Story and Photos By Andy ArgyrakisThere was a time in the 1960s when the Beach Boys were running neck in neck with the Beatles as being the biggest pop/rock band in the world. Although the English fab four turned psychedelic and released many drug tripped masterpieces, its American competitors turned towards the sunny but still experimental stylings of projects like Pet Sounds, which have also become immortalized well over forty years later. Indeed the Beach Boys are one of the true United States staples, who are also arguably amongst the most meaningful and influential groups to ever exist. But like many bands well past its peak, recent years have been subject to many unfortunate situations including member splits, lawsuits, untimely deaths and multiple acts touring with the band's music.
While Brian Wilson and many other original and past players have formed their own session bands to perform the timeless catalogue on the road, the official Beach Boys brand name has been assigned to fellow co-founder Mike Love. Along with longtime member Bruce Johnston and many younger folks, the group can often be found on the nostalgia circuit, culling set lists primarily from 2003's double platinum hits collection Sounds of Summer (Capitol) to fun and feel good responses. No, this incarnation may not be like it was back in the day- nor is it ever likely to be again- but it's one of the few fans can currently follow given the relations amongst survivors. And aside from all those squabbles and some obvious imperfections, the Beach Boys communicated themes of jubilation and relaxation to a jam packed crowd at the gorgeous Rialto Square Theatre, sounding tight, dressing sharp (well, at least hip in the Hawaii influenced sort of way) and bringing back many moving memories.
A major portion of the comprehensive set list revolved around elements of a season long past within Chicagoland's blustery conditions, conjuring up images of beaches, bars, cars, lovely ladies, swimming pools, and inevitably, surfing. From the melodic glow of "Surfin' U.S.A." to the hula hoop worthy "Surfin' Safari" to the shiny ballad "Surfer Girl," the guys provided the ideal soundtrack to throwing on a wet suit, picking up a boogey board and hitting the waves. Of course the main reason for such nautical conquests was reveled in "California Girls," a true muse for all the guys hanging out on the sand hoping for some additional action.
On slightly more artful but still carefree notes, cuts like "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "Good Vibrations" glimmered with glory and their signature walls of sound. Granted, they would've been enhanced with the participation of Wilson, though these days the innovator relies on his backers to hit most of the high notes. Although Love and Johnston may have done the same at the concert to a certain degree, it wasn't nearly as noticeable, while those behind them more than made up for such slack. In fact come "God Only Knows" and "I Get Around," all the harmonies turned heavenly and offered uncanny glimpses of yesteryear.
An evening with the Beach Boys couldn't be complete without its cheesy, almost guilty pleasure moments and the aging men complied like smiling cruise ship captains. "Kokomo" was the most overt, recalling days of the Cocktail soundtrack and Tom Cruise serving drinks with an awful 80s hairdo. Thanks to the holiday season, the group also felt obliged to include no less than seven Christmas tunes (topped off with "Little Saint Nick") and had to awkwardly play off a malfunctioning snow sprinkler. Love also introduced Johnston for a short solo segment in which he talked about winning a Grammy Award and some tunes he wrote for other artists. One of them was Barry Manilow's unbearably sappy "I Write the Songs," though at least he cut it short and seemed to take the crowd's giggle spiked reaction in stride.
Even so, the show followed its purpose to a textbook tee and that was to provide a time warp back to when society was simpler and music was actually melodic yet meaningful. Not only are the Beach Boys keeping countless smashes alive with competency, but they're introducing them to a whole new generation. Now the only item left is for a full-fledged reunion, which will probably never happen but shouldn't be ruled out entirely considering the "hell freezes over" mentalities of the recently reformed Eagles and Pink Floyd. As die-hards continue to pray for the nearly impossible, Love and his counterparts are the closest they're going to get (outside of Wilson's solo show) and certainly worth checking out sometime.
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