It’s all about the fun, fun, fun.
The giant electronic banner unfurled across the stage—America’s Band. Onto that stage, at L.B. Day Amphitheater in Salem, OR on August 31, walked Mike Love and Bruce Johnston, aged 78 and 77 respectively. Fifty-seven years after they generated a wave of surf-rock hysteria with the 1962 hit single “Surfin Safari,” with the Beach Boys, you’ve got no complaints.
Fans of the legendary band know that Love is the last remaining member of the original Beach Boys line-up that followed “Safari” with mega-hits “Surfin USA” and “I Get Around,” their first #1 U.S. hit. Good news…with the classic repertoire enshrined in the pantheon of rock history and all the other original Beach Boys either passed or pursuing other projects, it’s the vocals baby! No singer could replicate Love’s style; close your eyes and he sounds like he could be twenty-three-years-old. OK, forty-seven.
Johnston, who came aboard in 1965 after studio mastermind Brian Wilson opted out of live performance, helms a big keyboard at center stage, providing the strains that catapulted upbeat gems like “California Girls” into Billboard’s stratosphere.
Love and Johnston came ready to rock the sold-out show. In between performances, Love kidded with the largely senior citizen crowd about his difficulties with social media devices. “I can get the flashlight on,” he quipped, “I just can’t get it to go off.” As one might expect, it was a boomer-heavy audience. It is quite an accomplishment to bring 14,000 people to their feet when ten percent of those people need assistance to stand.
No, but seriously, from the upper level lawn seating to right down front, the flashlights were reverently held aloft during beloved ballads like “In My Room” and “Surfer Girl.”
The support band, comprised of a talented group of relative youngsters, flawlessly recreated the jangly, joyous BB sound that provided the soundtrack for endless summers across the globe.
Lest the automotive be forgotten in waves of heavy surf, Love and company hit the ground running with hot-rod classics like “Little Deuce Coup” “and “409.” The front-man’s stage presence hasn’t changed much over the decades. He walks to and fro, a little stiffer and slower these days, making wide sweeps with his hands to punctuate the familiar lyrics while generously distributing celebrity finger-points. The eternally-youthful Love hasn’t let his solo career lie fallow. He’s just released his fourth solo album, 12 Sides of Summer, which includes “California Beach,” a song which captures essential ethos of the Beach Boy-mania that captured America all those summers ago.
Highlights of the Salem show included a gorgeous rendition of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” and a pulsating “Good Vibrations.” For the encore, Love got behind the wheel again with “Fun, Fun, Fun,” a T-bird ride that turned into a mass sing-along.
Fun is what it has always been with the Beach Boys—a positive vibe that triumphs over the trials, tragedies, and travails that often come on the long march of superstardom.
As exhausted and happy fans filed out of the amphitheater into the all-age chaos of the Oregon State Fair midway on a hot August night, a technician powering down the sound system’s motherboard was overheard telling an appreciative boomer gal in white Levis, red/blue halter-top, and Hawaiian lei,
“You guys were a great, have us back next year.”
Rest assured, if the fourteen-thousand present that night have anything to say about it, summer’s end at the fair will always mean—the Beach Boys.
Mark Ellis is the author of A Death on the Horizon, a novel of political upheaval and cultural intrigue. He came aboard at PJ Media in 2015. His literary hangout is Liberty Island. Follow Mark on Twitter.