Review: The Beach Boys – Waterfront Hall, Belfast
The Beach Boys are Mike Love’s band now. After all, he’s been involved since the early 1960s, the only part of the band’s conception he missed being the harmony sessions his cousins the Wilson brothers had in childhood, where a teenage Brian taught pre-teens Carl and Dennis harmonies he’d picked apart from hearing them on the radio. That, and the creative process going on inside Brian Wilson’s head, of course. And now that Brian has been touring solo for two decades – performing at Vicar Street, Dublin for two nights in August, in fact – Mike is the cement, the “big name” and the only true original member left. Grammy award-winning Bruce Johnston is the next longest serving, having appeared intermittently since 1965 between writing songs for Barry Manilow and is here tonight, on vocals and keys and the wearing of a Hawaiian lei. A few decades of time served separate the next members: Jeff Foskett of 1982-1990 (then rejoining in 2012) vintage on rhythm guitar and vocals, filling in the Beach Boys essence – high harmonies that were never Love’s area anyway and singing lead on many of the songs. The other high notes are courtesy of Scott Totten who joined in 2000, lead guitar and Musical Director for this tour, coolly wearing black and looking serious, taking care of the twanging guitar solos and beautifully falsettoing.
Old footage spanning the decades begins the show. From black and white, to mid-60s popularity clashes with The Beatles to 60s and 70s bearded hippiedom. Traces of their famous songs blur in and out, rendering the footage poignant when you remember some of these people are no longer with us: Dennis Wilson drowning in 1983, Carl Wilson succumbing to lung cancer in 1998. But it’s not poignant for long as we launch into what can only be called ‘The Surf Section’, “Do It Again“, “Surfin’ Safari” and “Surfin’ USA” in quick succession. We’re seeing some air guitar already from the audience, with some fine surfboard waxing mimes too. After the high octane start Love admonishes the staff in the nicest way, telling them that they’ll play ballads all night long unless the audience are set free from their chair confines. Given their back catalogue, ballads all night wouldn’t be such a terrible prospect but everything loosens up a little from then on, although it takes a while for the audience to truly shake off their shyness shackles.
“If you have a cellphone and can find the flashlight on it”, Love instructs us, “If we get enough it can look like the Milky Way”. When several people shout that they can’t he jokes “Ask someone younger than you!”. And it is a mostly older audience. After all, this is the Now And Then: 50 Years Of Good Vibrations tour and some of these fans have been here since the beginning. Flashlights activated, it’s time for a dreamy “Little Surfer Girl“. It’s been a little ramshackle until this point: surf pop always has a slight delay to it, a charming echo so it’s tough to tell if the slight harmony discrepancies are by accident or design. There are no visible monitors on stage so if they’re all doing it completely by ear, it’s an admirable feat. Around this point though, everything starts to tighten up vocally. Foskett takes lead for “Don’t Worry Baby” and whether it’s the presence of a smoother voice than Love’s in lead that binds everything together or simply a tech issue at the beginning that is resolved, the wrinkles are truly ironed out.
Part two is softer. The full moon rises on the screen behind the band and “In My Room” brings with it a gentle feeling of peace. There’s a completely a capella beginning to a cover of Frankie Lymon And The Teenagers’ “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?” with Totten on deadly accurate falsetto lead vocals and a five part split harmony at the end with Love counting in each part on his fingers. “Darlin” is so rich with Foskett’s voice so complete on its own that the additional harmonies are nothing short of celestial along with the psychedelic visuals. The fifth member of the front row of the nine-piece band is Mike’s son Christian Love who sings lead on “God Only Knows” and though we’re sceptical of how he’ll do as he hasn’t exactly set the stage alight thus far, we’re willing to give him a chance for family reasons and he measures up well. We wouldn’t be surprised if there were tears in the eyes of some audience members at this point, and also wouldn’t be surprised if the song made another appearance during the encore. It doesn’t, but it would have been welcomed.
“It sounds so beautiful in here,” Love remarks and he’s right; the acoustics of The Waterfront Hall are perfect for this show with the audience at any time being able to pick apart the harmonies and choose their favourite to sing along with. Two songs from Love’s 2017 album Unleash The Love follow. “Pisces Brothers” is dedicated to The Beatles’ George Harrison with its chorus of melding Beatles and Beach Boys lyrics in a simple yet touching way: “Jaykurudeva, Hari Krishna, Haari ram Jaykurudeva, little darling, here comes the sun”. The title track comes next with Love teaching us all the “Unleash The Love” hand gestures and some audience members do them as we enjoy the rocking psychedelic journey through the past, a song that could sit well soundtracking montages from late 60s sitcoms with a wigout at the end worthy of Godspell. There’s a California double bill next with a well chosen cover of “California Dreaming” and “California Girls”, the audience choosing this time to make their pilgrimage to the front of the stage as Love makes his way towards them, high-fiving and posing for selfies while singing. With the audience out of their seats the slightly more rock and roll songs are brought out of the back catalogue with “Do You Wanna Dance?” and “Rock And Roll Music” by Chuck Berry giving the crowd a chance to really let go.
Christian Love takes the lead for “Good Vibrations” and we trust him now. Some lyrics appear on screen for those of us who aren’t quite sure and the audience breaks into song yet again, the famous theremin backing provided by a setting on the keyboard rather than being played live, although we see it on the screen from back in the day. They disappear but we know an encore is likely and it’s provided by drummer John Cowsill, the band’s secret weapon who blazes through “Wild Honey” with a rock vocal Mick Jagger would be envious of. “Fun, Fun, Fun” finishes with the screen showing different T-Bird cars and a surprise segue into Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue” on piano and guitar for the final climax. And if that’s not enough surfing nostalgia for you? Brian Wilson in Vicar Street on the 21st and 22nd August is the place to be.