Concert: Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Tour in Uncasville, CT
Coming of age as a music lover in the 1970s presented an opportunity for many to get to know the sounds of their favorite bands intimately. And if you were partial to using the newest generation headphones to capture the sonic details of complicated arrangements, few acts made for better listening than The Beach Boys.
Even on well-played and scratchy vinyl LP records, you could drop the needle, pop on the headphones and get lost in the perky uptempo ditties and thick, lush production that mixed together so many vocal and instrumental ingredients that many Beach Boys albums required multiple listenings just to begin taking it all in.
Conversely, the band's concerts were often disappointing to Beach Boys purists who couldn't get over the loud, chunky performances that more often than not obscured or completely obliterated any of the delicate nuances and complexities of Brian Wilson's many musical creations.
Well, it took half a century of technological improvements in live sound -- not to mention the diplomatic reunion of Brian Wilson and Mike Love -- but the Beach Boys have finally reached a point where their concert output generally rivals the quality of the bands classic recordings. Even in the acoustically unfriendly Mohegan Sun Arena -- which hosts concerts as well as professional basketball games, monster truck shows and bull riding -- Sunday's (5/13) second show of the Beach Boys' two-night stand at the venue was a treat for the ears.
The meticulous recreation of classics spanning the years from the Beach Boys' earliest singles to the band's latest offering, the title track from "That's Why God Made the Radio," were nothing short of astounding. And it wasn't just the vocals, which at times numbered 12 or 13 voices between the core surviving members Wilson, Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks, and the 10-piece backing band featuring mostly players from Wilson's solo touring outfit.
Since the tour commenced a few weeks ago, the core band has taken a few knocks from critics for surrounding themselves with so many other players, but anyone who watched and listened carefully to the show would be hard pressed to argue for leaving any one of the supporting crew behind.
Over the course of two sets and 43 songs performed Sunday, each individual member had a chance -- or multiple chances -- to shine.
Wilson, who brought so much to the table early on in the Beach Boys' history, may have been the most consistently disappointing on this night. His general disengagement bordered on catatonia at times, except on a handful of numbers where even his now-weakened vocal pipes were required.
During those too few magic moments -- during "Surfer Girl," "In My Room" and "Sloop John B -- Wilson was all there. His contribution of a fantastic new vocal arrangement on the cover "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" also evidenced that his true talent still translates well from paper to performance.
Wiloson was also a key contributor to the best two songs of the show, adding plaintive, melancholy tones to "Please Let Me Wonder" and "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times," and then deftly leading the ensemble through the rhythmically complex "Heroes and Villains."
Love was also quite reserved as he chatted quietly with the crowd between songs, apparently saving his vocal cords for up-tempo powerhouse rockers like show opener "Do It Again," "Be True to Your School," "California Girls" and "Rock and Roll Music." Strangely, it was on Love's biggest contribution to the band's catalog, "Kokomo," that he fell completely flat with barely audible lyrics.
Jardine may have the most preserved voice among the core five, and he proudly stepped up to the mic to remind the crowd of the important role he played in so many of the band's hits. Sadly, his most well-received number was a cover of the Mamas and The Papas "California Dreaming," which the Beach Boys recorded on their 1986 release "Made in U.S.A." He also rocked the house on "Cotton Fields, and another cover, "Then I Kissed Her."
Johnston may have been the one most buried in the mix, both vocally and instrumentally. He was often seen singing into the microphone and banging on a stand-up piano, but it was only on his rendition of "Disney Girls (1957)" that his sweet falsetto unfurled without any distractions.
Marks, who spent about 20 months in the Beach Boys in 1962 and 1963, was a welcome addition to this tour, lending nice vocal work on "Hawaii," and more than a few authentic surf guitar riffs on tunes like "Marsella," "I Get Around" and "Do You Wanna Dance?"
Wilson's right hand man, Jeff Foskett did a great job shadowing but never upstaging his mentor, and was rewarded with the vocal spotlight on a crowd favorite, "Don't Worry Baby." Paul von Mertens only got to come out front a couple of times for sax solos on "Shut Down" and "Help Me Rhonda," but he was working constantly, switching across various saxophones, clarinet, flute, chromatic harmonica and other woodwinds.
Drummer John Cowsill copied the sound of the late Dennis Wilson's heavy handed tom-tom driven beats with precision. And the most energetic member of the band, percussionist Nelson Bragg, was amazing to watch as he deftly handled some of the unique hand instruments that flavored so many Beach Boys numbers while simultaneously contributing backing vocals to almost every tune.
Guitarists/vocalists Scott Totten, Nick Walusko, Probyn Gregory and bassist Mike D'Amico, along with the dynamic keyboard duo of Darian Sahanaja and Scott Bennett, also played vital roles in helping complete the magical sound that represents the Beach Boys of 2012.
Even tributes to Dennis and Carl Wilson were in order, and not too cheesy. The band did well by the two deceased co-founders as Dennis sang along on a video of "Forever" and Carl lent his sweet tenor to a pre-recorded video of "God Only Knows."
The Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Tour continues to wind its way from coast-to-coast through mid July, when the gang packs up and jets over to Europe and Japan for shows through Aug. 22.