All right, let’s do this…
We’re back on schedule, folks. First off, some housekeeping:
1. Guest reviews are not only welcome, they are encouraged. As anyone who’s ever seen this blog can attest to, anything under the sun is open for discussion here. Please send me your thoughts and ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or just call me if you have my number.
2. This blog is currently returning in a limited fashion due to my baseball job. So, new posts will be released on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
3. On with the chlorophyll!
When a band embarks on its “50th Anniversary Tour” – and I’m guessing this hasn’t happened too often in musical history – that implies two things.
1. Wow, this band has been around for a while!
2. Wow, this band is really old!
And that’s the case with the Beach Boys, the legendary gang of songwriters and musicians crooning about surfin’, drivin’ and more surfin’. After lawsuits and solo projects and years upon years of strife, the Boys have reunited for a tour to commemorate their 50 years as a band. And that doesn’t just mean Mike Love and friends – that means David Marks, Bruce Johnston, Al Jardine and the legendary Brian Wilson, all together again. (Carl and Dennis Wilson have since passed away, but we’ll get to them later on in the review.) It’s the first time Wilson’s performed on a full tour with the band since 1965 – a year I remember vividly, at the tender age of negative 24. So suffice it to say – especially since Love’s 71 years old, and Wilson and Jardine are 69 – Jason Benetti (my broadcast partner with the Chiefs) and I felt like this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Of course, there was just one problem, since it’s baseball season, a time when days off are as frequent as 50-degree afternoons in a Syracuse December. In a 152-day span, the Syracuse Chiefs have a grand total of eight scheduled days off – so we were going to have get creative. And we hit the jackpot yesterday, on Sunday, June 17. The Chiefs were home at 2:00, and the Boys were playing at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts at 7:30. It’s about a 2.5 hour drive from Syracuse to Bethel, so we knew we’d be squeezed for time. Considering the average Chiefs game this year has lasted two hours and 43 minutes, there was reason to doubt that this would go smoothly. But when you have a chance to see the Beach Boys with Brian Wilson, you take that chance. So we took it.
The often bad, but occasionally great thing about baseball is that the game has no time limit. So a brilliantly pitched gem might wrap up in a mere two hours – but an extra-inning slugfest might take four. That’s the strange side of the game – you just don’t know. So when yesterday’s first inning took a half-hour to complete and finished a 10-minute delay when one of the players LITERALLY KICKED FIRST BASE OUT OF THE INFIELD – times seemed tough.
But like a gift from the heavens, starting pitchers Ramon Ortiz and Tanner Roark then worked so quickly that they might have had tickets to the concert – and a brisk two hours and 18 minutes after first pitch, the game came to an end. (Sadly, the Chiefs lost.) We changed from khakis to jeans, threw on sneakers and high-tailed my 1997 purple Honda (yes, the Floyd the Purple Honda) out of the Alliance Bank Stadium parking lot. The trip nearly took a turn for the worse when my Garmin GPS (Jeff) decided to take us off of Route 17 and down some sidewinding back roads – but it turned out we actually avoided any traffic that way. Way to go, Jeff!
(At this point in the review, those of you new to the blog are likely thinking one of three things:
1. Does this guy have a name for everything he owns? (Answer: Nope, just the car and the GPS.)
2. Are we ever going to hear about the actual concert? (Answer: Yes! Hold on tight, folks.)
3. Why the hell am I still reading this? (Answer: I don’t know, why were you reading this in the first place?)
And close parentheses.)
We pulled into the parking lot right around 7:23, thanks to some superb (but legally within the speed limit, hi Dad!) driving by yours truly. Of course, when I say parking “lot”, I mean parking “gigantic collection of acres upon acres of vast wasteland”. So on the walk to the center, we started to hear the unmistakable surf-type sound of the Beach Boys in the background. We were, alas, a few minutes late. But, as we soon found out, we were not to worry.
