Here’s what I want you to think about, for just a moment: think about the scope of bands that have come onto the scene in the last 30 or so years. Now, take away bands like, say, Animal Collective (especially Panda Bear), Spiritualized, and Fleet Foxes. Take away any band that used multi-part harmonies, really. Now take away every band that used Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound: My Bloody Valentine, Jesus and Mary Chain, Bruce Springsteen on Born to Run. Without getting too far down the rabbit hole, if you remove bands like those, you have a small idea of what music would sound like without The Beach Boys. They’re easily the most important band to come from America, and their influence has flowed into everything around them. They were a band that existed before bands were ever derivative of other bands, and between them and The Beatles, it’s possible that rock music would never be even close to the same thing without them. In short, The Beach Boys are not quite a band, but a force of nature, a muse meant to spread out and affect everything.The Beach Boys stopped playing 20 years ago. That’s a mighty long time, and for a very long time, there was really no chance of the band getting back together. There was always too much animosity and bad blood between the members of that group for it to ever be a feasible thing. Until, it became a feasible thing. And, 50 years after the band first formed, they decided it was time to go on tour. And if you have the chance to experience a band that has stopped being just a band, you grab that opportunity like grim death. Which is what I did.
Leading up to their show in Eugene, OR, I experienced exactly one reunion performance: their performance of “Good Vibrations” at the Grammy’s. While it was fantastic in its own right, it left something to be desired, as though something was missing. The band’s age and the rust might have gotten to them. I didn’t want my expectations to be swayed, and I wanted to stay blissfully excited, ready to see that band play. And the obvious question, of course, is this: was it worth it?
Here’s the lowdown: The Beach Boys played to a sold-out amphitheater on a hot summer day in a college town. They played 47 songs over the course of two-and-a-half hours (a solid three, including the intermission). They played every single song you would expect from them: “409,” “Surfin’ Safari,” “Catch a Wave,” “God Only Knows,” “Sloop John B,” “Good Vibrations,” Fun Fun Fun,” “Little Deuce Coop.” They played “Heroes & Villains,” a song that was only finally released this year. Mike Love referred to Asia as “The Orient.” Brian Wilson played bass. The amphitheater was filled with fireflies, which I have never seen before in my life. I wept during “God Only Knows,” a song I wasn’t aware was so moving, until then. 5,000 people sang “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” in unison, at the top of their lungs. A twelve-year-old told his friend, “They had better play “Surfin’ USA”,” and then they totally did, and that kid lost his mind. Mike Love and Al Jardine were jovial and made jokes to each other: “This is an old group! This shit gets tiring!” It was like the last two decades had never happened, and that there was never any animosity between any of the members. Seeing them perform like that felt transcendent, and brought me to another time in history entirely, where the band sounded like they did there: big, and fun, and poppy, and rocky, and boisterous, so very, very American.
Someone who didn’t know what they were talking about once said, “You should never meet your heroes.” Since I began seeing bands, I began seeking out musicians who I admired, and letting them know that I was appreciative of their impact. Sometimes, it goes well (Isaac Brock is a nicer man than anyone will ever give him credit for), and sometimes it doesn’t. Though I didn’t get to meet Love, Wilson, Jardine, etc., it almost felt like seeing them perform allowed me to take home a small section of their souls, thus letting me revisit the experience again and again, as needed. After that, I didn’t really need to meet them, because after seeing how they handle themselves after half a century, it was like I knew them personally.
If The Beach Boys have it in them to tour again, and you have the chance to go, just do it. There are not many times in your life that you get to see a group of people who are responsible for half of the music you listen to, either directly or indirectly. You owe it to yourself, and to that band, to pay homage in any way you can.