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Boys No More: Are the Beach Boys Rebooted or Merely Rebranded?

Boys No More: Are the Beach Boys Rebooted or Merely Rebranded?
Robert Matheu

Nobody wants to deflate expectations or deprive Beach Boys fans of reason for celebration. And yet, the announcement late last year that the band had decided to reunite seems to warrant a cautionary note. After all, two of the original key players -- brothers Dennis and Carl Wilson -- are no longer around, and there's no denying how essential their contributions were to the band's keynote harmonies and instrumental efforts.That makes this reunion more a hodgepodge, one that features musicians who participated in the band's tangled trajectory at different times rather than the original band reborn. Mike Love, Al Jardine, and Brian Wilson are the core of this new revival, even though Jardine's consistency can also be questioned. He left twice, first during the band's initial incarnation (only to reappear once the hits started coming) and then permanently quit in 1998, following the death of Carl Wilson. Although he can't be considered a constant, his 2010 album,

Postcard From California

, effectively replicates the Beach Boys sound.Brian, the Beach Boys' original mastermind, quit touring with the band in the mid-'60s, the victim of anxiety and paranoia. There was the famous incident in December 1964 when the band was on a plane about to embark for a tour when Brian literally had a breakdown and had to be removed. Glen Campbell was eventually brought in as his substitute.

For well over a decade, Brian stayed off the road, hiding at home while playing his piano in a sandbox, plotting new masterpieces like Pet Sounds and the aborted Smile album before drifting away from the band until his much-heralded return in 1976.

Yet even after several tours that lasted into the early '80s, Brian's relationship with the band wasn't entirely repaired. By the latter part of the decade, he was completely disenfranchised from the band and embarking on a solo career. In the '90s, he reemerged, playing Pet Sounds in concert and revisiting Smile, all with the help of an L.A. band called the Wondermints, which was so adept at re-creating the original arrangements and the Beach Boys harmonies that the idea of a reunion seemed somewhat moot. 


Brian's permanent substitute became Bruce Johnston, who's more or less remained in the fold ever since Brian gave up his active involvement. Naturally, he's touted as part of the reunion ensemble. Still, it could be argued that once Brian left, the Beach Boys became more a brand than a band. 

After Jardine's departure, it was left to the ever-pandering, posturing, and self-promoting Mike Love -- with Johnston as his willing but unassuming sidekick -- to usurp and exploit the Beach Boys name by carrying on with a group of anonymous surrogates who attempted to replicate the band's sound.

Perhaps the most curious addition to the remade roster is David Marks, more or less the Pete Best of the band. Marks sang, played rhythm guitar, and recorded with the Beach Boys through their first four albums, participating in such early hits such as "Surfin Safari," "409," "Surfin USA," "Shut Down," "Surfer Girl," "In My Room," and "Be True to Your School." 

He also played more than 100 concerts with the early incarnation of the band, joining it on several early stateside tours and in its initial string of national TV appearances. Still, his tenure with the band was relatively brief -- Love invited him back in 1971, but he declined -- and his contribution to the band's sound, especially as a guitarist, was quickly overshadowed by Carl's ever-increasing input. 

To be fair, there's no shortage of bands that claim a comeback based only on a partial roster of original members. The Moody Blues, Buffalo Springfield, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Temptations, Chicago, and the Four Tops are all examples of classic acts that have reclaimed their branding despite the absence of key colleagues. 

Still, there's something disingenuous about a reunion that's missing some important players, specifically two members of the family that built the band from the ground up. Likewise, when the reincarnated Beach Boys made its bows at the Grammy Awards recently, it looked like the front line was merely going through the motions, with most of the heavy lifting done by the band that was in the background and out of the spotlight. Indeed, the real purveyors of those classic sounds came courtesy of the Wondermints, Brian's best backing band by far. 

This treatise isn't intended to shatter the spirit of what the Beach Boys stand for -- sing-along songs, a steady whiff of nostalgia, and maybe, just maybe, those classic harmonies. Likely, the fun, fun, fun provides enough impetus to keep fans singing along to the point where they either don't care or no longer notice.

The Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Tour. 8 p.m. Friday, May 4, at Hard Rock Live,1 Seminole Way, Hollywood. Tickets coast $57.75 to $114.25. Call Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000.


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