The Beach Boys clobber Chicago— Backstage with band expert Mike Eder
Seventeen shows into their five month, 73-date worldwide 50th Anniversary Reunion Tour, Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and David Marks of the Beach Boys were consistently winning over kids and the young at heart with trademark harmonies and rock and roll harkening back to a less complicated era when good was good and bad was tucked away out of sight.
Critical acclaim and robust ticket sales engendered a comeback where die-hard fans and even band members buried the hatchet over acrimonious interviews regurgitating pointless 35-year-old “the Wilsons did drugs and I didn’t” charges and past lawsuits alleging that Jardine improperly licensed the group’s name for a solo tour and Wilson “shamelessly misappropriated Love’s songs, likeness, and the Beach Boys trademark” with a minuscule photo on a CD given out in a British newspaper plugging his 2004 reimagining of Smile.
The Beach Boys found themselves commanding prestigious, larger-capacity venues such as Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre and London’s Wembley Arena that would never have considered booking either Wilson’s solo band or Love’s licensed touring Beach Boys. A studio offering produced by Wilson, That’s Why God Made the Radio, vaulted into Billboard’s Top Three and became the band’s best chart placement of new material since Summer Days [And Summer Nights!!] 47 years earlier. It was as if the band had retired with 1979’s underappreciated L.A. [Light Album], never tackled the dire Summer in Paradise or inserted cheerleaders onstage, and suddenly risen from the embers. Nevertheless, the reunion was bittersweet and never truly full circle as original members Dennis Wilson  and Carl Wilson  had passed away much too soon.
On September 17, 2012, the day before the unveiling of the Good Vibrations: 50 Years of the Beach Boys retrospective exhibit at the Grammy Museum, Wilson, Marks, and Jardine were blindsided by a press release approved by Love and Johnston which read, “The post-50th anniversary configuration will not include Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and David Marks. The 50th Reunion Tour was designed to be a set tour with a beginning and an end to mark a special 50-year milestone for the band.”
Multi-million dollar offers to play Madison Square Garden and an extended Las Vegas residency were obviously scuttled. Major news outlets pounced on the tersely worded statement and declared that the trio had been fired unceremoniously by Love. As Wilson and Jardine are equal shareholders in the band’s Brother Records [BRI] corporate entity along with Carl’s estate and Love, the latter could not terminate his band mates. Following Carl’s death from lung cancer, Love was granted an exclusive license to tour as the Beach Boys by the other shareholders. For any concerts performed by Love and Johnston’s Beach Boys, a licensing fee is divided among Wilson, Jardine, and Carl’s estate. Love and Wilson have not spoken since the dissolution of the 50th anniversary.
Good times were still perceptible on May 21 when the Beach Boys began a two-night, sold out residency at the historic Chicago Theatre in Chicago, Illinois. In attendance on the day before his 36th birthday was Beach Boys historian Mike Eder. A vintage vinyl record aficionado, Kenny Rogers and the First Edition expert, and author of Elvis Records FAQ [Backbeat Publishing], Eder is engaging and honest to a fault in a vintage combination interview-review detailing the Chicago gig.
Experiencing the matrimonial leap mere weeks after the show, Eder employs then-fiancé Debra’s copious notes as a casual fan to explain whether Wilson was really enjoying himself, what happened when the band gathered at the reclusive genius’s piano, if sprinkling the setlist with deep cuts was judicious, and did “That’s Why God Made the Radio” gel onstage. Eder also probes the wide safety net of supporting musicians, Marks’ essential surf guitar licks, the Carl and Dennis tributes, and why early ’70s members Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar warranted inclusion.
The Mike Eder Interview
Going into the Chicago Theatre concert, did you have any reservations?
Not really. I just hoped Brian was having a good day, which he was. I had heard so many good things about the tour, but I suppose I didn’t truly realize how great a show they had until I saw for myself.
The million dollar question — how did the show stack up?
Frankly, being in downtown Chicago during the whole NATO protest could have been hairy, but I encountered nothing myself. “Student Demonstration Time” [Surf’s Up, 1971] might have been a good one to pull out [laughs]. I was actually concerned the show might get cancelled seeing the news footage.
Away from all that attending the concert was a dream come true. First, I thought it would never happen. Second, I thought it would be crummy if it did. And third, the inclusion of David Marks wasn’t completely unexpected but was the icing on the cake. In short, they blew me away. Not one song was thrown away, rushed, or even off.
Al sounds amazing. I hadn’t seen him since 1993 and I was bowled over. He sounds exactly the same as he did in 1965! David was masterful on guitar.
