Beach Boys: Back Together, Do It Again

Charter band member Mike Love and 40-year “new guy” Bruce Johnston lead the Beach Boys back to the Basie, when the band bus rolls into Red Bank on Tuesday, August 23.

It was rock historian/ musician/ label owner Billy Miller — musing over an old photo of the classic Beach Boys lineup sitting in a 1964 Pontiac — who summed up the personalities in this band so succinctly:

“Quiet Carl pilots the GTO and smart guy Brian’s behind him to call the shots while the key spot is manned by girl-getter Dennis…wisecrackin’ Mike gets the backup posit where he can razz the doggy chicks and squares. Al, of course, is relegated to the hump.”

It’s been a long time, longer than the days prior to the passing of Dennis and Carl Wilson, since the original members of The Beach Boys shared a cramped cruise in a car, a ride in a tour bus, or the same side of the conference table at a lawyer’s office. The American institution that’s fast approaching its golden anniversary in show business (a reunion album of sorts is being talked up, with no hard evidence as yet) split into two factions around the time of the landmark Pet Sounds sessions in 1966 — the studio-bound residency of Brian Wilson and the hard-touring, crowdpleasing roadshow skippered by Mike Love — and despite intermittent attempts at reconciling for albums and tours, the dichotomy abides to this day in the more or less separate-but-equal live shows fronted by the first cousins turned frenemies.

When the 2011 touring edition of The Beach Boys rolls into the Count Basie Theatre for a late-summer’s indoor concert on Tuesday, August 23, the core of Mike Love and Bruce Johnston (the successful singer/ songwriter/ producer and Ted Kennedy lookalike whose 45 year history with the band hasn’t stopped him from being “The New Guy”) returns to the scene of some well-received sets of recent years — as well as memorable nights featuring Brian and his band The Wondermints. The two senior Boys will preside once more over a pretty awesome cavalcade of canonical hits, conveyed by a crack team of craftsmen that includes veteran John Cowsill (from the bands that gave us both “867-5309 JENNY” and “The Rain, The Park and Other Things”) — although the on-again, off-again stuntcasting of TV star John Stamos as drummer/ vocalist appears not to be in the cards for the Count’s crib.

Google Mike Love’s name and you’ll get any number of links to pages that lay out, often with exhaustive research and little in the way of Love, why the basketball-tall Beach Boy is responsible for the destruction of a national treasure. That said, the story of the Beach Boys is a way-stranger-than-fiction saga that takes in madness, child abuse, mind control, Charles Manson, multi-generational laboratory-level drug use, untimely death and tons of litigation  — the story of America, in other words; all set to a soundtrack of the most achingly gorgeous “teenage symphonies” ever devised in a crossfire of inspiration and aspiration.

We spoke to newly minted septuagenarian Mike Love — polarizing figure, energizing frontman, boosterizing flagwaver for environmental causes, transcendental meditation and not so gentle politics — from the Boys’ tour stop outside Philadelphia; turn the record over for more.

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ARCHIVE: Back to the Sloop Count B

Brian WilsonThe East Coast crowds in Hiptown really dig his style of wares: Brian Wilson and his most happening band of helpers return to the stage of the Count Basie Theatre TONIGHT in a last-ditch effort to keep the summer thing going right up to Halloween’s doorstep.

By TOM CHESEK (First published on Red Bank oRBit October 26, 2009)

It was “the steal of the night,” in the words of the auctioneer — a custom-crafted Challenger surfboard, handmade by the legendary master shaper Carl “Tinker” West for his old pal Bruce Springsteen, and autographed by the Boss — as well as by the man who’s done more than anyone to make the surf, sand and sun a cornerstone of the American experience, Brian Wilson.

While the board only fetched a “mere” $7,500 — versus a top bid of $12,500 for a chance to “party” with Bon Jovi Keyboardist David Bryan — the 2007 edition of the Count Basie Theatre Foundation’s Annual Spring Benefit Concert and Gala was a successful evening of music, mingling and Morgan Stanley-sponsored revelry beneath a tent pitched in the middle of Monmouth Street. And Wilson — every bit as much of an American sonic signifier as his predecessors at past galas (Tony BennettJames BrownSmokey Robinson) — brought the beach to the Basie, where Hawaiian shirts outflanked tuxes, and the formal to-do fairly dripped with colorful umbrellas, lifeguard stands and seashells.

Tonight at 8pm, the founder and mastermind of the Beach Boys returns to the Basie boards for the first time since the massively renovated auditorium’s re-opening — and the first time since that night in May of 2007, when Springsteen joined the national pop treasure and his amazing band at the end of a 26-song set that balanced bedrock crowdpleasers (”Good Vibrations,” “California Girls,” “Help Me Rhonda”) with such relatively esoteric but beautifully rendered stuff as “Then I Kissed Her” (adapted from The Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me”), some triumphantly reclaimed selections from the “lost” 1967 SMiLE sessions, and a surprising choice of opener: the unjustly neglected 1965 single “The Little Girl I Once Knew.”

Perched for nearly the entire concert behind a keyboard that remained unplayed, the famously reticent maestro nodded in approval as his eleven-piece touring band — the core of which comprises the LA-based group otherwise known as Wondermints— supercharged their note-perfect channelings of the composer’s classic studio wizardry with the boundless enthusiasm of true fans living a years-long dream gig. And when Jersey pals like Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken (boosting the horsepower on “Surfin’ Safari” and “Fun Fun Fun”) and Bruce (grabbing a guitar for “Barbara Ann” and being careful not to upstage the ever-stoic Wilson) dropped by, it was as if they came to pay tribute to some benevolent (but forever inscrutable) king on his throne.

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