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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Beach Boys in White Plains

I was driving by the Westchester County Center a couple of months ago, and saw the sign: "The Beach Boys, May 15".  The sign was simple and timeless and almost seemed unreal.  But its words were true, and so it was that my wife Tina and I were at County Center to see and hear the Beach Boys last night. I was 15 when I first heard The Beach Boys on the radio signing "Surfin' Safari" back in 1962.  I loved the song from the first time I heard it.  And here I was, 50 years later, on 15 May 2012, hearing The Beach Boys singing the same song and loving it even more.

I've always considered The Beach Boys easily one of top three groups in all of rock music.  Second only to The Beatles on most days, third after The Rolling Stones on some days maybe. The thing about the Beach Boys was their harmony - doo wop taken to symphonic, psychedelic heights, music of the spheres that no other group could produce.  The Beatles and The Stones usually had it over The Beach Boys on the lyrical front, but no one could touch their harmonies.

WFUV's Dennis Elsas of Fordham University introduced the group last night.  Pete Fornatale, a champion of their sound since the beginning, and also a Fordham dj, would no doubt have done those honors had he not left this world way too soon a few weeks ago.  Mike Love dedicated a song to Pete during the set - the newest Beach Boy song, "That's Why God Made the Radio," first heard on national radio just this last month.

Mike Love opened the concert with "Do It Again".  This was great opening choice.  As soon as Mike began singing I knew the evening would be remarkable.  And when The Beach Boys joined in with their effervescent popping harmonies, I knew the Beach Boys were truly back on that stage.

Dennis and Carl Wilson are no longer with us and The Beach Boys.  The group did two great numbers with each singing lead - from a recording - anyway last night.  Carl's rendition of "God Only Knows"  with the Beach Boys doing harmony right there on the stage last night was food for the soul.

So The Beach Boys last night consisted of Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and David Marks, and some great back up musicians and vocalists including John Cowsill of the Cowsills.

Brian's voice was amazing in the mid-range.   Jeff Foskett, one of the back-up vocalists but in fact standing right up front on the stage with guitar next to Brian on piano, did splendidly on all the high notes and patented Beach Boy falsettos.   The high points of the three hour concert were pretty much everything,  but among the special delights were Brian's lead and the group's exuberant harmonies on "Heroes and Villains" (a song whose lyrics by Van Dyke Parks equals the lyrical sophistication of The Beatles - "you're under arrest!" -  this performance including the "Bicycle Rider" segment), Al Jardine giving a fabulous lead rendition of "Help Me Rhonda" (brought the crowd to its feet singing the chorus),  David Marks' crackling sharp guitar work on every song (he was part of the group in the early 60s), the car song set ("Little Honda," "409," "Little Deuce Coupe," and "Shut Down,"  segueing right into one another), "Be True to Your School," and, like I said, there wasn't a weak performance in the concert, only great performances and even greater.

The crowd was in the aisles half a dozen times - including in the above video - singing and dancing, including nonstop for the last 4 or 5 songs.  My wife thought the average age of the audience was about 55 - there were little kids and octogenarians there for sure.

It's a strange, wondrous thing to hear music you've loved all of your life come to life again, right before your eyes and ears.   The Beach Boys touring group took the time to get the complex harmonies and musical licks just right - an impressive, even incredible, accomplishment for songs such as "Heroes and Villains" and "Good Vibrations," given the modular way (different sections of the songs in different recording sessions) the songs were first recorded back in the 1960s -  and the band performed with even more vitality than I've seen over the years on television and more recently YouTube.  I usually tell people that I feel like 17 on a good day and 19 on a not-so-good day.  The good vibrations last night - theremin and all - made me feel 15-22 again, and it all felt good.

See also this CNN article about The Beach Boys, in which I'm quoted.


Jeff said...

I'm so glad you wrote this Paul. I caught the second wave with "Endless Summer" in 1974, but I've been riding it ever since.

Paul Levinson said...

That must have been really something, Jeff. I still feel like I just got out of the concert, or maybe still at it, on Tuesday night.

WDD said...

Like you, I loved the Beach Boys as a kid and the idea of finally seeing them made me all "misty", as Maynard G. Krebs used to say. So I, too, got chills at this concert. Having myself gone through the whole range from Soprano to Alto to Tenor to Bass and back to somewhere in between, their harmonies have always been a source of awe for me. In these days of "Autotune", I was astounded at how beautiful -- and on pitch! -- they still were. The backup band was great and, as a member of the loudest, happiest audience I've ever seen or heard, I was proud to consider myself one of them. As you noted, I thought WE did a great job on "Rhonda", and the stars seemed to notice -- even Mike gave up and turned his microphone towards us. I thought perhaps the best measure of the impact -- and of the ages of those present -- was one dedicated 20-something who had made it down those scary balcony steps ON CRUTCHES and ended up standing and waving one crutch in time as her row-mates did the Swim (how did they even know that EXISTED?!) So thanks again for, essentially, reflecting my own feelings on the web. Keep up the harmony!

Paul Levinson said...

Thank _you_, WDD, for a great mini-review! Someday we should get together and do some harmony (I'll still have a pretty good falsetto :)