As we gather together with family and friends this 4th of July, despite concerning recent events, there’s a lot to be thankful for in America, and in California. And if we are to celebrate where we are at, just for the fact that we’re here, there’s perhaps no better representative of Southern California culture to soundtrack that party than the Beach Boys. They are OUR band, all of us in LA, all the little nieces and nephews, and the grandparents, many of whom were in attendance at the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday for opening night of the annual July Fireworks Spectacular.
While I’ve been a regular at Brian Wilson’s shows since he started touring in 1999, I had never been to see the Mike Love and Bruce Johnston-fronted Beach Boys, other than a brief four-song appearance at the Grammy Museum during the original members’ reunion in 2012. I know a few of the former Wondermints that play with Brian, and give them a lot of credit for really elevating the live performances of his material, with a really intense attention to detail. That approach seems to have rubbed off on this other ensemble, which sounded quite wonderful. Almost every musician on the stage got a vocal feature and did a credible job with it, including new drummer Jon Bolton, who vaguely resembles me from a far distance and allowed me to imagine myself being one of the Beach Boys for a while.
I have to give respect, when Jon Stamos took over the drum kit on “Don’t Worry Baby,” he played the hell out of it. He’s been part of the scene for decades now, and far as I’m concerned, has earned his spot by now. He and Mike Love have a Vegas comedy banter worked out, which wasn’t necessarily my favorite part. But such unnecessary moments are fleeting enough to be drowned out by the majesty of hearing Bruce Johnston sing “Disney Girls” from 1972’s Surf’s Up, or the masterful Pet Sounds segment, accompanied by a full symphony orchestra. The LA Phil often shows up at these things, and perhaps no band I’ve seen has ever made better use of them.
Brian’s shows often make sure to feature some aspect of his career that is beloved by fans, doing tours specific to bodies of work like Smile, Friends, and even his new album That Lucky Old Sun. As Elise Thompson put it, this was more like watching Endless Summer Live. Just hit after hit, and it’s a long show, where you know pretty much every song. And so many of them are about where we are, maybe compared to where we want to be. But there are things about living in So Cal to celebrate, like when sometimes you just need to get the radio blastin’ and go cruisin’ just as fast as you can. Now! This is a good place for that to happen, and we have a local band that sings about it too. I really enjoyed seeing this show and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys this music, or any music.
The Beach Boys play the Hollywood Bowl tonight, July 4th at 7:30pm. A few single seats remain available.