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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Beach Boys: In Concert


THE BEACH BOYS: IN CONCERT (1973)

1) Sail On Sailor; 2) Sloop John B; 3) The Trader; 4) You Still Believe In Me; 5) California Girls; 6) Darlin'; 7) Marcella; 8) Caroline No; 9) Leaving This Town; 10) Heroes And Villains; 11) Funky Pretty; 12) Let The Wind Blow; 13) Help Me, Rhonda; 14) Surfer Girl; 15) Wouldn't It Be Nice?; 16) We Got Love; 17) Don't Worry Baby; 18) Surfin' U.S.A.; 19) Good Vibrations; 20) Fun, Fun, Fun.

I've said it once, twice, and thrice, and I'll say it again: I do not fancy the idea of a Beach Boys live show, much less a live album. At their best (and even at their so-so), the Beach Boys were the perfect studio band, and such things as «spontaneity», «rock drive», «getting in the groove», etc., could only hurt them rather than help. No matter how hard they tried, they could not get the same kind of perfection on stage — nor could they re-cast their stuff in a significantly different way for live audiences, different enough to be justified. They could come close to perfection — but that only makes the whole experience even more frustrating, because who the heck needs close-to-perfection if you can get complete perfection instead?

And if anything in the Beach Boys' live catalog ever comes close to perfection, it is, without a doubt, the double In Concert album from 1973. The shows were recorded in 1972 and 1973, at the height of the band's artistic and «reputational» comeback. Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar, as questionable as their songwriting contributions were to the band's catalog, added plenty of ex­tra power on stage: good harmony singers and good extra musicians (especially Fataar, who real­ly helped the band out at a time when Dennis had lost his drumming capacities through a hand in­jury. Not that Dennis felt good enough at the time to drum with as much passion as he did in the innocent Six­ties — even if there were nothing wrong with his hands).

Then there is the amazing setlist, of course. The double LP allows to cover plenty of ground, run­ning the gamut from the classic surf-era hits to the mid-Sixties artistic peaks and, finally, to the band's more recent experimental period — a whole four pieces from Holland are present (five, if we include 'We Got Love', another Chaplin/Fataar number originally intended for that record, but pulled off at the last moment to make room for the «hit single» 'Sail On, Sailor'). Anyone shrug­ging their shoulders and saying «so what?» should be reminded that, in a matter of months within the release of this album, The Beach Boys would drop the bulk of «serious» material from their setlists, and just go back to being the Beach Boys, concentrating on the old sunny day hits — sure it looked a bit quirky, what with all the band members sporting big bushy beards, but hey, as long as they keep paying for the tickets...

And if that wasn't enough, how about the big fabulous surprise of the show? NO MIKE LOVE BANTER WHATSOEVER. Repeat: MIKE. LOVE. SHUTS. THE. FUCK. UP. Not a single god­damn "Lost my head again!" anywhere in sight. It is almost like he existed only to take lead vocals on the old surfin' classics, for which he continued to remain the best choice. It is almost like paradise. No wonder this couldn't be kept up for much longer.

However, feelings become a little more mixed when we come to consider the subtle changes in­troduced in the live versions. 'Sloop John B' gets something like a million extra instruments, in­cluding countrified electric guitar, banjo (I think? I may be wrong here), and other stuff, clut­tering the perfectly constructed musical card house of the original. It's not exactly 'Sloppy John B' in the end, but the bits of chaos annoy me. 'Help Me, Rhonda' gets a distorted hard-rock boogie line for its spine, which is fairly inadequate for the song's feather-light character — hell, why not a Tony Iommi tone if you are all for «toughening it up»? 'Funky Pretty', as if to justify its title, gets a genuine «funky» introduction that has nothing to do with the song itself, and the seams cer­tainly show as they switch into the pop piano melody without a warning. 'You Still Believe In Me', in the place of the opening harpsichord/deep echoey vocal duo, gets an electric keyboard /Theremin intro­duction — nice, but, again, a rather poor substitute for the baroque beauty of the original. (And hearing Al Jardine do it instead of Brian is also saddening).