We entered to a rendition of the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Back Down”, soon to be followed by the 1962 hit “Surfin’ Safari”. And the Boys kept plugging away, song after song. Most Beach Boys tunes are no more than two and a half minutes, if that in length – if that – and with limited banter from Love, the front man of the group, the band just kept on plugging through their old tunes. With images of the beach, the waves, the girls and the surfboards behind the band, we heard song after song in a set list of more than 20 songs, including “Little Deuce Coupe”, “I Get Around” and excellent covers of “Cotton Fields” and “Why Do Fools Fall In Love.” It was an impressive, if generally laid-back, set list of songs to span the evening.
…sorry, did I say “set list”? I meant “first half of the show.”
You see, the Beach Boys played two halves with an intermission in between. They’re allowed to take an intermission because they’ve written more brilliant songs than just about any artist ever – and they’re all around 70 years old. But in the way the show was set up, the intermission also seemed to artistically divide the two halves of the show. The first half was a bit more mellow and a bit of a deeper dig into the Beach Boys’ catalog. But in the second half, out came the hits – and it was time to dance.
After the intermission, the five main members crowded around Wilson on piano for a beautiful rendition of “Add Some Music To Your Day”, which they followed up with “Heroes and Villains.” “Sloop John B”, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” came soon after in a trip down Pet Sounds’ memory lane. A later highlight featured the band singing harmonies to pre-recorded vocals of the late Dennis Wilson (on “Forever”) and Carl Wilson (on “God Only Knows”). Then, it was time for the crowd at Bethel to really groove. “Good Vibrations”, “California Girls”, “Help Me Rhonda”, “Rock and Roll Music”, “Do You Wanna Dance”, “Surfin’ USA”…and that’s how you end a second set, ladies and gentlemen.
But there was an encore to follow: the silly yet irresistible charm of “Kokomo”, the singalong pop of “Barbara Ann” and the classic rocker “Fun, Fun, Fun” closed out the night, with Brian Wilson jumping up to play bass guitar for the final tune. I doubt I’ll ever see so many 40-, 50- and 60-somethings in one place dancing so raucously again.
Musically, the Boys’ vocal harmonies are still top-notch. When there’s one lead voice standing out among the rest, you can hear the effects of just plain age. Brian Wilson and Mike Love have sounded better in their lives – that much is indisputable. But close your eyes to listen to the harmonies and you’d think you’d been transported back in time by a few decades. With a 15-minute or so intermission sandwiched in between, the band played in the neighborhood of two and a half hours, rattling off more than 40 tunes in all. The sheer quantity of the show was impressive enough, but the quality – even after 50 years – is what sold the performance for me.
A word on the venue itself, the Bethel Woods Art Center: awesome. (All right, time for more than just a word…) Bethel Woods is the home of the original Woodstock Festival, and 43 years later, it’s still a a tremendous place to watch a show. We stood on the lawn, which slopes down into some seats up front and culminates in the stage at the bottom, with a video screen on each side. You can clearly see the stage from everywhere on the lawn, though it was difficult to make out exactly who was singing and who was doing what from where we were. The sound, however, was crystal clear – soft enough that you can actually carry on a conversation and hear yourself, but sharp enough to make out every word and guitar lick.
While sitting closer would have been nice, I’d recommend the lawn as a place to be. It’s a full-on party out there, with lawn chairs, blankets and beers galore. People were hitting beach balls back and forth throughout the entire show, and there was always movement around the hill. Basically, it felt like one giant picnic. I will caution that you may run into the following characters on the lawn, as we did during the show:
– Faux blonder-haired Rob Ryan
– Guy with “Grateful Dad” shirt on
– Girl who could barely open her eyes under the influence of certain foreign substances, but repeatedly forced her male counterpart to dance against his will
– Gwen Stefani look-alike with cutoff sleeves and tattoos
– Dancing girls in hulu skirts (Though, as it turns out, Jason knew two of them, and we danced with them for the final few songs.)
The cast of characters, from ages one to seventy-something (probably older), was certainly an impressive one. And the venue itself should make for a great show every time. But ultimately, this was a night to dance and sing and realize that one of the greatest musical groups in history still sounds wonderful after all these years. My only question – can they come back for the 51st Anniversary Tour?
First half set list: B+ Second half set list: A Venue: A Cast of Characters: A- (letter decrease because of the girl who could barely open her eyes) Baseball-Related Luck: A
Overall Grade: A