Rant ‘N’ Roll: Brian Wilson Is The Beach Boys – Accept No Substitute

Easton, PA—The music of the Beach Boys, since 1961, and their debut “Surfin’” single, has been the soundtrack to our Baby Boomer lives. I was 10. I thought it was the greatest thing I ever heard. As hit after juvenile hit assailed our young ears over the radio in the early ‘60s, the Beatles were listening too and putting out their own string of juvenile hits across the pond. The difference between the two pioneering bands is that while The Fab Four matured into writing whatever the hell they wanted, Brian, while also maturing in compositional scope, was lambasted by his own band, management, label and lawyers into putting out the same feel-good pop they started with. So instead of naturally growing, he turned inward, and with the help of a copious amount of drugs and a creeping mental illness, turned into America’s Recluse.

That was fine for The Evil Beach Boy, Mike Love, who always only wanted “Fun Fun Fun” and still does. So if you want empty jukebox soulless versions of these songs performed in robotic fashion as if time has stood still and nostalgia is the primary emotion, indeed, go see Mike Love and his feel-good traveling whore band of non-Beach Boys calling themselves The Beach Boys. But if you want the real thing, with chances taken, with all of the profound angst and rock ‘n’ roll adventurism that only the true giants embrace, you owe it to yourself to see Brian Wilson and his band of 10 that includes original Beach Boy Al Jardine and, at the State Theatre in Easton, Pennsylvania, recently, a wonderful surprise.

That surprise came in the form of Blondie Chaplin who added some stirring rock-out moments. His vocal on “Wild Honey” tore the house down and his lead guitar electricity was as exciting as anything he ever did with the Rolling Stones both onstage and in the studio from 1997 to 2007. Chaplin, along with fellow South African Ricky Fataar, joined the Beach Boys in 1972 as full-fledged members. They infused the Boys with promise anew and made them stronger, tougher than the rest and awash with creativity. When Chaplin launched into singing “Sail On Sailor,” a song on which he originally sang lead on the Beach Boys’ 19th studio album in 1973 (Holland), all bets were off and we were dizzyingly transported to a time when this music was hardly nostalgic, but vital. Chaplin wandered about the stage shredding for some supreme moments, looking like a demented Lou Reed. The dude’s a classic.

Only four songs out of 31 (in 1:45) were not Beach Boys tunes. They were from Brian’s current—and quite excellent—No Pier Pressure. Al Jardine was goose-bumpingly good singing “Shut Down,” “”Little Deuce Coupe” and a cover of Phil Spector’s “Then I Kissed Her.” When his son, Matt Jardine, took the mic with his absolutely perfecto falsetto for “Don’t Worry Baby,” I think the crowd had a collective orgasm as his voice matched and exceeded the intent of the song as originally sung by Brian off 1964’s Shut Down Volume #2.

To hear such timeless classics as “In My Room,” “Surfer Girl,” “Darlin’,” “Surf’s Up,”, “Good Vibrations,” “Heroes And Villains” (the opener, preceded by a stunning a capella “Prayer” which stunned the expectant crowd with wholly gospel fervor), “California Girls” and “I Get Around” performed so beautifully and harmonically dexterous was, for me, spiritual.

“This is the best song I ever wrote,” said Brian as a kind of a hush fell over the crowd for “God Only Knows,” from the eleventh—and best—Beach Boys album, 1966’s Pet Sounds. It would be the album that Paul McCartney salivated over for months before attempting to top it with his band’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967.

The much-deserved encore included “All Summer Long,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “Barbara Ann,” “Surfin’ USA,” “Fun Fun Fun” and the last song raised a lump in more than one throat. Brian almost couldn’t get through “Love And Mercy,” the theme song to the exquisite movie of the same name, because he had taken chances vocally all night long. Coughing, sputtering on some of the lyrics, it didn’t matter at that point. We were all standing and kvelling* for this American Treasure.

  • (“Kvelling” is a Yiddish word I heard growing up that means bursting with happiness and pride.)