In 2012, all of the surviving members of the Beach Boys – Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and David Marks – reunited on the band’s 50th anniversary to record a new album (“That’s Why God Made The Radio”) and embark on a worldwide tour. The version of the Beach Boys that performed Wednesday, August 13 at Aston, Pennsylvania’s Sun Center Studios featured lead vocalist Mike Love and vocalist and keyboardist Bruce Johnston, but did not include Wilson, Jardine, or Marks. While the Beach Boys line-up might have been a bit watered-down, the concert that Love, Johnston and their excellent five-piece backing band performed for the capacity crowd was anything but second-rate.
Maybe it was the cumulative effect of seeing one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time at a terrific, intimate venue on a beautiful summer night. The band delivered a fast-paced 37-song set (with one intermission) that included nearly every Beach Boys Top-40 hit, a handful of album classics (“Please Let Me Wonder,” “Hawaii,” “Little Honda”), several rarities (“Goin’ To The Beach,” “Good To My Baby,” “Ballad of Ole Betsy”), and even a few covers (“Surf City,” “Then I Kissed Her – a reworking of “Then He Kissed Me,” and “Summer Means Fun,” which Johnston had covered in his pre-Beach Boys band Bruce & Terry). The hits came in rapid succession while a giant screen at the back of the stage showed photos and videos of the band members in their younger days, interspersed with visuals of surf, sun, hotrods, and California girls.
The audience – mostly fans ranging from their mid-30s to their 60s – loved every minute, and would probably have forgiven the 73-year-old Love and the 72-year-old Johnston if they had phoned in their performances. On the contrary, both Love and Johnston seemed engaged and sincere throughout the night.
Johnston set a lighter mood with the audience early on. After the second song of the show, he yelled out, “Thank you, goodnight!” Later, he made local sports references (“Go Flyers!”), and joked, “It’s great to be here in Brigantine.” Introducing Johnston’s “Disney Girls,” Love reminded the audience that Johnston had won a songwriting Grammy for “I Write the Songs.”
“Bruce won’t be performing that song here tonight, but if you want to hear it, you can go to your dentist’s office, or just about any elevator,” Love joked.
Vocally, Love and Johnston haven’t lost a step. Love showed off his pipes on “Be True to Your School” by holding the opening note for what seemed like a lung-busting 15 seconds. Johnston spent most of the night singing harmony vocals, but showed off his own strong lead vocals on songs like “Surf City,” “Do You Wanna Dance,” and “Please Let Me Wonder.”
The band featured long-time veterans of Beach Boys tours, including Jeff Foskett (guitar, mandolin, percussion, and vocals), who has been a member of the Beach Boys band since 1981; Tim Bonhomme (keyboards) a member since 1993; Scott Totten (guitar, ukulele, vocals) and John Cowsill (drums, vocals), both members since 2000; and Randell Kirsch (bass, vocals) a member since 2002. Foskett lent his fine falsetto vocals to the harmonies all night, and sang lead on songs like “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” and “Why Do Fools Fall In Love.” Cowsill sang lead on “California Dreamin’,” as well as songs originally sung by Al Jardine, including “Darlin’” and “Help Me Rhonda.” Kirsch and Totten also took turns on lead vocals, on “Then I Kissed Her” and “Ballad of Ole Betsy” respectively.
Another highlight of the show was the “Hot Rod Medley,” which included full-length versions of “Little Deuce Coupe,” “409,” “Shut Down,” and “I Get Around.” A poignant moment came when the band performed “God Only Knows” live to Carl Wilson’s isolated vocal track, while vintage photos and videos of the late Beach Boy were projected on the screen.
That song was followed by “Pisces Brothers,” a song that Love wrote in 2004 in honor of his friend George Harrison. The song was re-released in February of this year, on what would have been Harrison’s 71st birthday. Love told the audience that the song was inspired by a trip he and the Beatles took to India in 1968 to learn from the spiritual teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
“Surfin’ USA” was the final song of the main set, but the band was called back to the stage for an encore of “Kokomo” and “Fun, Fun, Fun,” a song that is celebrating its own 50th anniversary this summer.
“Year after year, it’s been a great source of inspiration to see the happiness our music has brought to multiple generations of Beach Boys fans in so many parts of the world,” Love said in a recent press release. On Wednesday night, the Beach Boys certainly inspired a capacity crowd in Aston, leaving them with smiles on their faces and summer songs in their hearts.