May 21, 2015 The Beach Boys cruise into NYCB Theatre at Westbury, NY 4-25-15 w/ America
Before The British Invasion of The Beatles, and before The Rolling Stones, Hawthorne, California produced The Beach Boys. Releasing the song “Surfin'” in mid-November of 1961, The Beach Boys quickly became America’s first popular band, as prior to their arrival, the music scene was dominated by solo artists and vocal groups who did not play their own instruments. Taking their cue from the Doo-Wop groups they grew up on, The Beach Boys delivered sharp harmonies over surf style music and sang about the things every boy in America dreamt of; surfing, the beach, girls, and cars. The original lineup consisted of the Wilson brothers (Brian, Carl, and Dennis), their cousin Mike Love, and their friend Al Jardine. Throughout their history, the band has endured multiple lineup changes; Brian Wilson’s years’ long seclusion, deaths (Dennis and Carl Wilson), internal lawsuits, external lawsuits, substance abuse, and all of the other trappings that come along with international stardom in the music industry. In 1966, the band released the seminal psychedelic Pop masterpiece Pet Sounds, an album so strong, it knocked the Beatles out of the top spot in the U.K. The band would continue its experimental sound for the next few years before returning to their roots with 1971’s Surf’s Up.
The Beach Boys continued to release albums, in various incarnations up to their latest release, 2012’s That’s Why God Made the Radio, in honor of the band’s fiftieth anniversary. It was their first album since the 1998 death of Carl, their first to feature both guitarist David Marks and vocals Bruce Johnston, and only their fourth studio album since the death of Dennis in 1983; celebrated with a 2012 Summer tour featuring Brian as a part of a full tour with the band for the first time since 1965. Now in 2015, the band continues to make history, performing live around the world with the current lineup consisting of original member Mike Love on vocals, Bruce Johnston on vocals, Jeffrey Foskett on guitar, multi-instrumentalist Randell Kirsch, Tim Bonhomme on keys, John Cowsill on drums, and Scott Totten on vocals/guitar. Playing up to one hundred and fifty shows a year, the band brought its deep canon of hits to the NYCB Theater in Westbury, NY for a night featuring over thirty songs on Saturday April 25th. Joined by legendary band America as direct support, it was a show Rock-n-Roll fantasies are made up.
Opener America burst onto the scene in 1971 with their self-titled debut, which would go on to achieve platinum status after being re-released in 1972 with the addition of the single “A Horse with No Name.” Founding members Dewey Bunnell, Dan Peek, and Gerry Beckley laid down a Folk Rock masterpiece as the album would become historic in the landscape of Rock history. Their songs would craft several Top Ten hits during their peak years 1971 – 1976, and would top the charts again in 1982 with “You Can Do Magic.” Looking to find new direction and purpose in life, Peek left the band in 1977, and sadly passed away in 2011, thus laying to rest the hopes of fans for a reunion. Keeping America strong, Bunnell and Beckley are currently touring with Ryland Steen (drums), Bill Worrell (guitar, banjo, keys), and Richard Campbell (bass). Making it a tradition to visit NYCB Theatre at Westbury year after year, regulars to the venue were not only happy to see their return, but ecstatic for a chance to see them billed with the Beach Boys.
On this night, the band played a set featuring well over a dozen songs that were highly familiar to the sold out crowd. “Tin Man” opened the set with the band’s classic Folk sound featuring a propulsive melody and ethereal lyrics. “Ventura Highway,” “Sister Golden Hair,” “Sandman,” and show closer “A Horse with No Name” were amongst the many hits the band churned out. Both Bunnell and Beckley sounded as strong as ever and gave each memorable tune the passion they rightfully deserve. As a nod to their influences, the band played two covers including Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” and the Mamas and The Papas “California Dreamin,’” having the audience applauding at top volume in appreciation. It was a strong set from a band that is now a staple on classic Rock radio history. Chances are America will soon return to the stage in the round, and Long Island will be there to capture the special moments time and time again.
It came time for Rock and Roll Hall of Famers The Beach Boys. Marking their return to NYCB Theatre at Westbury for the first time since April 4th, 2013, they opened their marathon set with the song that started it all, “Surfin’.” “Surfin’ is the only life the only way for me now………..” opened the track, laying the foundation for the night, and echoing the foundation of the band over fifty years ago. With its Doo-Wop sensibilities (bouncy drums, nonsensical harmonies using made-up words and sounds, and strong harmonies up front), the song exemplified the Beach Boys’ mixing of the California surf music sound with Doo-Wop. The surf theme continued with another song that screamed 1956, “Catch a Wave.” Once again, the song was drenched in harmonies, mile-high vocals tempered with bass, and an upbeat riff on organ. Switching gears from one teen interest (surfing) to another, “Little Honda” was next. A short ditty about a “groovy little motorbike” that was “more fun than a barrel of monkeys” and could “ride on out of the town to any place I know you like” found the band delivering another raucous slice of teenage life.
