California Girls
All Summer Long
Help Me, Rhonda
Rock and Roll Music
Barbara Ann
Surfin’ USA

Do You Wanna Dance?
Fun, Fun, Fun



  1 comment for “The Beach Boys. Red Rocks. 07.09.12

  1. Chris Evans
    July 11, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    I enjoyed your review of the show. For me, the reality set in while driving up the hill to the south lot of the venue. Actually hearing/watching Mr. Wilson deliver is music was so moving to me. Point to note, the backup band (mostly younger indie musicians) really help glue this band together. It was a memorable night. Very memorable in the 13th row.

    Thank you.

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