tue 16/07/2019

The Beach Boys, Royal Albert Hall | reviews, news & interviews

The Beach Boys, Royal Albert Hall

The Beach Boys, Royal Albert Hall

Mike Love's controversial line-up still shows why the Beach Boys are one of the best bands ever

Bruce Johnston and Mike Love: original(ish) line-up

You might think that the carefree, gleeful melodies of sunny Californian surf-rock giants The Beach Boys would render them immune to the kind of egotistical wedge-driving that sunders most rock groups eventually. You would, of course, be wrong. Shortly after the band’s 50th-anniversary world tour in 2012, Mike Love, who owns the band’s name, took it away for his own version of the Beach Boys, leaving founder (and widely acknowledged musical genius) Brian Wilson and Al Jardine behind. Rumours, which will receive a thorough airing in the next year when first Wilson, then Love, publish their memoirs, suggested that Love is a grasping bully, with Wilson the rather unworldly creative genius.

So I wasn’t terribly looking forward to the prospect of a leathery cash cow being milked by some even leatherier musicians in an acoustic that could have been created with the quintessence of leather in mind. And, I must admit, I was wrong. It was a blast. For a 74-year-old, Love is in fine and firm voice, the glorious bass notes that punctuate the recordings in songs like “Surfin’ Safari” as strong as ever. Bruce Johnston and David Marks, though not quite as elastic, were clear and tuneful, Johnston’s lighter tone working well on his own song “Disney Girls”. The rest of the line-up, though not original, are all long-standing collaborators, who played with Wilson and Jardine for many years pre-split. Particular credit must go to drummer and vocalist John Cowsill, who rampaged when he had to, but also sang strongly, and gave quieter rhythmic texture when called for.

By the time we came to the clutch of indisputable masterpieces, the hall purred

Sitting in the choir stalls, behind the band, it’s perhaps not fair to judge the sound, which was projected in front of the stage, then bounced off most of the audience, before making its way to my seat. Even so, there was too much reverb. For the big choral anthems, it created a warm, inclusive sound, though it also drowned a lot of the detail in quieter passages. A cynic might say it was a strategy to disguise some weaker technical performances, and discourage subtlety, given that no one will be able to sing the harmonies as well as the Wilson brothers. But it wasn’t a night for cynicism.

The audience loved it, and the band, especially Love and Johnston, knew how to give them a good time. A young boy came onstage to play synth with Johnston; an audience member’s camera was given a stage tour; there were high fives, and beach balls kicked about. If this is rapacious band management, it wears a smiling face and creates a great buzz in the crowd. It also works hard. With no support band, the boys (what else can you call them, playing such evergreen music?) played for a full three hours, and the energy never flagged.

Then there are the songs. For most of the first set, glorious, melodious hit after hit rolled over the crowd like the Californian surf on a particularly fine day. Starting with the earlier surfing songs, which set the mood from the outset, by the time we came to the clutch of indisputable masterpieces that showed, as few other bands have been able, how harmonic complexity can be combined with breathtaking melodic appeal and memorable lyric-writing, the hall purred. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “Surf’s Up”, “God Only Knows”, “California Girls”, “I Get Around”, and “Good Vibrations” all sounded pretty good. It wasn't perfect – no one can sing the harmonies as well as the Wilson brothers – but probably as good as we can now get.   

The middle section of the second set had an unexpectedly intimate quality, with a foray into their early songs, and a brave attempt at barbershop with a rendition of “Their Hearts Are Full of Spring” by the Four Freshmen. It worked as well it could for the venue. You could even forgive Love the rather soupy, Mahavishnu-inspired new song “Pisces Brothers”, written in memory of George Harrison, another transcendental meditator. We can never have the original band with all the Wilsons. The details weren’t quite all there, but the atmosphere rocked.

 
I wasn’t terribly looking forward to the prospect of a leathery cash cow being milked by some even leatherier musicians

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Comments

I thought Mike Love's voice was shot and he leaned too heavily on his backing band, Pisces Brothers was one of the worst songs I've ever heard and having it follow God Only Knows is a crime.

It was awful

No it wasn't,that is an ill considered comment. They were terrific.I didn't like every song,and that Pisces Brothers thing was dreadful, but overall a really top show.

It was fantastic. I was in tears with the spirit of nostalgia and the memories of all the songs that I love. A few bum notes maybe. We are all human. Great show.

A great night with great music!

A great night, but it's not the Beach Boys without Brian Wilson. The second half was excellent, great songs from Surf's Up. The harmonies were far better than the solo voices and there was too much of Mike Love. Why did he think we would want to hear that awful Pisces dirge? After The wonderful 'God Only Knows' too! That apart it was amazing. Thank you.

Well I go to loads of gigs with my husband and we both thought this one left the whole audience feeling totally alive. What else can we ask. Mike engaged with people and as sometimes it seems stars 'just go through the motions' we were left feeling a warmth that is sometimes lacking. We loved every minute

What a cracking evening, surpassed all my expectations although there is an underlying feeling that without Brian and Al Jardine you're not getting the real deal. I am amazed at how hard they worked, they must have played well over 30 songs and with the exception of the Mike Love eulogy to Grorge Haririson everyone was a belter.

I went Sunday night,and it was fantastic,what a show. I didn't enjoy all the stuff but there was enough for everyone,both purists and Hawaiian shirt brigade. Top show.

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters