Beach Boy Brian Wilson, joined by a remarkably tight back-up band, which prominently featured fellow founding Beach Boy, Al Jardine, recently wrapped up a two month, eleven state Christmas tour.
At the same time, Brian’s cousin, another fellow Beach Boy, Mike Love, who pays for the rights to use the group’s name, is finishing a similarly holiday-themed tour this week.
Dueling Beach Boy tours, even during the Yuletide season, will not come as a surprise to any long-term fans of one of America’s most successful (and emotionally bifurcated) groups. Lots of bad blood and law suits between all concerned.
The two contingents work from similar set lists, although Wilson’s recent show focused on a complete presentation of the group’s million selling 1964 Christmas album, with a cache of Beach Boy gems (“Good Vibrations,” “Help Me Rhonda, “God Only Knows”) closing out the evening.
Love’s lengthier concerts offered up many of the band’s key hits, mixed in with holiday songs, including some from his newly released Xmas album, “Reason for the Season.”
During his four stops in Texas, Wilson’s band gave the crowd its money’s worth: greatly aided by the seminal, timeless voice of Al Jardine, the tracks from the Christmas album were letter perfect, as was the mini-greatest hits package.
Procuring the services of extremely talented back-up musicians is nothing new for Wilson — even through the 70’s and 80’s, when the Beach Boys expanded to accommodate large venues, he has managed to attract the crème de la crème. Keyboard master Mike Meros and outstanding jazz soloist Charles Lloyd both backed the boys for years.
This time around, music director Paul Von Mertens, Probyn Gregory, and Darian Sahanaja helm a line-up that delivers the patented harmonies almost as effectively as the original group did.
The expertly lighted Christmas set, festooned with wreaths, trees and candles, added to the proceedings.
The only glitch is that Wilson himself seems to be running out of gas. He began the show in fine spirits, but by the end, was exhausted. His vocal skills also diminished in later songs.
This is in sharp contrast to Wilson’s recently completed “Pet Sounds” tour, where he was involved, relatively high energy and singing with authority.
Part of the explanation may lie in his spring back surgery, which leaves him entering and exiting the stage with help — off stage, a walker and sometimes a wheel chair are necessary.
And it could be that heavy touring for a man who spent most of his life avoiding the road is taking a toll.
At seventy seven, Mike Love appears to have eluded most of the ravages of Father Time. He moves a little slower and his voice is less than robust — but his back-up troupe, led by music director Scott Totten and drummer supreme, John Cowsill, makes up the difference.
Love is having a very prolific septuagenarian period: he recently released two albums and published a book. “Reason for the Season” may not be “Pet Sounds,” but it is solid.
The question is why does the world need two versions of the Beach Boys. For a group which began with three brothers, a cousin and a childhood friend, it’s difficult to understand the acrimony.
Drug abuse, sibling rivalry, arguments that range from artistic differences to financial considerations, the stress of rock stardom, must all figure into the stew.
But a family death, the passing of a key partner in the enterprise, may also pertain.
Carl Wilson, the youngest of the three brothers, died at the age of 51, the victim of lung cancer. Aside from having the voice of an angel, Carl, by all accounts, was the glue that kept disparate factions together. It was after his passing that the relationships completely frayed — except for a lucrative 2012 fiftieth anniversary tour — the Wilson/Jardine camp has moved away from the Love side.
Grief research (particularly landmark work done by Stephen Bank and Michael Kahn) points toward the reorganization of relationships following a passing: death brings out the best and the worst in families.
Looking at it from the outside, it’s impossible to peel away all of the causes of the current dysfunction among the living members of the Beach Boys. Carl Wilson’s untimely end certainly broke up the touring aspect of what they did.
Meanwhile, fans can probably anticipate that there won’t be cups of kindness passed around among the once harmonious super group anytime soon. Sad ending to a wonderful story.