Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Beach Boys At The Vilar | Lefsetz Letter

Catch a wave and you’re sittin’ on top of the world

That’s one thing that’s been lost in the rewriting of sixties history, the optimism. We had hope, we believed we could conquer, we believed life was not limited, and the goal was to go to California, ride the waves and hook up with a surfer girl or surfer boy.

Hard to believe, I know. But this was back before the internet, when the west coast was a dream which you could not experience unless you went there, a magical place where TV and movies were made, our entire nation was inspired by the Golden State.

I know, I know, the rest of the country likes to rag on California these days. About rents, pollution, taxes… But the truth is living there is still pretty damn good, but unlike the Okies most residents of our nation cannot afford to leave their domicile to reinvent themselves on the coast, so they denigrate it.

But it still rules.

And the magic was made by the Beach Boys. They were the soundtrack, along with the east coast Four Seasons until the Beatles broke, until the British Invasion. But unlike Frankie Valli and the rest of the early sixties groups, the heyday of the Beach Boys was not behind them. The apotheosis came in ’66, with not only “Pet Sounds” but Brian Wilson’s pocket symphony, “Good Vibrations.” The Beatles were inspired by this work, and for a long while there, the Beach Boys were at the pinnacle of popular music, and Mike Love has never forgotten it.

Everybody hates Mike Love. The self-assuredness, the right wing views… But when you see him live you get it. HE BELIEVES HIS LEGEND! Why do we give Ringo and Paul a pass but not Mike? Because he’s not gracious about it? John Lennon was rarely gracious.

And unlike his cousin Brian, Mike Love still sounds like himself, he can hit the notes, albeit with less power.

So you’d attend this show and expect a battle of the bands, between Brian and Mike and their respective camps, but that’s not what it was like at all. Mike continuously showed pictures and made reference to the Wilson brothers.

And there you’ve got it. Brian Wilson’s show is a tribute to Brian Wilson and Mike Love’s show is a tribute to the music.

Now Brian is a genius. But everyone knows, especially insiders, he has issues. He’s not an everyday guy, even though he still seems able to channel his skill into magical music, listen to the 2012 Beach Boys reunion LP “That’s Why God Made The Radio,” there’s some masterful work there.

But after the 50th anniversary tour, Mike said he was going on without Brian, doing Beach Boys hits. And Brian’s camp was not happy. But when you reach your seventies, it’s about money and attention, and everybody wants it, especially Mike, who’s angry he never got enough credit for writing so many of the Beach Boys’ lyrics. Performers are complicated people, you cannot see them through the eyes of the hoi polloi, the hoi polloi didn’t write and record these songs.

And the show opened with “Do It Again,” the band’s last real hit until the Brian-less “Kokomo” two decades later.

But the irony of opening with this 1969 hit was lost on the assembled multitude, the ancient wealthy at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek, Colorado. You’ve got to pay to see the Beach Boys up close, triple digits in this case, and therefore hard core fans are excluded. But the set list was for those in the know.

Jeff Foskett told me Mike writes a new one every night, the show changes, and usually it goes two and a half hours, as opposed to last night’s limited two hour show.

Ergo, “Catch A Wave,” which Jan & Dean rewrote as “Sidewalk Surfin’.” To hear this magical album track made my night, a flood of memories came back, from the era where I knew every cut on the LP, which I purchased, and sat in front of the record player in my room with the album cover in hand fantasizing how great my life would be if we could only move to California.

And “Little Honda.” The hit version was done by the Hondells, but Brian and Mike wrote it.

First gear, it’s all right
Second gear, lean right

Not only were we singing along, Felice and I were leaning in direction. This show was a jet back to what once was. Not exactly nostalgia, just recognition that we’re on the losing end of the hourglass and some of those times in the past were truly special.

And unlike Brian’s set list, Mike and his troupe played all of the surf and car hits. Come on, “409”?

Does any millennial even know what that is? Will anybody in the future? Back when the goal of high school students was to save up enough money to buy a car.

And “Shut Down.” And then “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” from “Shut Down Volume 2”! Come on, you’ve got to applaud these deep album cuts.

How about “Be True To Your School” from “Little Deuce Coupe”? We’re long gone from high school, but we remember it like yesterday.

Of course they played the hits. Everything from “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” to “I Get Around” to “Help Me Rhonda” to the aforementioned “Good Vibrations.” You could not complain there was something you did not hear. And so many hits… No wonder Mike Love feels so good about himself.

Not that Mike sang all the songs. He gave tribute to Dennis and then his son Christian sang “Do You Wanna Dance.” Brian’s songs were sung by Foskett or lead guitarist extraordinaire Scott Totten.

As for Bruce Johnston…

He did not sing “Disney Girls (1957),” never mind “Tears In The Morning,” but he told Felice he composed “I Write The Songs” as a reaction to radio stations banning “God Only Knows” because of the use of the deity’s name. Foskett and I implored Bruce to come on Sirius XM or do a podcast and tell his stories, but Bruce said everybody knew everything already, and he needed to get paid. But that’s a musician, everyone thinks music should be free, they’re always asked to play for nothing, it takes balls to say you want to get paid. Then again, I wanted to hear more about growing up on La Mesa in Santa Monica with a father who was a bigwig at Rexall. Where we come from…it’s everything.

And Mike even played some of his solo stuff and got away with it!

Because of the video screen. He wrote a song for George Harrison and accompanying its performance was video of the Beach Boys’ and Beatles’ visit to India. Whew! I’d never seen this before, I don’t think anyone has, what a trip back to the past.

And the secret sauce was said video screen. With images from the era. The girls and the boys, the hot rods and the good times. That was then…

And this is now.

The youth are not united, never mind the country at large. But fifty-odd years ago, especially before the Vietnam War ramped up…

We wished they all could be California Girls.


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