The duality of the Beach Boys' legacy is a hard pill to swallow for some fans, especially in recent times. Ask a well-studied fan's opinion on megalomaniac Mike Love and you're certain to get an earful regarding "Kokomo" or that time in 1988 when Love decided the best route to take with his Hall of Fame induction acceptance speech was to go on a combative tirade that included a jab at the Beatles' lack of performances in 1987 relative to the Beach Boys (for those just tuning in, John Lennon had been dead for seven years).
Most recently, Love (who owns the Beach Boys name, a la Axl Rose) dismantled the 50th-anniversary reunion that included original members Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, and David Marks, before squabbling about the way things went down publicly. This followed the release of a new, critically lauded record with that reunited lineup.
Last night, Love brought his current version of the Beach Boys, which includes original member Bruce Johnston and notable member John Cowsill (of the Cowsills) on drums, to Hollywood's Seminole Hard Rock Live for a performance of the band's classic tunes, proving beyond a shadow-of-a-doubt that the songs that build the Beach Boys' catalog are, in fact, so fantastic that we'll watch just about anybody sing them.
Love and company performed on a stage decorated with a scant assortment of potted palm trees, rounded out by a couple of surfboards, all of which were undoubtedly returned at some point this morning to the Hollister store they were rented from.
The band began the set to a dancing audience of the older variety. The array of interesting knitwear to be scene was staggering, and there was even a lady wearing a hat that had been bejeweled with LED lights. And while we may sound snarky in our assessment of the attendees, it was beautiful to witness people reliving the songs of their youth with such joy, and the vibe was an undeniably happy one.
The band, which was rounded out by guitarist Scott Totten, bass player Randall Kirsch, keyboardist Tim Bonhomme, and Mike Love's son Christian on guitar, played through a veritable "best of" set that included just about every hit the band ever had. "Little Honda" was the first to get the crowd really moving, and by the time the band slowed to the sweet harmonies of "Surfer Girl," the audience was caught in a slow sway.
As mentioned earlier, John Cowsill was on the drum throne for the evening, and his performance absolutely upped the energy level well beyond what we were expecting. Cowsill played drums as though he were having a conversation -- effortlessly and with a second-nature kind of motion that never let up. When the band performed "Darlin,'" it was Cowsill who took the lead vocal, dropping jaws around the room with his ability to sing such an involved vocal while holding down the drums.
Mike Love sang lead for the majority of the night's 35 selections, and there was no fault to be had with his singing. In fact, the set was as musically sound as anyone could hope for. Love's comments about "Cousin Brian" penning the lush harmonies on a song were a bit uncomfortable, as were several other bits, including the ZZ Top-type synchonized dance Love did with Johsnton during Scott Totten's decidedly shreddy guitar solo during "Barbara Ann."
While the highlights of the night for the majority of the audience -- based on reaction -- were "Little Deuce Coupe" and "Wouldn't It Be Nice," for us, the gentle sounds of "In My Room" and "God Only Knows" were revelatory in their live impact.
The night ended with a massive American flag unrolling behind the stage for "Surfin' USA" and then a final run through "Kokomo" and "Fun Fun Fun." We hope someday to enjoy the same set being performed with the other living originals; however, last night was a fun time spent getting to better know some timeless, distinctly American music.