The Beach Boys Verizon Theatre, Grand Prairie Thursday, March 19, 2015
The Beach Boys are now unequivocally grown men, and they have grown men problems. Once up a time their youthful charms could even make their time spent living and writing songs with Charles Manson seem like a marshmallow-roasting bonfire by the shore. But what was once an idyllic family band with the brothers Wilson and cousin Mike Love has splintered into factions, with spiritual leader Brian Wilson cast aside by his own cousin. It's a bit like having a beach without the ocean.
For the fans at Verizon Theatre last night, though, that seemed to make little difference. They were there for the memories, not the autographs.
Perhaps that has something to do with the nature of celebrity that the band has always enjoyed. In short, the members have remained almost anonymous. They ended up with possibly the most recognizable style in rock history, and their songs are a soundtrack to happiness in collective memory. Yet while anyone can recognize at least one face among the Stones or Beatles, the Beach Boys remain a mystery to most of the population (and no, John Stamos doesn't count). Their songs suffice. There are no icons or legends to fuel their mystique, because the public's attachment is purely sonic.
As if their entire catalog, name and culture didn't make it clear enough, Thursday night they stood, seven people onstage, surrounded by plants and actual surfboards, with surfing footage playing in the background. However, most of them look liked like they were going fishing, not surfing. Three of them -- guitarist, drummer and keyboardist -- appear much younger and their voices all hold up.
One of the tricks of Brian Wilson's carefully layered vocals was that they can help cover up any individual mistakes. But, as was accentuated during "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," it was clear that the "youngsters" (all late into their middle ages), especially lead guitarist Scott Totten, carried the bulk of the vocal burden.
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Feeding on the nostalgic pull of the evening, there was something sweet about the footage of the very young Beach Boys onscreen, and it's a testament to their faithful persistence in maintaining their squeaky-clean, all-American summer sound. They haven't attempted to progress it, but to protect it. Their show seems more in the line with the likes of oldies favorite Frankie Valli than, say, the Stones.
Not that there weren't attempts to appear as though they're keeping up with the times, as well. Love joked about his wanting to go to an early intermission in order to take a nap and asked for roadie assistance with what he called an "i6" to light up his phone, as the crowd followed, also waving theirs around like lighters during "Surfer Girl." "No more frivolity and more gravitas," he announced, before performing "a song written for those in uniform." A cheerleader uniform, to be clear.
Love later related that "Be True to Your School" came out the year actor (and sometime guest band-member) John Stamos was born, as the band briefly played the intro to "Jesse's Girl" while a picture of Stamos as the mullet-haired Uncle Jesse appeared on screen, followed by modern-day Stamos holding a Greek yogurt. The show had great light-heartedness, even though the accompanying graphics seemed something your kid could do on PowerPoint.
In keeping with the anonymous nature of the members, none of the band were interested much in showing off, there was no gratuitous use of virtuosity or attempts at showmanship. In fact, they barely moved on stage at all, but Love is a near comedian and he's got that favorite grandpa quality, subdued but hilarious. There was a handful of women standing and dancing and every once in a while one would get smacked in the face with one of the beach balls being tossed around.
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Whenever a fast song like "Wouldn't it Be Nice?" Or "Barbara Ann" began, longtime member and keyboardist Bruce Johnston would motion for the crowd to stand and the entire stadium would do so at once. They did not sit until he motioned them to. There seemed more power in his wave than in Queen Elizabeth's. (Granted, his ballad "Disney Girls" was such a snooze, that the nap Love suggested probably came to many minds.) They went through every classic, but it's the songs with a tinge of melancholy like "Don't Worry Baby" or "God Only Knows" that are most extraordinary.
Inevitably, though, they closed with the perfect trifecta of upbeat Beach Boys Brand prototypes: "Surfin' USA","Kokomo" and "Fun, Fun, Fun." All the while they showed footage of very athletic girls in bikinis -- the last bit resembled a commercial for Hawaiian Tropic -- and the songs gave you the sudden urge to call your travel agent. Despite their obvious intentions, the resulting feeling of escape to warmer lands is almost subliminal. In the end, no matter the lineup, the Beach Boys know exactly who they are.
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