Live: The Beach Boys at the Hollywood Bowl
The Beach Boys opened their show Saturday night at the Hollywood Bowl with “Do It Again,” and if that slow-rolling single oozed nostalgia upon its release in 1968, you can imagine the note it strikes today.
A three-hour marathon of good reverberations, Saturday’s concert — part of a world tour that extends through late September — reunited Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys’ creative genius, with his two surviving original bandmates, Mike Love and Al Jardine; the L.A. group’s current lineup also includes a pair of longtime associates, Bruce Johnston and David Marks, as well as 10 backing musicians and video-screen representations of Wilson’s late brothers, Carl and Dennis.
All those voices were working to reproduce the astonishing harmonic complexity of the Beach Boys’ music, which throughout the 1960s did as much as the Beatles’ to expand the notion of what pop could be. At the Bowl, where Love thanked the capacity crowd for “coming to our hometown reunion,” songs such as “Surfer Girl” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” condensed worlds of emotion into a few melodic phrases.
But the voices also were combining in an effort to channel the wistful optimism of the days before drugs, mental illness and a series of internecine legal conflicts drove the Beach Boys apart. Prior to this trek — which comes accompanied by a new studio album, “That’s Why God Made the Radio,” due out Tuesday — the group hadn’t toured together for “more than two decades,” as a note on its website asserts. Out on the road at last, it’s using music to restart a once-endless summer.
The time away did less than you might’ve supposed to diminish the Beach Boys’ energy: Early material from the band’s foundational surf-rock phase — “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “Surfin’ Safari,” the car-obsessed tunes they jammed together in a breakneck medley — sounded zippy and full of life Saturday, as though the players were determined to earn the mid-show intermission Love referred to wryly as a nap break.
The same went for “Good Vibrations” and “Heroes & Villains,” examples of the ambitious, increasingly idiosyncratic work Wilson was doing in the wake of the Beach Boys’ landmark 1966 album, “Pet Sounds.” Seated rather stoically for much of the show behind a white grand piano, Wilson appeared most engaged at the Bowl in these songs and in “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times,” a plaintive “Pet Sounds” cut about being misunderstood that couldn’t have sounded lonelier.
That was one of the few instances Saturday when the Beach Boys dipped below the surface of their beloved “cool, clear water,” as they described the ocean in “California Saga.” For all its convincing reanimation, the concert gave little indication of what life is like at the moment for these legendarily experienced SoCal icons.
Johnston provided a welcome bit of context when he dedicated his early-’70s gem “Disney Girls” to his son’s fiancée. “Welcome to the family!” he called out with seemingly genuine excitement. And Love revealed something of himself by repeatedly exhorting fans to pre-order “That’s Why God Made the Radio” on Amazon. (A performance of the album’s fairly miserable title track didn’t help his cause.)
Given the undimmed brilliance of the Beach Boys’ best songs, perhaps they don’t need a fresh reason to do them again. Certainly the audience at the Bowl was happy without one. But as Wilson navigated the still-tender introversion of “In My Room,” you couldn’t help but wonder if more than memory is at work there now.
-- Mikael Wood
Photo: Brian Wilson at the Hollywood Bowl. Credit: Chris Pizzello / Invision/Associated Press