Reliving Beach Boys' greatest hits in sea of Hawaiian shirts

From the concert Tuesday, May 8, 2012, in New York, original members of The Beach Boys, from left, Brian Wilson, David Marks, Mike Love, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston perform together during a concert at Beacon Theater.
From the concert Tuesday, May 8, 2012, in New York, original members of The Beach Boys, from left, Brian Wilson, David Marks, Mike Love, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston perform together during a concert at Beacon Theater. Jason DeCrow/AP Photo

Who knew there were so many Hawaiian shirts in muted, business-casual tones of gray, pale blue and dead-leaf brown? Or that so many baby-boomers would make the trip to JCPenney to buy them — just so they could attend the 50th Anniversary Beach Boys tour in quasi-sartorial context?

Hey: no complaints. The sold-out crowd Saturday in the Mohegan Sun Arena was there for the best of all possible musical reasons. After five decades, clothes notwithstanding, we're all a little faded, and that goes for the Beach Boys, too.

That didn't make the two hour show any less of an event. Over 40-plus songs that helped define many evolutionary moments in pop music, the founding and core-band survivors — Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, David Marks and Bruce Johnston — put aside a long history of acrimony and basked a bit in the well-earned warmth of their musical sun.

In one way, seeing them perform on this tour — they play the Mohegan Sun Arena again tonight — was a bit like the rock 'n' roll equivalent of an Old Timers baseball game promotion, if it took place on the beach at Topanga Point instead of Fenway Park.

None of this would have worked if not for the 10-piece backing band headed up by singer-guitarist Jeff Foskett, the long-time leader of Wilson's solo band. Foskett provides the indelible Beach Boys falsetto, and his younger musicians, who were arced across the rear of the stage, provided a wall of harmonies that supported and smoothed the ragged glory of the Beach Boys themseves.
Fair enough. Because, while Love, Jardine and Wilson had erratic vocal moments, they were still able to provide a solid touchstone for the sonic memories they were invoking.

Over the course of two sets, the material was arranged in roughly chronological order. There were the surf songs, the car songs, the massive hits, and some clever, "Oh, wow" moments when they dipped into relative obscurities such as "Marcella," Johnston's wonderful "Disney Girls," "Do It Again" and "All This is That."

If you have a favorite — or favorites — they probably played it (unless you wanted "Warmth of the Sun" or " 'Til I Die"). Personal high points for me were "When I Grow Up," "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "Don't Worry Baby," "California Girls" and the very strong new song, "That's Why God Made the Radio."

Perhaps it was left to the ghosts, though, to bring it all full circle. Through technology and amazing video montages, the late Dennis Wilson led the band in his gorgeous "Forever," followed a few songs later by the late Carl Wilson and a heartbreakingly great live version of "God Only Knows," maybe the greatest song ever written.

It was a privilege to be there.

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