The Beach Boys, Royal Albert Hall, London
It’s amazing they lasted this long. Not just the 50 years that this near-classic Beach Boys line-up is celebrating with a final tour, but through the six months of the tour itself without falling out.
Then, early last week, Brian Wilson and Al Jardine expressed their dismay at the news that Mike Love was taking his own Beach Boys line-up on tour.
That could have tainted a rare evening for a crowd but, while the tension is a little evident on-stage, it’s completely overrun by their immaculate delivery of one of the all-time great songbooks.
This is a Springsteenian show. Nearly four hours, 61 songs and in two parts. The first, which begins with “Do It Again” and ends with a rambunctious “I Get Around” focuses on the Love-sung surf-pop which made them a household name. It’s enjoyable, but pales next to a remarkable second half.
There, backed by members of Brian Wilson’s super-tight touring band, Love, Jardine, Wilson, plus the long-serving Bruce Johnston and David Marks tear through the band’s imperial period. A few moments are genuinely gobsmacking.
First there are the multi-coloured harmonies of Smile’s “Our Prayer” and “Heroes and Villains”. Then there’s Wilson, impassive behind his piano and struggling at times, taking on Blondie Chaplin’s yearning vocal on “Sail On, Sailor” and winning.
A little later, Wilson earns a spontaneous standing ovation after images of him at the beginning of his mental health struggles flicker on the screen while he plays his signature Pet Sounds lament “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times”.
A few songs later tears fall when Love asks Wilson to “introduce his brothers”, the band fade into the dark and accompany a videos of Dennis Wilson singing “Forever” and of poor old Carl doing “God Only Knows”. Then a greatest-greatest hits run of “Sloop John B”, “Wouldn't It Be Nice”, “Good Vibrations” and “California Girls” provides proof that this isn’t an ordinary concert
It goes on and on, but neither the audience or the band appear to tire. Brian even straps on a bass for “Barbara Ann”. And, as people are leaving at the last strains of “Fun, Fun, Fun”, he surprises even his own bandmates by returning to the piano for “Summer’s Gone” from this year’s That’s Why God Made The Radio.
It’s the first time they’ve ever performed it but it provides a fitting lament for what it most likely the end of an extraordinary band: “Old friends have gone/ They’ve gone their separate ways/ Our dreams hold on/For those who still have more to say.”
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