The Beach Boys brought their trademark surf sound to Calgary’s Saddledome Wednesday night (7/11/12) for the last of only three Canadian dates.
The current line-up, which reunites surviving members Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks, were in Cowtown as part of the band’s 50th anniversary celebrations.
Supporting a new album, “That’s Why God Made The Radio,” the band hit the stage to a huge reception from the 9000+ plus adoring fans, whose ages ranged from 7 to 70.
Relegated to the oldies circuit for the last 15 years with Love and Johnston touring behind a Wilson-less generic “Beach Boys,” while both Wilson and Jardine toured individually with solo projects, the anniversary reunion has put the legendary band back in the big time where it belongs.
The stage presentation was eye-catching with the core members performing out front on an extended stage, while their large orchestra played behind them on a riser stage.
The super-tight backing band, consisting of members of the core players’ touring groups, left the primary members free to focus on vocals and to switch off on instruments.
A large ‘drive-in movie’ styled hi-def screen, bearing the band’s tour logo in neon, was used to flash visuals of The Beach Boys, past and present, along with images of bikini clad girls, hot cars, and of course, surfers.
Boasting a massive hit-laden back catalogue, which few bands could rival, the three-hour show’s impressive 48-song set list was broken into two parts.
It took the band a few bars to find its footing during the show opener, which featured frontman Love leading the band on their beat-heavy 1969 hit “Do It Again,” but once they did, The Beach Boys proceeded to deliver spot-on renditions of early Wilson-penned hits such as “Catch A Wave,” “Surfin’ Safari,” “Surfer Girl,” and “Wendy.”
Any past tensions among group members were nowhere to be found, as core members bantered and joked easily among themselves and the crowd, with the exception of the clearly uncomfortable Wilson, whose mental health issues and stage fright are well documented.
Seated behind a white baby grand piano, garbed in a Calgary Flames jersey, the living legend struggled a bit vocally at times and often sat behind the piano not playing, his hands to his side motionless, staring off into space awaiting his vocal cues, almost as if he was unaware that a arena packed with fans had their eyes on him.
But just having Wilson present, the man who wrote, arranged and produced the vast majority of The Beach Boys catalogue, was enough for most fans and, to his credit, Wilson was all business when it was his turn in the spotlight, taking lead on classics such “Surfer Girl,” though many of his soaring high notes were ably handled by guitarist Jeffrey Foskett.
Deservedly, backing musicians often got spotlight time on centre stage, racing from the rear to perform everything from sax solos to a humour cowbell jaunt.
Asides from the numerous hits, set highlights included a duo of doo wop songs including “Why Do Fools Fall In Love,” the Jardine-led cover of “Cotton Fields,” the Phil Spector classic “Then I Kissed Him” (vocally changed to “Then I Kiss Her,”) and “Isn’t It Time” from their new studio album.
Wrapping the first set with a medley of their car-themed hits, which included “Little Deuce,” Coupe,” “409,” “Shut Down,” and the Wilson-led “I Get Around,” the band took a twenty minute intermission.
The second set kicked off with the orchestra performing the instrumental the title track from the band’s groundbreaking and highly influential 1966 album “Pet Sounds.”
The core members returned to gather around Wilson’s piano to perform a beautiful acapella rendering of the 1970 “Sunflower” track “Add Some Music to Your Day.”
The set, which produced some of the night’s best moments, focused heavily on Wilson’s brilliant “Pet Sounds” tracks including “Sloop John B,” the Jardine-led “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” Wilson’s self-portrait “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” and the breath-taking “God Only Knows.”
In a touching tribute to sadly departed members Dennis Wilson, who died in a drowning accident in 1983, and Carl Wilson, who succumbed to cancer in 1998, the band performed along with videos of Dennis singing “Forever” and Carl on “God Only Knows.”
Of course, there were still plenty of hits, including Wilson’s haunting “In My Room,” the Jardine-led “Help Me Rhonda,” the Love-led “California Girls” and Wilson’s pop masterpiece, “Good Vibrations.”
The band finished the set with a seamless medley of surf and sun classics, which included: “All Summer Long,” their hit cover of the Chuck Berry classic “Rock and Roll Music,” the party rock singalong favourite “Barbara Ann,” (which featured Wilson making his first and only appearance on bass guitar), and finishing appropriately with the song that launched their career “Surfing U.S.A.”
The Beach Boys returned for a well-deserved three-song encore, consisting of their 1988 comeback hit “Kokomo,” 1965’s “Do You Wanna Dance” and – finishing on a perfect note – wrapped the night with their 1964 hit “Fun, Fun, Fun.”
For more tour information, check out The Beach Boys official website.