Brian sang his ass off. On “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times,” he got a standing ovation and I actually shed a tear. Brian sang as good as Blondie Chaplin ever did on “Sail on Sailor.” There was so much emotion in his voice, not robotic at all. It was the best I have seen him sound in person. Of course, he doesn’t hit the high notes but I was stunned nonetheless.
Mike and Bruce were into the show in a way I haven’t ever seen either of them. Judging from the films this is the best they have performed since 1980. The bass vocals from Love were spot on with “Kiss Me Baby” being particularly intricate and impressive.
Mike’s lead voice is a little worn, but for the first time since 1976, he didn’t sound like a Mike Love imitator, he sounded like Mike Love should sound. Bruce’s “Disney Girls” was moving and far better than it has been since his 1978 return. Just having a sensitive arrangement made all the difference.
The Carl and Dennis tributes were terrific. The live band blends with their original vocals — seen on a screen — seamlessly. Seeing Bruce sing his part on “God Only Knows” with Carl on lead again was so touching.
The song selection was fantastic. Songs that hadn’t worked for 30-odd years like “Barbara Ann,” “California Girls,” and “Rock And Roll Music” sounded vital once again. Granted, “Kokomo” was “Kokomo”, but it was well done. The only thing I can say is that any fan of great rock and roll and progressive rock should have been required to see the show.
An independent documentary team was shooting a DVD. I got to speak on camera about how the Beach Boys music and lives have represented America over the last six decades.
I talked about how they reflected California or surf culture in the early-to-mid-sixties, then how they were part of the counter culture from the late sixties to the early seventies. Carl was a conscientious objector to Vietnam, and they played at anti-war rallies, including the massive 1971 May Day in Washington.
Later I discussed the James Watt ordeal and how Ronald Regan made a personal apology for Watt banning them from playing the Washington Mall. I don’t know if they will use me in the film, but I am excited to see what it will turn out to be should the project ever find a distribution deal.
Since it was a theatre gig, did you notice any differences compared to their more common outdoor shows?
I find music in theatres to be far better in general. Outdoor venues for the Beach Boys tended to become too clichéd in the past. I always felt the standards went down when they did baseball parks. Some sets on this tour seem to be more adventurous than others, and it is true that the atmosphere in a theatre encourages them to do a wider variety of songs.
Was Brian relatively enjoying himself onstage?
Early in the show he had to be helped to the piano and helped offstage for intermission. When they came back Brian was walking fine and stood up to play the bass fine. He was in a good mood in general and sang better than I thought possible. Perhaps not as good as he was pre-1975, but in his lower end he actually sounded like an older Brian Wilson as opposed to a Brian Wilson who damaged his voice.
This is not the Brian that appeared with the group from 1976–1996. He took on an equal role, even a leadership role at times. When was the last time he was really present and engaged for an entire show, maybe the Whisky in West Hollywood in 1970? Only on “Kokomo” did he seem bored but he did join in.
Did the Beach Boys gather around Brian’s piano?
Yes, they did exactly that for “Add Some Music to Your Day.” It was a great version and you could tell Brian was still the leader. It was cool to see him giving them cues and taking charge. It was another moment I dreamed would happen but never thought I would see. It’s a wonderful song, always has been, and their rendition on this tour is breath taking.
Other moments where you got to focus on their voices were scattered throughout the show — “Sloop John B,” “Please Let Me Wonder” — and all hit the spot. The thing about the show is that it made you feel good. Again I am stunned some of Brian’s friends — including some that I know to be very kind people — boycotted this tour. They really don’t get him if they don’t get the Beach Boys.
How did David Marks enhance the 50th anniversary shows?
Quite a great deal. I had not had the pleasure of seeing him play live before, and the man is good. He is simply the best surf guitar player I have ever heard. He gets those great trebly tones that made the early albums and singles so distinctive.
David also adds a lot to the later material, sings a fine version of “Hawaii” [Surfer Girl, 1963], and in general fits in perfectly. It’s sad he originally left in late 1963, as Brian wouldn’t have been forced to tour or possibly had as bad of a breakdown. David is certainly family for the group and no less a Beach Boy than any of the others. Incidentally, I was also present for the Beach Boys’ July 1, 2012, Summerfest performance at the Marcus Amphitheater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where David notably played the “Pet Sounds” instrumental.
Did you get to meet any of the guys?
No, I did not. I tried to get autographs afterwards but missed them. Although I have spoken to Al, interviewed Brian, and corresponded with Bruce and David, honestly I’m just a fan like any other. The only difference is that I happen to be a writer who decided to study their work and lives in that capacity.
How did the band appease their die-hard fans who wanted to hear more than just the hits?