This list could go on a bit, but the illustration is sufficient: changes are few, and in most cases, they detract from the originals rather than re-open them in a new light. Exceptions would include 'Leaving This Town', slightly improved with an electric organ solo instead of the silly Emerson-style Moog solo on the original (but the song is still as un-Beach Boys as ever), and 'Marcella', one single case where the «toughening» works, since, according to Brian, the song was originally envisioned as sort of a Stones tribute, and the crunchier rhythm guitars and sharper slide solo gui­tars on here do convey some sort of an Exile On Main St. vibe, for a moment.

The same complaints go for every instance of a flubbed or «swallowed» vocal note — of which, granted, there are very few exam­ples, but each one stabs through the heart. With Concert at least, you could ascribe these flubs to the band not being able to hear itself behind the yelling, but here they have no excuse — other than, admittedly, it is hard for the likes of Carl Wilson to play rhythm guitar and hold up a perfect voice melody at the same time, and it is utterly admirable that he is still able to do that, say, 90% of the time. But for those of us who expect nothing less than perfection from the way a Beach Boys album is delivered (technically, I mean — we cannot always expect ideal songwriting), this is still a serious letdown.

In Concert must be heard — throughout the 1970s, the Beach Boys remained a significant live at­traction (in fact, as their studio reputation plummeted, their live one kept going up), and this album very well explains why. And yet I do not think that it is ever going to remain highly ranked on anyone's playlist. Thumbs up, because the record is unimpeachable on formal grounds, is still a major pleasure to listen to on its own, and a satisfying swan song for The Beach Boys, soon to be disbanded, reshuffled, restructured, and renamed «The Al And Mike Love Show».


Check "In Concert" (CD) on Amazon
Check "In Concert" (MP3) on Amazon

2 comments:

  1. I would posit that the seeking of musical 'perfection', whilst doomed to failure in this case, can still be very interesting and enjoyable, especially since here they are indeed trying. A real pity that Dennis wasn't featured on any songs here; I can't believe he didn't sing any of his own in '72-'73, and I would've been very happy to have heard "Forever", "Barbara", or one of his compositions from "C&tP-ST!" or "Holland". Still, quite a lot of good stuff, and it's cool to hear that they could pull off fairly tight harmonies live on songs like "Surfer Girl".

    By the by, are there any plans from the Beach Boys organisation to release any more "complete concerts" officially, as they did with their appearance at the 1980 Knebworth festival a couple of years ago? I'd like to hear some complete concerts from the late '60s/early '70s era, and not just live compilations such as this album.

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  2. I recently came around to this album: I used to strongly prefer "Live in London" as I simply like the material there more. But wow this show really does show off the enormity of the Beach Boys accomplishment: 20+ songs and not a SINGLE song is worthless. Yeah, Blondie and Ricky nonsense like "Leaving this Town" ain't exactly Beach Boys but they ain't worthless.

    Basically, this album shows the band as an artistic, vital and creative force with a lot of great live vibes. The "Brian" era stuff suffers: I agree about "You Still Believe In Me." It sounds okay but it just doesn't seem right without Brian. The song is still great and the band does it justice but its not right.

    The band also seems more INTO the newer material: you're older review really nailed it on that one, George. They NAIL all the new material and they sound incredible wailing out those songs. However, they seem rather "eh" about the old stuff in a way that seems almost disrespectful.

    That said, the live energy here as well as the band "gelling" (they do sound really incredible, especially when compared with the "Concert" album which is a ton of fun but almost in an "amateurish punk" way as opposed to truly awesome) makes this worthy. It's the last time the Beach Boys sound like they MATTER.

    I can't count "Love You" because that's Brian's baby and Brian was still able to out write the entire band while half out of his mind and barely coherent. Though, like Peter Buck, that may be my favorite Beach Boys album and finding it on vinyl for 2 bucks recently made my life.

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