by Doug MacGunnigle, WPRO
When Beach Boys’ mastermind Brian Wilson started touring solo in 1999, it was seen as an unlikely resurrection – the reclusive genius was back on the road with a tight young band, doing sonic justice to Beach Boys hits and rarely played gems from their back catalog.
It was just a year since his brother Carl Wilson (vocalist, guitarist, and band leader) had died, and the touring version of “The Beach Boys” was down to just Mike Love and Bruce Johnston, as far as original members, with Al Jardine departing around the same time.
Wilson’s tour was hailed, while Love’s was often derided as a lesser romp through big hits with a lean band doing stripped down arrangements. Flash forward 20 years later, and one might say the tables have turned somewhat.
While Wilson still tours with a crack band that now includes Beach Boys alumnus Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin, Love’s band has stepped it up considerably, thanks in big part to musical director, vocalist, and lead guitarist Scott Totten.
Wilson is on the 3rd year of a “Pet Sounds” 50th anniversary tour and appears bored and tired at times and rushes the few songs he still sings lead on (most vocals have been handed off to Al Jardine or his son Matt Jardine these days) and it’s tough to see him look so visibly uncomfortable performing. One can not say the same for Love – who at 78 has the stamina of a man much younger. He’s not at Mick Jagger levels of energy, but he shoulders the majority of frontman duties for a hit packed, 38 song set.
The setlist is an embarrassment of riches – almost every single song performed Friday night at East Providence’s Bold Point Park was met with an enthusiastic response from the crowd, which ranged in age from small children to senior citizens, all of them with big smiles plastered on their faces.
The Beach Boys Band that Love has put together is the strongest he’s had in ages (maybe ever.) Along with the impressive surf guitar stylings and soaring vocals of the afformentioned Totten, drummer John Cowsill (yes, of the Cowsills) provided a heavy, steady beat, and newcomer Rob Bonfiglio (Brian Wilson’s daughter Carnie’s husband, it turns out) impressed with the high falsettos originated by Brian.
Love’s son Christian was a surprise highlight of the second half of the show, taking lead vocals on a range of material including the beloved “God Only Knows,” “Good Vibrations,” 1973’s “Sail on Sailor,” and “Help Me, Rhonda.” These songs were originally sung by three different men (Carl Wilson, Blondie Chaplin, and Al Jardine, respectively) and Love impressed on all of them.
Mike Love himself proved to be the consummate frontman, pointing at the crowd and good-naturedly stalking the stage while singing his trademark songs, and they were all there: the surf tunes, the car tunes, “I Get Around,” “California Girls,” “Fun, Fun, Fun” and of course “Kokomo” which was as wildly recieved as any of the 60’s hits.
Bruce Johnston has been a touring member of the Beach Boys since 1965 (taking a few years off in the 70’s) and he handled vocals on “You’re So Good To Me,” the bridge of “Surfer Girl” and “Do You Wanna Dance?” originally performed by the late Dennis Wilson. Johnston was also Love’s onstage foil, encouraging the band members as they took a solo or a lead vocal turn.
Love paid tribute to the late Beatle George Harrison, with the original tune “Pisces Brother,” a pleasant ode to the time they spent together in India with the Maharishi, and a less successful lounge-y cover of “Here Comes the Sun.”
Tim Bonhomme on keyboards, Keith Hubacher on bass, and Randy Leago on saxes and flute filled out the 9 piece band, doing justice to this classic material. The songs sounded full, strong, and worthy of the legendary albums from which they came.
This is classic material delivered by a phenomenal band, who looked like they were having as much fun as the crowd. Totten’s arrangements of the material are top notch – and this is the best the Beach Boys have sounded since the 2012 reunion tour, which meshed Wilson’s band with Love’s and had Jardine and former guitarist David Marks along for the ride.
One couldn’t ask for a better summer night – beautiful August weather coinciding with wonderful music at the picturesque Bold Point Park.