Released in the aftermath of the critically lauded 50th Anniversary Reunion Tour, The Beach Boys in Concert: The Complete History of America's Band on Tour and Onstage appropriately recognizes the Beach Boys' seismic impact upon modern popular music.
While the massive coffee table tome by Ian Rusten and Jon Stebbins is intended for research minded Beach Boys fans interested in pinpointing when and where a special concert occurred, there is much more available than meets the eye.
Rusten and Stebbins wrote their book in part as a thinly-veiled counterstrike to British author Keith Badman's similar but sometimes improperly researched 2004 book, The Beach Boys: The Definitive Diary of America's Greatest Band on Stage and in the Studio. Badman stopped short at arguably the band's final hurrah -- the nation's bicentennial and the endless publicity machine surrounding the controversial "Brian's Back" campaign exemplified on the 15 Big Ones album.
The 8.5" x 11" hardcover by Rusten and Stebbins differentiates from the earlier project by documenting nearly every known tour date played by the group through leader Carl Wilson's death in Feb. 1998. Selective dates from subsequent years, often confused by various touring factions led by Brian or Mike Love-Bruce Johnston are rounded up in short order.
The Beach Boys in Concert has traditional chapters corresponding to each successive year in the band's gigography. Vintage newspaper reviews, show summaries, and exclusive interviews with band insiders provide further context, although the sameness of the reviews can get long in the tooth if devouring in one sitting.
For the casual fan, informative sidebar chronologies on each page detailing the highs and lows of each respective year and gorgeous black and white or color photos appearing every four pages or so, many making their debut after decades in private hands, are hands down the best aspects of the book.
The book is an invaluable resource in comprehending the long and especially winding Beach Boys odyssey. Case in point: take the band's first decade. Before they became a well-oiled touring machine, the Beach Boys' humble debut was quite inauspicious.
Performing just two songs, including their nascent single “Surfin’”, on Dec. 23, 1961, at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Southern California on a roster with surf guitar god Dick Dale, a young female fan remarked that Brian was ‘humiliated’ by the rambunctious crowd’s disinterest.
Fast forward to just three years later in Worcester, Mass. on Oct. 30, 1964. Hundreds of teenagers without tickets rioted and police were forced to halt the concert after only 14 minutes. The group was now the top-selling act in the USA and in the words of Brian, definitely “big business."
By May 1968, the group was categorically unhip in the face of the burgeoning counterculture. Coupled with a failure to deliver Smile, the rightful follow-up to the iconic Pet Sounds, which nearly shattered Brian's already delicate confidence, a concert promoting Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at the Washington Coliseum in Baltimore was doomed from the start. Only 1,500 fans attended the 8,000 seat venue, and hecklers repeatedly interrupted the Maharishi's ill-advised transcendental meditation lecture.
America's Band had finally rediscovered its mojo by March 1972, best exemplified by three sold out shows at the prestigious Carnegie Hall anchored by two new lineup additions, South African rock 'n' rollers Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar. Enthusiastically reviewed by Billboard, an alarming trend was already squarely impacting the group's future artistic impulses. Audiences tended to sit on their hands or headed to the concession stands whenever new material was performed.
After composer-drummer Dennis Wilson's unfortunate drowning in 1983 and the band's accompanying oldies, the sidebar summaries and photos gradually dwindle. For better or worse, there is only a fleeting glimpse of the infamous cheerleaders who "enhanced" Beach Boys concerts in the late '80s. However, a candid of an excited group perched behind a drum riser with star John Stamos – fresh into his revelatory Full House acting gig on Full House – more than makes up for the gregarious oversight.
When pressed to reveal who contributed exactly what, Stebbins revealed that "there was no clear delineation. I did as much writing in the concert entries as in the chronology sidebars. Ian came up with most of the dates, venues, newspaper reviews, although I added some, we both wrote the text, and we combined our visual archives and both found new visuals from contributors."
In a somewhat baffling move, the authors do not attempt to provide an estimable amount regarding total tour dates, which is unfortunate, considering the Beach Boys – Love especially – have probably played more shows than any other major act.
