The Beach Boys
Half gig, half train wreck - but it's still 'Fun, Fun, Fun' for Andrew Johnston
The name on the ticket is ‘The Beach Boys’, but the band onstage is something else. Founding lead singer Mike Love and long-time sideman Bruce Johnston are joined by five backing musicians, including Love’s son Christian.
There’s not a Wilson in sight, but it’s hard to begrudge Love the right to tour with this nostalgia show. He’s having fun, making money and putting smiles on a lot of faces (there’s a full house of 2,250 here tonight).
But what this performance at the Waterfront – the Beach Boys’ first Belfast gig since 1991 – underlines is just how good the original group were at producing clever, hook-laden pop songs.
Love, the Wilson brothers – Brian, Dennis and Carl – and Al Jardine were the first and greatest American rock ‘n’ roll band, influencing everyone from the Beatles to the Ramones. It’s sad that surviving members Mike, Brian and Al can’t bury whatever hatchets are preventing them from getting together for one last hurrah.
Perhaps next year’s 50th anniversary will lead to such an event, but for now we have Mike and Bruce’s travelling jukebox. Sixty-nine-year-old Love is in fair voice, though he is propped up somewhat by the sweet harmonies of drummer John Cowsill, bassist Randell Kirsch and guitarist Scott Totten.
The ever-affable Johnston tackles Carl Wilson’s ‘God Only Knows’ vocal, while Christian Love handles Jardine’s parts on ‘Help Me, Rhonda’. It’s a hugely enjoyable, slickly executed run-through of the back catalogue, if a tad crass.
There remains something creepy about Love, as he moves stiffly around the stage, wearing a Beach Boys baseball cap to cover the bald spot he’s been cultivating since 1963 and waggling gold-bedecked fingers at the audience. Still, the frontman certainly has the credentials to pull this off.
He co-wrote and sang lead on many of the Beach Boys’ major hits, and is the only person to have played on each of their 28 albums. Perhaps more pertinently, he is the only Beach Boy not to have died, gone mad or left to launch a rival group, (a recent lawsuit involved Jardine’s ‘Beach Boys Family and Friends’, later renamed ‘Alan Jardine Family and Friends Beach Band’ and finally ‘Al Jardine’s Endless Summer Band’).
Johnston, for his part, spends more time urging the seated crowd to clap and dance than playing keyboards or singing. At times, the closest person Love has to a fellow original member (Johnston replaced the ailing Brian in 1965, and has been there or thereabouts since), seems more like a mascot than a musician.
This one-hour-45-minute concert is equal parts great gig and train wreck. But in the end, regardless of who is onstage or who is doing the lights (judging by the regular plunges into darkness and misdirected spots, it could well be Brian), you can’t argue with a setlist that includes ‘Do It Again’, ‘I Get Around’, ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’, ‘Barbara Ann’, ‘Sloop John B’, ‘Good Vibrations’, ‘Surfin’ USA’, ‘California Girls’ and ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’.