Fifty years is a long time. To gain a little bit of perspective, consider that as late as the early 20th Century that was the average life expectancy for the American population at birth. Also consider that fifty years is approximately eighty percent of the time the music known as Rock N Roll has existed. According to Dave Barry, fifty years is the amount of time it takes to learn the valuable lesson of “Never lick a steak knife,” and since it’s just around the corner I’ll confess that fifty years is ten years past the amount of time that yours truly has even existed. Like I said – a long time.
Another thing that fifty years is though is the amount of time that The Beach Boys have been making music together. The lineup hasn’t necessarily been consistent for that entire time - chief maestro Brian Wilson operated largely behind the scenes for the better part of two decades - but whether as a whole or as smaller parts of a larger sum, what is undeniable is that The Beach Boys have provided the soundtrack to the American summer for five decades now. Last Friday, fronting a fourteen piece band, the remaining five Beach Boys (Wilson’s Dennis and Carl both passed away in 1983 and 1998 respectively) brought that soundtrack to Columbia, Maryland’s Merriweather Post Pavilion and proved why their music hasn’t just endured, it is as vital today as it ever was.
With a whopping FORTY NINE SONG SETLIST, trying to pick out the highlights in a show like this is nigh impossible. Put simply, practically everything anyone could have possibly wanted to hear was played. “Surfin’Safari?” Check! “Little Deuce Coupe?” Check! “Sloop John B?” Check! “California Girls?” You get the picture. The band covered practically every era of their career, and even took time to throw in tracks from the mythical Smile sessions as well as from their latest effort, That’s Why God Made The Radio - a much better record than it had any business being - for good measure. For most in attendance it was one giant two hour plus, nostalgia filled high, but for many, myself included it was much more than that.
Consider the fact that with an average age that hovers around 70 years old, it’s not likely that The Beach Boys will be performing together much longer. That undeniable fact makes this 50th Anniversary tour a grand celebration, but also potentially a grand goodbye. This impending end is addressed in good measure on Radio, and tracks like “Isn’t It Time” and “That’s Why God Made The Radio” provided some of the more bittersweet moments of Friday’s show. What easily could have come off as self aware to a fault, instead sidled sweetly up to the bands other, more road tested compositions to provide a glimpse at the bigger picture, and ultimately the bigger picture what Friday’s show was all about.
There are many remarkable things to say about The Beach Boys today. That they are still touring is the easy one. There were clear moments of restlessness on Brian Wilson’s part, but somewhere, deep down they all seem to recognize that what they have together is a special kind of magic. Sure there were years (decades) of hard work involved, but to this day nobody has ever been able to quite capture or reproduce that Beach Boys sound. Even more of a testament to that point is the fact that fifty years into their careers, they still sound phenomenal. There isn’t a note out of place, a harmony out of key or even the slightest dip in the enthusiasm with which they deliver the material they wrote so many years ago.
More remarkable than THAT though is how over the years, much of their material has transformed into an oddly solemn commentary on not just what it is to get older, but the whole span of a life. Their ability to tap into some greater universal sense of existence has always been the true genius of The Beach Boys music, taken in such a large dose it’s clear that what has ultimately made this band consistently great for so long is how they connect to our basic humanity with such ease and grace.
You can’t put a price tag on that, so even at $150 a pop, if you are even a casual fan you owe it to yourself to get out and celebrate The Beach Boys fiftieth anniversary with them. Someday, and maybe not too far off, the only thing left of the band will be their sunny hymns to idealistic youth, lessons on how to live, love, and most of all have fun in the modern world as we know it. Wouldn’t it be nice to celebrate those things now, while we all still can?