Addressing the hits first, they did do them justice. It’s the first show since the 1975 Beachago tour featuring Chicago where every song was done with great care. Not counting 1998–2011 as Beach Boys shows, this is the first time since Bruce came back in 1978 that they tried to strike a real balance in the setlist.
Other than the 1993 box set tour, maybe you were lucky to hear two deep tracks. The rare songs made up nearly half the show, including such jewels as “Don’t Back Down,” “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times,” “Cottonfields,” “Marcella,” and “It’s OK.” A fair share have never been done by the full group before. All were done fantastically.
What are your feelings on “That’s Why God Made the Radio” being played during all 50th Reunion Tour shows?
It was nice, if kind of safe. However, as the tour rolled on, the song really gained life. The arrangement felt more relaxed, and they seemed comfortable doing it.
I don’t think I would ever say “That Why God Made The Radio” is as good as the 1961–1973 classics, but it held up well in the set. That’s saying a lot about a song heard next to so many sublime compositions.
Some critics derided the fact that the Beach Boys had so many musicians backing them onstage.
To put it simply, the Beach Boys have been doing this since 1968 — trying to get a sound close to their records on stage. Sure, they could do a stripped down five-man show. But case in point: none of them sing falsetto anymore.
It’s amazing how much attention was given to getting things right by the entire ensemble, and it’s not like the Beach Boys aren’t center stage. In the solo Mike and Bruce shows, or the Brian shows, I really missed the Beach Boys harmonic blend. On this tour it was there and very strong.
What do you say to longtime fans that refused to see the reunion because of the absence of Dennis and Carl?
What I can say to those who hesitated to come for that reason is that Dennis and Carl were a big part of the show in spirit. Some are more tuned into that sort of things than others, but on a deep spiritual level I felt their presence. Also, they were constantly seen on screen and the tributes to them were in no way tacky or overblown. The crowd did know who they were, at least to some degree.
“Forever” is taken from the 1971 Central Park show when Dennis was in his prime. His voice sounded beautiful over the speakers. “God Only Knows” was from the 1980 Knebworth concert, and Carl looked healthy and was also in great voice.
The thing I liked is that the Beach Boys were true to the songs and didn’t try to mess with their integrity. For instance, when Paul McCartney does live tributes to George Harrison — “Something” — and John Lennon — “Here Today” — it’s certainly heartfelt, but the music isn’t anything special. Here the music stayed strong and vibrant and the talent Dennis and Carl possessed came through strongly.
Should Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar have been invited to take part in the 50th Anniversary Reunion Tour?
I suppose their lack of inclusion was the only slight damper of the shows. Ricky has been touring with Bonnie Raitt for years, and she was actually there at the Chicago Theatre the night before. I would have loved for them to be there, but I suppose only a third of the audience would be aware of their role in the group.
From the time they joined in 1971 through the ’90s, critics dismissed them unfairly. Today, people who are aware of their role usually like them, but the earlier carping was a real shame because they are so talented and did add a lot during their tenure with the band — both were gone by September 1974. I do have to give the Beach Boys a lot of credit for covering their early ’70s era so powerfully on the 50th Reunion Tour and not overlooking it entirely [On December 12, 2014, Chaplin and Fataar sat in with Wilson’s solo band for the PBS Soundstage concert special entitled Brian Wilson & Friends. By June 2015 Chaplin was a special guest during Wilson’s No Pier Pressure and subsequent Pet Sounds tours. Fataar prefers steady gigging with Raitt].
I hope all the “Brian and the five jerks” stuff ends for good. After our previous Beach Boys interview, some who have agendas to make the band look bad were displeased. I was shocked because I only stated that in addition to having a brilliant artist like Brian Wilson among their ranks, the Beach Boys were a great group.
Think about that and how ridiculous that one fan or writer’s opinion can make people feel so threatened. All I know is what is on the records and it’s not just Brian Wilson on the records, it was the Beach Boys.
All groups have their problems, but personally and artistically there wasn’t this great rebellion from the group. They all loved and respected Brian and still do. Sure the rough patches have been mighty rough, all of them have done things to each other that are questionable, but for a year they made wonderful music again as a team. The Beach Boys remain very real people in that most people around the world realize that their lives and music mirror America in the last 57 years. There’s something very important about that.
It saddens me how the 50th Reunion Tour ended because basically it split up the fan community. I really got sick of the Brian vs. Mike stuff and pulled back a lot from the whole Beach Boys scene in a way. My positive comments still stand as far as the shows I saw go, but as far as the reunion went, it obviously went wrong somewhere.
