Beach Boys Bow Out With Backstage Feud, Pop Hits: Review

The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys, led by Brian Wilson, center, have reunited for a comeback tour and album. The California-based band mixes surfing songs and close harmonies. Photographer: Robert Matheu/EMI Capitol via Bloomberg

The harmonies were golden, the pop as frisky as a surfer’s body.

The surviving members of the Beach Boys played the final gigs of a tour to mark the band’s 50th anniversary in London -- probably the last time they all perform together. Recent feuds follow years of legal spats which cloud the sunny music.

Just before the gigs, the Internet was awash with reports that Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and David Marks had been fired: Further tours would take place without their contributions. It later transpired that Mike Love will continue to tour Beach Boys’ music separately, as he’s done in the past.

Future reunions and recordings aren’t officially ruled out. Still, the band’s volatility, the quality and the history of the music ensured that the U.K. shows were special. The Boys (Beach Men or Beach Pensioners seems more apt) are mostly in their 70s; the music they make still radiates the essence of youth.

In public there was only bonhomie. Love, attempting some clunky dancing in a shiny gold jacket, took the boisterous lead. Jardine, a sober figure in a dark shirt and with thoroughly brown hair, sang and played guitar.

At the edge of the stage, Wilson sat behind a white baby grand piano. Occasionally he waved his arms around to the music in delight. His voice tinged with frailty and he was by far the most soulful singer. He consistently (and justifiably) received the biggest applause.

Group’s Baby

The surviving original line-up was completed by Marks, at 64 the baby of the group, in sunglasses and baseball cap. Bruce Johnston, who joined in 1965, bounced around with glee as if he still couldn’t quite believe he was playing in such a band.

The shows opened with straightforward pop, doo-wop and rock ‘n’ roll. A selection of surf tunes (“Catch a Wave,” “Surfer Girl”) was followed by songs about girlfriends (“Kiss Me, Baby” and a tingle-inducing cover of “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”).

“When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)” was played with the slightest twinkle of irony. After “Be True to Your School,” Love dedicated “Ballad of Ole’ Betsy” to “anyone who has ever loved a car.”

At times, the formula wore thin. While the famous harmonies were still perfect, the tones of the voices had inevitably lost the vibrancy of youth. Support was discreetly provided by the nine-strong backing band.

The tumbling acapella harmonies of “Our Prayer” were as transcendental as “Heroes and Villains” was exuberantly silly.

Reunion Album

“That’s Why God Made the Radio,” the title track from this year’s reunion album, stood proud alongside a cover of “California Dreaming.”

Respects were paid to original members, the late Carl and Dennis Wilson, with the band playing along to audio and video recordings of them singing “God Only Knows” and “Forever.”

The audience contained many older couples, rekindling the musical romance. Some had brought grandchildren along with them. All were swept up by a giddy sequence of “Sloop John B,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and a delirious “Good Vibrations.”

Finally, Brian Wilson took the lead on “Summer’s Gone,” a ballad warm with melancholia and gentle tangs of regret. A perfect send-off, it was also a reminder that the Beach Boys, all of them together, are still too good to lose.

Rating: ****.

The Beach Boys played the Royal Albert Hall and Wembley Arena on Sept. 27 and 28. “That’s Why God Made the Radio,” on Capitol, is priced about $12 in the U.S. For a review of the album, click here. There is a new “Greatest Hits” collection, with a 50-song edition out this month for $24. Download fees vary across services. Information:

What the Stars Mean:
*****      Exceptional
****       Excellent
***        Good
**         Average
*          Poor
(No stars) Worthless

(Robert Heller is a music critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Warwick Thompson on London theater and John Mariani on wine.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE