THE BEACH BOYS: LIVE IN LONDON (1970)
1) Darlin'; 2) Wouldn't It Be Nice; 3) Sloop John B; 4) California Girls; 5) Do It Again; 6) Wake The World; 7) Aren't You Glad; 8) Bluebirds Over The Mountain; 9) Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring; 10) Good Vibrations; 11) God Only Knows; 12) Barbara Ann.
This last contract-fulfilling record was released by Capitol as a last goodbye — an almost desperate gesture, considering that the actual recording was drawn from a performance in December 1968. But it has 'Do It Again' and 'Bluebirds Over The Mountain' on it, so that innocent bystanders could almost safely assume it post-dates 20/20 rather than precedes it. One thing's for certain: Mike Love's beard on the front sleeve is at least thrice as long as on the sleeve of 20/20, and that makes for a naïve, but wholesome chronological order.
For some reason, there seems to have still been a lot of wild girl screaming for the Beach Boys at the time — each announcement or song start is obligatorily accompanied by howls that make short work of the band's harmonies. On the whole, though, things had obviously calmed down a bit since 1964's Concert, and this presents us with a much better opportunity to enjoy these harmonies in a live setting, not to mention the much improved track listing, on which teen fluff like 'Monster Mash' has given way to... well, just look at those titles. The question is: do we want to enjoy these harmonies in a live setting?
Well, sometimes we actually do. 'Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring', performed a cappella ("nude", as remarked by the all-witty Mike Love), is taken without a single glitch and almost trumps the studio original, because all the notes are conquered with the recording «breathing» at the same time, no polish or airbrushing. That's a mean, mean feat. But most of the other songs are marred by minor imperfections — Dennis' messing with the rhythm (sometimes), one or two of the band members stepping away from the mike at the wrong moment, etc., etc.; with a band of lesser stature, this would have never been a problem, but now that you actually get to hear what the Beach Boys sound like live, every time a single note is flubbed away from perfection, Live In London loses a point.
I must say that I also miss Brian: somehow, it just doesn't feel right without the mastermind. One is especially sharply reminded of that when his high-pitched vocals on the harmonies of 'Do It Again' are replaced with an equally high-pitched brass arrangement — a suitable substitute, but a little sad all the same. In here, it's Mr. Love who is running the entire show, spewing out bad jokes and clichés — I think he says "lost my head again" at least thrice during the tracks that made it onto the album, and «God Only Knows» how many more times he said it during the entire show — and managing to goof off even during 'Good Vibrations' (his idea of taking sweet revenge on Brian is to mumble "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today..." as the organ starts off the «solemn» part of the song).
Still, what can you do about an album with not a single bad, hell no, not a single less-than- fabulous track about it? For the same reason that no live album by, say, Paul McCartney could ever «suck», Live In London also makes the grade. (Actually, 'Bluebirds Over The Mountains', with a far more restrained and subdued guitar solo second time around, beats the studio version on that kind, so make that two tracks worth owning). The band would sound better oiled and geared up on its subsequent live album, three years later, but this one, available today on a 2-fer CD with Concert, is well worth collecting for fans of the band. Thumbs up — in a mechanical, perfunctory manner, perhaps, but we should at least mark that Live In London still presents the band as a living, breathing entity, not a fossilized oldies act.
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