The surfing theme was quickly resurrected with “Surfin’ Safari” and “Surfer Girl.” “Surfin’ Safari” found the crowd on their feet singing along to the famous chorus, while “Surfer Girl” gave The Boys a chance to catch their breath after a breakneck opening. Cowsill laid down the classic, simple drumbeat while Bonhomme’s work on piano mimicked all of the great ballads that came before the song was released in 1963, sounding like the best to come out of the Brill Building. “Don’t Worry Baby” kept the mellow feeling going. Here, the band sounded like the best of the girl groups of the ’50s and ’60s. Over the same drumbeat used countless times by the Ronettes and the like, the vocals soared to dizzying highs coupled with solid, mid and low end harmonies.
The group picked up the pace with a five song run featuring another favorite of adolescent boys; cars and more specifically, racing them. “Little Deuce Coupe,” “409,” “Shut Down,” “I Get Around,” and “Ballad of Ole Betsy.” All five tracks were absolute ravers, each one seemingly outdoing the previous one in terms of energy from the band. Joyfully singing along, the crowd ate up the nostalgia. Despite being at it for over five decades, the energy was unrelenting. “Little Deuce Coupe” and “I Get Around” were huge at the time of their release, and were huge again this night.
Turning to their roots, The Beach Boys took on Frankie Lymon and the Teenager’s smash “Why Do Fools Fall in Love.” Opening with a complex piano intro that blended Baroque, Jazz, and Pop, the group tore into the bouncy Doo-Wop classic to the delight of the crowd. It was a powerful performance from both an instrumental and a vocal standpoint. “Sloop John B,” another cover, although being a traditional song; the Beach Boys recorded probably the most recognizable version; so many think it is an original, was one of the highlights of the show. Coming off of the daring Pet Sounds LP, it was a pioneer in the psychedelic Pop genre and the live version was just as impressive. The complex percussion was played to perfection while the propulsive piano laid the foundation for the multi-part harmonies throughout. The a cappella break in the middle section came off flawlessly, and the outro was extended to include multiple choruses. Pet Sounds opener “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” kept the pace going with its teen angst buried in a sugary Pop melody as Love sang about yearning to be “older” and “married.” Once again, the harmonies took center stage. Pet Sounds side two opener “God Only Knows” kept the bright, sunny, trippy Pop going. A staccato riff on piano, coupled with equally curt drumming helped push along the high-pitched vocals at a medium pace; a Pop masterpiece that allowed the crowd to catch its breath before the band went into a stretch of fast paced pop numbers.
The closing run of songs wound down the set in fine fashion with burner after burner as the group ripped through a string of hits not rivaled by many bands in the history of recorded music as they tore through “Good Vibrations,” “California Girls,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “Barbara Ann,” and show closer “Surfin’ U.S.A..” Taking the audience on a journey through time, The Beach Boys had come full circle for the night. After starting off with the surf/fun theme, and then getting into cars, girls, psychedelia, drugs, they were back onto the world of carefree, sun-drenched life as a teenager in California. Their take on “Good Vibrations” managed to replicate all of the studio wizardry that made the song such a smash upon its initial release, as the multi-layered sounds came through on stage. Although it was a step in a different direction for the band, they managed to blend the surf sound and harmonies with the freak-out sound of the music; a testament to their creativity and ingenuity. “California Girls,” “Help Me Rhonda,” and “Barbara Ann” brought the crowd back to their feet as the band seemed to be having more fun than anyone in the audience. The Pop masterpieces were performed with such expertise they were hardly discernable from the studio versions, save for the amped up energy coming from the stage and the crowd. “Surfin’ U.S.A.” was a natural choice to close the show. It is their most recognizable song and it embodies what the band is most associated with. It was a fitting end to the set as they closed the circle on their long, illustrious career by starting with their signature sound (“Surfin”), covering a multitude of styles, and then closing with a staple of theirs that most everyone over the age of twenty-one knows.
A brief, two song encore consisted of one of the bands biggest hits, and one of their only hits from the early ’70s to today, 1988’s “Kokomo.” The harmonic ballad about life in the tropics went to number one in the United States, Australia, and Japan on the strength of the 1988 movie Cocktail, and its inclusion on the soundtrack. The song got the crowd singing along and swaying to the Caribbean themed melody. “Fun Fun Fun” would finally end the show and the Pop Dance classic brought the crowd to their feet one last time. Singing about girls, cars, and teenage rebellion, The Beach Boys put their stamp on a timeless evening of music.
Still playing close to two-hundred shows a year almost sixty years after their inception, The Beach Boys still bring boundless energy to their live performances. No matter what age one is, they can be sure they will recognize no less than ninety percent of the cuts the band play, and will know the words to all of them. Managing to steer clear of the “nostalgia” act in which bands play their hits in a watered-down version, at an almost lounge-act pace, The Beach Boys dominated the stage with an upbeat, vibrant show that was beyond “Fun, Fun, Fun.”