Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Beach Boys warm hearts at Segerstrom

My review was originally posted on The Orange County Register Web site on Monday morning, Dec. 9, 2013.

The Mike Love-led group's debut at Segerstrom Hall was a fast-paced nostalgia trip.

Mike Love, left, led the Beach Boys in concert on Dec. 7. Photo: Segerstrom Center for the Arts
Rarely has the real-life tale of a legendary ensemble been so at odds with its soundscape as the Beach Boys.
While the Southern California group ignited the world with feel-good songs chronicling surfing, pretty girls and cool hot rods in the early '60s, the Beach Boys' half-century-long story includes a Shakespeare-worthy cast featuring brothers Dennis Wilson (who drowned in 1983), Carl Wilson (who died of cancer in 1998) and creative ringleader Brian Wilson, whose tragic journey has been infamously marked by a number of demons, substance abuse and mental health issues among them.
Adding to bad blood that wasn't given a momentary transfusion until last summer's 50th anniversary reunion are years of legal wrangling, at one point over the band's name and songwriting credits shared between Brian Wilson and his cousin, singer Mike Love.
Yet Saturday night (Dec. 7, 2013) the group's debut at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa brought a mostly joyful celebration of the group's legacy, as led by Love and longtime singer-songwriter and keyboardist Bruce Johnston, who joined the band with the departure of interim member Glen Campbell in April 1965.
With the exception of a poignant rendition of "God Only Knows" – for which Carl's signature vocal performance was blended via technology with players at Segerstrom Hall, while vintage pictures of the original troupe were projected behind the stage – this was a crowd-pleasing, nostalgic romp through dozens of classic tunes unleashed over a fast-paced 110 minutes.
Opening with "Do It Again," an excellent five-man touring band backed Love and Johnston, providing solid firepower and vocal magic to help re-create the harmonies so vital to the Beach Boys' harmony-rich sound. Who can argue with a night of so many beloved hits played in faithful fashion?
Love's voice remains strong and worthy of showcasing in solo sections, his pipes working especially well on "409," "Sloop John B" and a night-ending run through "Surfin' U.S.A." But everybody else got a chance to shine, too.
Bassist-singer Randell Kirsch's tenor soared on a lovely "Don't Worry Baby," while lead guitarist Scott Totten sang effectively on a shimmering version of "The Warmth of the Sun." Guitarist Christian Love contributed to an affecting take on "Good Vibrations," while keyboardist Tim Bonhomme's work enhanced the set throughout.
A few selections veered away from big hits: the catchy surf gem "Hawaii," the Johnston-sung "Disney Girls," the bluesy nugget "Wild Honey" and a six-minute medley of holiday tunes pulled from the group's classic 1964 Christmas album, including "White Christmas," "The Man with All the Toys," "Santa's Beard" and a rousing "Little Saint Nick." My favorite offbeat choice, though, was a Crosby, Stills & Nash-style handling of the Mamas & the Papas' "California Dreamin'," with Totten's 12-string guitar adding haunting overtones.
Ultimately, the night was about the Beach Boys' singular, gently intoxicating sound, one that still encapsulates those carefree days before the painful realities of adulthood kick in. But watching this enthusiastic, boomer-heavy crowd cheer, sing and clap along, rising to their feet when the band launched into a favorite oldie, was to see the timeless power of that endless summer fully on display.

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