The Beach Boys at 50 Years: Santa Barbara County Bowl 5/27/12

In 1966 the Beach Boys released their masterpiece, album, Pet Sounds, now universally recognized as one of the greatest rock and roll recordings of all time. I will be dating myself here, but I was 1 in 1966. I didn’t grow up with the Beach Boys but everyone in my parent’s generation did. My father was a fan of their contemporary’s Jan and Dean, California’s other champion of surf music, and it wasn’t long before I found my way into the Beach Boys catalogue.

The Beach Boys were, even in the 1970’s, long after their radio popularity waned, still considered the greatest Rock and Roll act this county had ever produced. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the same year as the Beatles, Bob Dylan and…..Woody Guthrie. They remained relevant well into the 1980’s and headlined “Live Aid” in the United States when I was in college at the University of California, at Santa Barbara in the mid 1980’s.

Sadly, the band largely self destructed needlessly over horrific legal disputes, which caused the principal members, brothers Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson and cousin Mike Love to split.

Drummer Dennis Wilson died years ago in an alcohol related drowning, while brother Carl, passed in 1998 from cancer. In the intervening years there had been little acknowledged activity between the remaining members. Mike Love, cousin to the Wilson brothers had been touring with original members Dennis Johnson and Al Jardine  as the Beach Boys while Brian focused on solo work.

Brian Wilson is the musical genius that penned all of the Beach Boys remarkable hits from the early surf and car culture driven pop tunes that went toe to toe with the Beatles on the charts for many years, as well as the deep and personal ballads and psychedelic trips that were manifested in Pet Sounds.

For many years the band had to tour without Brian due to his own emotional problems. But over the last decade Brian had finally found himself. He issued new music, re-released unfinished material from the 60’s that he abandoned due to a nervous breakdown brought on by LSD use and burnout from trying to compete in the mid 60’s with Lennon and McCartney.[1]

Sure, you were expecting a simple concert review here, but that isn’t truly possible without a bit of a history lesson. I was assailed by my peers for being an avid Beach Boys aficionado over the years even going into this week’s show. So to them, consider this your education. Like them or not, The Beach Boys music and their legacy is the most important music to come out of California ever. It is our heritage.

Monday’s Memorial Day Concert at the Santa Barbara County Bowl was a celebration of that heritage. For those around me, most old enough to be collecting Social Security, this show was a once in a lifetime experience; the remaining Beach Boys taking the stage together for the first time in 2 decades at sundown in the hills of Santa Barbara for a 3 hour, 46 song romp/celebration of surf, sand, girls and cars. With all due respect to the venerable old Hollywood Bowl, if you are going to see the Beach Boys in Southern California this was the place to be.

The touring band included original members Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, and Dennis Johnson. Also included was David Marks. Marks was 13 years old when he joined the Beach Boys and played with them on their first 4 albums before leaving the band. He filled in nicely on rhythm guitar, a position held by deceased brother Carl.  Carl Wilson had one of the most angelic voices and his passing was a terrible loss for the Beach Boys. God Only Knows, a song Sir Paul McCartney admitted was his favorite song of all time, was Carl’s song. Only Carl could sing that one. So he did.

Fortunately there was no Coachella hologram here, which would have been a little more than creepy, but Carl’s vocal was brought in through the video presentation and it was a wonderful fit. Departed brother Dennis was also brought in by video on one of his signature songs, a very classy way to acknowledge the deceased brothers, without butchering the songs.

The guys are clearly aged. But the music is ageless. The show is phenomenal. You cannot help but have fun, fun, fun at a Beach Boys show no matter how old or how dated they may seem. The Beach Boys are our legacy. They put California on the map musically. They have two more shows in Southern California this week, in Los Angeles and Irvine. Don’t miss your chance to see a piece of musical history before it passes forever.

[1] Brian Wilson acknowledged that he was inspired to write Pet Sounds after hearing the Beatles breakthrough album, Rubber Soul in 1965. McCartney and Producer George Martin would later admit that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, the Beatles biggest album, to be a direct response to Wilson’s Pet Sounds. Wilson began his response to Sgt. Pepper with his project Smile, an album that never came to fruition until several years ago, because of Wilson’s breakdown.

The Beach Boys bring their act to Los Angeles this weekend at the Hollywood Bowl. Enjoy the photos. Much thanks to Bob Lee, Nederlander Productions and the amazing people of Santa Barbara. You can find the ridiculous set list here.

Brian Michaels

About Brian Michaels

Brian Michaels is grew up in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles in the glory days of the late 1960s and 70s. Only a stone's throw from the Sunset Strip, Michaels had an early education in rock music. Michaels attended his first punk rock show at the age of 14 at the Whiskey a Go Go and has been going strong ever since. Brian is a defense attorney by profession but adds photography and writing to a list of his many passions outside of the his job. Brian can be found on the web at
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