THE BEACH BOYS: GOOD TIMIN': LIVE AT KNEBWORTH 1980 (2002)
1) Intro; 2) California Girls; 3) Sloop John B; 4) Darlin'; 5) School Days; 6) God Only Knows; 7) Be True To Your School; 8) Do It Again; 9) Little Deuce Coupe; 10) Cotton Fields/Heroes And Villains; 11) Happy Birthday Brian; 12) Keepin' The Summer Alive; 13) Lady Lynda; 14) Surfer Girl; 15) Help Me, Rhonda; 16) Rock And Roll Music; 17) I Get Around; 18) Surfin' USA; 19) You're So Beautiful; 20) Good Vibrations; 21) Barbara Ann; 22) Fun, Fun, Fun.
Twenty years after the fact, it was decided to finally let the Beach Boys' 1980 performance from Knebworth reach the hearts and minds of fans through official financial channels, and it was released both on CD and DVD, for the world to enjoy the middle-aged band in all of its heavily bearded glory. By all means, though, this is a historical performance, with all the original six members of the band for the last time standing together on a British stage. (They would do some more US shows, though, in between this one and Dennis' drowning three years later).
Of all the officially released Beach Boy live albums this one is predictably and expectedly the worst; but even at their worst, the Beach Boys never failed reminding the world what a spectacular backlog they possessed, and what sort of a superhuman craft they had developed to deliver it live — even at a time when, deep down inside, even Mike Love must have already understood that the world was regarding them as little more than a cute nostalgic plaything. Not that you'd tell it from the audience's reactions — the cheering is quite heartfelt and spontaneous, to the extent that everybody seems quite content to join in a happy birthday wish for Brian. But chalk it up to the magic of the songs, whose power had outlived the personal charm and sex appeal of the band. (Well, I'm pretty sure there were still some people falling for Mike's Hawaiian shirts even as late as 1980, but they probably do not read my reviews, so I'm quite safe insulting them).
By 1980, the band's setlist mainly consisted of evergreens from 1963-67, with a few «highlights» from their most recent albums thrown in, to try and lure the listeners into raising sales. Considering, however, just how «terrific» recent efforts like ʽKeepin' The Summer Aliveʼ and even the much less annoying ʽLady Lyndaʼ sound when they are wedged in between ʽHeroes And Villainsʼ and ʽSurfer Girlʼ, I do not think they had all that much of a chance here (at least they do not get booed after three minutes of retro-moronic duh-duh-duh-ing on ʽSummerʼ, which is the best they could possibly expect).
But the evergreens are delivered well enough: even Dennis, with all his troubles and wreckings, seems to be in hot search of energy, and smashes and crashes all over the place just as he used to in the good old days, with a limited sense of rhythm, perhaps, but a sincere desire to pump as much energy into brother Brian's melodies as possible. Brother Brian himself mostly serves as a mascot here, sitting well-hidden behind a keyboard that he hardly really plays, and each time he takes a lead vocal part is considered so special that Mike feels it his chivalrous obligation to draw our attention — "Ladies and gentlemen, Brian Wilson!" Throw in the happy birthday chant, and a special thank-you-thank-you-Brian delivered once or twice for the «man who wrote all this beautiful music», and the feeling of a mummified deity installed in the temple is complete.
That said, there is no evidence to suggest that Brian himself did not feel positive emotions from what was going on — playing live, for him, was supposed to be part of the healing process, even if he was being used in the process. And the actual leads that he takes on ʽSloop John Bʼ and the bridge section of ʽSurfer Girlʼ are sung at his broken-voice-best; I think he actually flubs fewer notes during this show than Al Jardine, who has developed a strange penchant for straying away from the melody (most notable on ʽHeroes And Villainsʼ) — not quite in the Mick Jagger manner, of course, but still rather unpleasant for a band where tightness is always the key.
Curious odds-and-ends would involve a drastically and solemnly slowed down take on the «symphonic» introduction to ʽCalifornia Girlsʼ; the unearthing of ʽBe True To Your Schoolʼ sung with the good old teen verve — very strange-sounding, coming from a bunch of guys who should, by then, be teachers rather than students; a barroom-oriented rearrangement of ʽDo It Againʼ that does not work very well with the accent shifted from vocal harmonies to hard-rock overtones; ʽHeroes And Villainsʼ squashed into a medley with ʽCotton Fieldsʼ, even if the only thing that joins them together is that ephemeral «Americana» feeling; and a Dennis solo spotlight with ʽYou Are So Beautifulʼ, a song he originally co-wrote with Billy Preston and then performed frequently until his death — easily one of the most spontaneous and heartfelt bits of the show.
Other than that, Good Timin' is strictly for the collector — although it does its best to fill in a certain gap in Beach Boy history, since the «Brian is back» period was, until 2002, the only period left unrepresented by an official live recording. And, from a certain point of view, it is now the best of all the «Brian is back» period albums, by definition: the only reason why the Beach Boys were able to carry on and preserve a shred of respect at that time were their live performances. A bit rusty over here, a bit wobbly out there, but still saving the day. Thumbs up.
Check "Good Timin: Live at Knebworth 1980" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Good Timin: Live At Knebworth England 1980" (MP3) on Amazon