Their hair is grey and their moves are a little slower, but the harmonies that have set the Beach Boys apart from other bands for the past five decades are still strong, tight and beautiful.
The band proved that Saturday night, when it brought its 50th anniversary tour to the Event Center at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
The Beach Boys entertained the capacity crowd with a high-energy set that touched on the group’s numerous hits but also included some old album tracks and a handful of cover songs that the group has recorded.
They ran through 22 songs in a little more than an hour — and that was just the first half of the concert. Not bad for a band whose members are mostly approaching their 70s.
The anniversary tour marks the first time in decades that many of the members have been on stage together. In recent decades, band members spent more of their time battling in court than performing, clashing over songwriting credits, royalties and the use of the band’s name.
But if those battles left any scars, they weren’t apparent Saturday. While there was little interplay between members, there also was a palatable feeling of camaraderie as these old band mates ran through the old songs.
The lineup included co-founders Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Al Jardine. Also on stage is David Marks, the guitarist who appeared on some of the band’s earlier albums, and Bruce Johnston, who joined the group in 1965.
For hard-core Beach Boys fans, the big attraction of this tour is seeing Brian Wilson perform with his band. The band has toured pretty much nonstop since its founding in 1962. But Wilson, the genius behind the Beach Boys’ harmonies and its principal songwriter and producer, has made no secret of his dislike of performing live. He quit touring with the band in the mid-1960s and has only gone back on the road with them intermittently in the past four decades.
During that time, Wilson has suffered from much-publicized mental problems. In recent years he seems to have completely overcome them and has staged some highly praised solo concerts.
On Saturday, the crowd saved its loudest applause for Wilson, who sang lead on a number of songs, including “You’re So Good To Me,” and “Please Let Me Wonder.”
In a group where harmonies still reign, Wilson’s performance was perhaps the most changed from the vocals on the old records. But, as he added inflections and emphasis different from those recorded decades ago, Wilson’s performance also stood out as the most genuine.
Wilson rarely appears comfortable on stage, and playing a white grand piano set up on a riser in the corner, he seemed focused on the music. He might not have been enjoying himself, but he didn’t seem miserable.
The rest of the group seemed to be having a good time as they played the hits. Frontman Mike Love joked with the crowd while Jardine and Johnston were all smiles as they played. Perhaps the biggest surprise for the crowd was Marks — who’d launched his own group after being fired by Wilson’s father, Murry, early in the Beach Boys’ career. Playing a Fender Jaguar — the quintessential surf guitar — Marks ripped through the leads on songs such as “Surfing Safari” and “Shutdown,” clearly enjoying being back on stage with his old group.
One of the longest rounds of applause came when the group paid tribute to late member Carl Wilson, who died of cancer in 1998. The group sang backup as a video of Wilson singing “God Only Knows” played on the screen. The group paid similar tribute to late drummer Dennis Wilson, who drowned in 1983.
The boys are getting on in years. Brian Wilson turns 70 on June 20. Mike Love is 71. But the band has a lot of young help — there were 10 other musicians on stage with them, including two percussionists, four guitarists, two keyboardists, a bass player and a saxophonist. The musicians were key in lending vocal assistance with notes that the band’s aging voices can no longer hit. In a few instances, such as “Don’t Worry Baby,” the backup musicians sang the lead parts while the Beach Boys provided harmonies.
On the face of it, it would appear there’d be something strange about a group of seniors singing about the joys of sun, fun and California girls. But the band brings such energy and enthusiasm to the performance that those feelings never really had time to take root.
There was little mention of the band’s advancing years, although Love did address it once. When hitting a long note at the introduction to “Be True to Your School,” he clutched his chest, pretended to collapse and then asked, “Anyone have any Aleve?” The baby boomers filling the audience understood and responded with applause as Love launched into the song. They, too, are getting old. But on Saturday, they could sing along to old songs that sounded as good as when they heard them 50 years ago.
Contact Steven V. Cronin