Appendices offering a rundown of shows per year and concert trivia [i.e. largest audience, record box office receipts, worst reviewed, concerts recorded for official albums, how many times the band played in a particular region, opening acts that later became breakout stars, etc.] would have also been welcome, since readers have to thumb through 400-odd pages if searching for a certain memory.
Still, a tremendous amount of tender loving care backed by solid research and a compelling narrative is on fine display throughout The Beach Boys in Concert, seconded by a rare five-star rating on Amazon (based on 21 reviews). Let's hope Rusten and Stebbins set their sights on writing a full band biography in the near future. The seeds are planted, the talent is readily apparent, and such a project would reach a much wider audience.
DON'T GO ANYWHERE YET! Don't forget to browse the impressive nine-image slideshow tracing "The Beach Boys in Concert: The Complete History of America's Band on Tour and Onstage", featuring candid stills of the group live on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1968, concert posters advertising the rock-inspired lineup fronted by Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar, Carl Wilson demonstrating his exquisite fashion sense, and much more.
Meanwhile, back at the beach...Dennis Wilson was the essence of cool. His primal rock drumming influenced waves of future musicians long after the musician's tragic premature demise. In a recent profile, Jon Stebbins granted a wide-ranging interview that examines his favorite Beach Boys album, discounts the myth that the band didn't play on their classic records, recalls seeing the group in concert on multiple occasions [Stebbins partied too hard the first time but has strong memories of their 1976 Day on the Green show], remembers a late summer afternoon spent one on one with Dennis, and argues for the masterpiece that is "Pacific Ocean Blue".
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Exclusive Interview: In an engrossing commemorative birthday profile honoring Dennis, Beach Boy experts Mike Eder, Andrew G. Doe, Craig Slowinski, and Jon Stebbins shed light on the songwriter's often unappreciated contributions to The Beach Boys' musical canon. Entitled "Like Heat from a Blast Furnace: The Sheer Raw Force of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson", one of the most memorable anecdotes comes from Doe. On the researcher's first trip to America in 1981, he decided to visit the group's record label. While chatting with a female office receptionist, Dennis suddenly bounded in, delivering a bouquet of flowers as a thoughtful apology to the young woman. You'll have to visit the article for the rest of the story...
Exclusive Interview No. 2: Founding Beach Boy Al Jardine recently granted an exclusive conversation with this column. Entitled "Persistence Pays Off: In Step With Al Jardine..." ], the two-part installment delves into the musician's first solo album (A Postcard From California), why he originally left the band, and the difficult and demanding Murry Wilson (father of the three Wilsons). In addition, Jardine surprised fans across the world and Capitol executives by using the interview to announce the impending release of Smile, one of pop music's legendary milestones left in the vaults for nearly half a century.
Further Reading: The Beach Boys were at a crossroads in the early ‘70s, exacerbated by Brian's dwindling creativity. Fortunately for listeners everywhere, little brother Carl had a remedy. He had propitiously been demonstrating his burgeoning production skills since the soulful "Wild Honey" arrived with minimal fanfare in 1967. Gradually taking over the leadership reins from Brian, Carl was more than ready to put his stamp on the band's 18th long player, along with a little help from two South African musicians with a penchant for hard driving rock 'n' roll, Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar. An in-depth feature on "Carl and the Passions – So Tough" sheds light on an often misunderstood period in the group's renowned discography. For a season, this was not your parents’ square fun in the sun band anymore.
Exclusive Interview No. 3: The Monkees began their incredible chart run at the zenith of Beach Boys popularity in 1966. In a brand-new feature entitled "A Piercing 'Mommy and Daddy' Conversation...", singer-drummer Micky Dolenz waxes poetic on such intriguing subjects as the origin of his sense of humor, how his mother guided his career, a surprising fondness for country music demonstrated on his new album, his first musical instrument, why he is unable to write prolifically, his most underrated composition, and whether he is an Elvis Presley fan.
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