Setlist: The Beach Boys in Concert, May 21, 2012, Chicago Theatre, Chicago, Illinois
- “Do It Again” [No. 20 POP, No. 1 UK, 20/20, 1969; re-recorded in 2011 for the Limited Edition 50th Anniversary Collection ‘ZinePak]
- “Catch a Wave” [Surfer Girl, 1963]
- “Hawaii” [Surfer Girl, 1963]
- “Don’t Back Down” [All Summer Long, 1964]
- “Surfin’ Safari” [No. 14 POP, Surfin’ Safari, 1962]
- “Surfer Girl” [No. 7 POP, No. 18 R&B, Surfer Girl, 1963]
- “Please Let Me Wonder” [No. 52 POP, B-side of “Do You Wanna Dance?,” Today!, 1965]
- “Marcella” [No. 110 POP, Carl and the Passions — “So Tough,” 1972]
- “Wendy” [No. 44 POP, All Summer Long, 1964]
- “Then I Kissed Her” [No. 4 UK, Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!), 1965]
- “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” [No. 120 POP, B-side of “Fun, Fun, Fun,” Shut Down Volume Two, 1964]
- “When I Grow Up [To Be a Man]” (No. 9 POP, No. 27 UK, Today!, 1965]
- “Cottonfields” [No. 103 POP, No. 5 UK, an earlier LP version appears on 20/20, 1969]
- “It’s OK” [No. 29 POP, No. 33 Adult Contemporary, 15 Big Ones, 1976]
- “Little Honda” [No. 65 POP, All Summer Long, 1964]
- “Be True to Your School” [No. 6 POP, No. 27 R&B, Little Deuce Coupe, 1963]
- “Disney Girls” [Surf’s Up, 1971]
- “Kiss Me, Baby” [B-side of “Help Me, Rhonda,” Today!, 1965]
- “Don’t Worry Baby” [No. 24 POP, B-side of “I Get Around,” Shut Down Volume Two, 1964]
- “Little Deuce Coupe” [No. 15 POP, No. 28 R&B, B-side of “Surfer Girl,” Surfer Girl, 1963]
- “409” [No. 76 POP, B-side of “Surfin’ Safari,” Surfin’ Safari, 1962]
- “Shut Down” [No. 23 POP, B-side of “Surfin’ USA,” Surfin’ USA, 1963]
- “I Get Around” [No. 1 POP, No. 7 UK, All Summer Long, 1964, followed by brief intermission]
- “Add Some Music to Your Day” [No. 64 POP, Sunflower, 1970]
- “California Dreamin’” [No. 57 POP, No. 8 Adult Contemporary, early version issued on 1983’s Radio Shack exclusive Rock and Roll City; overdubbed single version on Made in U.S.A., 1986]
- “Sloop John B” [No. 3 POP, No. 2 UK, Pet Sounds, 1966]
- “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” [No. 8 POP, Pet Sounds, 1966]
- “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” [Pet Sounds, 1966]
- “Forever” [B-side of “Cool, Cool Water,” Sunflower, 1970]
- “Sail on, Sailor” [No. 49 POP, No. 51 UK, Holland, 1973]
- “All This Is That” [Carl and the Passions — “So Tough,” 1972]
- “Heroes and Villains” [No. 12 POP, No. 8 UK, Smiley Smile, 1967]
- “That’s Why God Made the Radio” [No. 16 Hot Singles Sales, No. 30 Adult Contemporary, title cut of 2012 album]
- “In My Room” [No. 23 POP, B-side of “Be True to Your School,” Surfer Girl, 1963]
- “God Only Knows” [No. 39 POP, No. 2 UK, B-side of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” archival lead vocals by Carl Wilson, Pet Sounds, 1966]
- “Good Vibrations” [No. 1 POP, No. 1 UK, Smiley Smile, 1967]
- “California Girls” [No. 3 POP, No. 26 UK, Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!), 1965]
- “Help Me Rhonda” [No. 1 POP, No. 27 UK, early version released on Today!, with re-recorded hit version on Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!), both 1965]
- “Rock and Roll Music” [No. 5 POP, No. 36 UK, 15 Big Ones, 1976]
- “Do You Wanna Dance?” [No. 12 POP, archival lead vocals by Dennis Wilson, Today!, 1965]
- “Surfin’ USA” [No. 3 POP, No. 20 R&B, No. 34 UK, Surfin’ USA, 1963]
- “Kokomo” [encore; No. 1 POP, No. 5 Adult Contemporary, No. 25 UK, Cocktail 1988 soundtrack and Still Cruisin’, 1989]
- “Barbara Ann” [encore; No. 2 POP, No. 3 UK, Party!, 1965]
- “Fun, Fun, Fun” [encore; No. 5 POP, Shut Down Volume 2, 1964]
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