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Together again! Um, hooray?
In the spring of 2012, I spent a couple of days in New Orleans soaking in the sights and sounds of the Jazz and Heritage Festival. I had missed the opening day, which had been headlined by a performance from the reunited Beach Boys. However, I did get the opportunity to speak to a number of people who had been in attendance. When I asked one man about the concert, a wave of weary sadness swept across his face. "It was…it was pretty rough," he sighed. "I mean, as far as I'm concerned, The Beach Boys are the greatest American band of all time. Pet Sounds is my favorite album of all time. But it was just awful. Honestly, it kind of hurt to watch it. I almost wish I hadn't seen it."
While not every report of the band's 50th anniversary tour was quite that downbeat, the reviews were generally negative at every stop along the way. Mercifully/sadly, the tour was cut short when Mike Love—in yet another attempt to cement his position as the biggest tool in rock n' roll history—unceremoniously dumped Al Jardine, David Marks and the great Brian Wilson from the tour and decided to charge ahead with his old pre-reunion group. Despite a humble, sad plea from Wilson, Love refused to change his mind on the subject. Well, the forced unity was nice while it lasted, I suppose. Now that the dust has settled, those who weren't able to make one of the concerts are being given the opportunity to check out a Blu-ray presentation of The Beach Boys 50: Live in Concert. So, is it as rough as many have suggested? Yeah, basically.
Nobody expects the present-day Beach Boys to perform at the same level they did in 1966, but the limp performance offered here would be considered unacceptable even by a Beach Boys tribute band. There's already enough of a disconnect between the band's age and the youth-centric nature of many of their songs, but the lackluster performance makes the whole affair nearly unbearable. Despite a younger backup band working overtime to make the concert sound as slick as possible, these guys just aren't able to deliver the sort of energy these fun-in-the-sun songs demand.
Love has always felt that the band should focus on such simple subjects as girls, cars and surfing, so it's no surprise that many of the more ambitious songs from the band's catalogue aren't included. The band performs quite a few tunes from their middling new album "That's Why God Made the Radio" (and sound better on these than they do on their classic numbers—perhaps because Wilson's participation is a bit more prominent and because the newer songs accommodate their limitations a little more) but frustratingly leave out the excellent suite of more ambitious tunes Brian Wilson wrote to close out that album (indeed, it was the only portion of the album to receive much praise). The aching "God Only Knows" (surely one of the finest pop songs ever written) doesn't make an appearance, but perhaps that's for the best: the notion of a band this weary fumbling that tune is far more painful than seeing them stumble through "Fun Fun Fun."
The Beach Boys 50: Live in Concert (Blu-ray) sports a perfectly functional 1080i/1.78:1 transfer that allows viewers at home to see every wrinkle and forced grin. It's honestly a rather drably-staged concert, as the orange-hued lighting doesn't quite achieve the magical twilight effect it's supposed to and the video monitor offering photos of the band tends to distract from the experience rather than enhance it. Still, detail is strong and blacks are satisfactorily deep. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is energetic enough, but the mix sounds a bit muddy at times (though this may partially be due to the performance itself). The vocals also tend to sound a little soft in contrast to the rest of the mix, but this isn't enough of a problem to really become irksome. There are no supplements whatsoever included on the disc.
If you're the sort of Beach Boys fan who loves "Kokomo" and eagerly awaits Mike Love's next performance at your local state fair, this concert disc may offer a decent time. However, those hoping that a Beach Boys reunion might reignite some of the old magic will be sorely disappointed.
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