Beach Boys, Grand Canyon University Arena, 7/7/12

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Beach Boys Grand Canyon University Arena Saturday, July 7, 2012

See also: The Beach Boys' Al Jardine On The Band's Wild and Woolly Days, 50th Anniversary and New Album See also: Beach Boys Brian Wilson and Al Jardine Reflect on 50 Years of West Coast Pop See also: Our full Beach Boys (and Fans) @ Grand Canyon University Slideshow. 50 songs for 50 years. It's hard to imagine any band getting away with it, right?

It's even harder to imagine it being exceptional, but that's the best word I can use to describe what The Beach Boys (Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, David Marks, Bruce Johnston, and their crack nine-piece backing band) did last night at Grand Canyon University.

Beach balls bounced in the air as The Boys took the stage to 1968's "Do It Again." It set the tone right away, as the early portion of the set was dominated by the band's classic, melodic surf pop. Sure, there were edgier surf bands in the '60s, but the Beach Boys' harmonious approach set them apart, endearing them to pop fans, surfers, and non-surfers alike, and listening to the multi-layered vocals and jittery start/stop dynamics of "I Get Around," it's easy to see hints of the complex psychedelia and melodic abandon the group would later explore.

Those vocals make the prospect of a Beach Boys show a little scary. Can a bunch of 70-year-old guys possibly sing like that anymore? The answer is yes -- though the army of backup singers certainly helped smooth out any roughness that may have been hiding below the waves of "oohs" and "ahhs."

Everybody brought their own element: Love, whose vocals were most often lead, introduced songs and generally goofed with the audience. Often painted as the villain in Beach Boys stories (rock lore suggestions his reaction to Pet Sounds was "Brian, don't fuck with the formula," and let's not get into "Kokomo"), Love was mostly endearing, funny, and absolutely on-point vocally. Jardine brought a dose of Northern California mysticism, rhapsodizing about street corner harmony and dancing. Johnston, the "new kid in the band who joined in '65," delivered some great vocals and performed his classic "Disney Girls." The "lost Beach Boy," David Marks, was the rockstar of the evening, delivering distorted solos and looking a shade tougher than the rest of the band (he left in 1963, and began appearing as a part of various incarnations of the band again in 1997).

Of course, all eyes were on Brian Wilson. He hasn't focused on the Beach Boys much for the last decade, but the one-two combination of the finally released Smile(2011) and the new record, That's Why God Made the Radio, find him in a familiar place at the piano. Every time Wilson sang, the audience would stand up, eager to hear his familiar voice. A touch on the rough side, it was still a thrill to hear him sing, especially in the second half of the set. Focusing on Pet Sounds and Smile material, Wilson's voice carried through on "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times," perhaps the most poignant song in terms of addressing his headspace.

As the band thundered away (holy hell, were they able to replicate the sprawling textures of the song, from the thundering percussion to the oft-kilter theremin or synth or whatever that beautiful, screwed up sound is during solo), it was powerful to hear Wilson sing lines "I just keep looking for a place to fit in, where I can speak my mind" and "They say I got brains, but they ain't doing me no good." Maybe it's wishful thinking or optimism, but I hope that he's found that place on stage, and in his brilliant, troubled mind.

That's Why God Made the Radio got two nods, as the band played the title track (accompanied by a sort of Urban Outfitters commercial of a video, with a jarring moment in which a bunch of young hipsters find The Beach Boys, you know, current, old-dude Beach Boys, in a hidden room or something) and the much better, far more lyrical "Isn't It Time" (which almost sounds like a commentary on the influence the band has had on bands like Animal Collective or Miniature Tigers).

The band paid tribute to fallen Beach Boys Dennis and Carl Wilson, performing "Forever" while images of Dennis played on the screen behind them, and "God Only Knows," which featured recordings of Carl. I noticed Brian looking at the screen during these two, and it made for dramatic emotional weight. "The whole band cries," Wilson said when I spoke with him. It was easy to see why.

The band closed out with a string of hits, and finally the audience rose to its feet and never sat back down. Butts shook during "Kokomo" (which might be my least favorite Beach Boys song, though I'm sure something just as cheesy is lurking undiscovered in the catalog), and kept shaking during the final rousing classics, "Barbara Ann" and "Fun, Fun, Fun."

On the drive home, local radio station Kool FM (on hand at the concert, too) played Beach Boys hits and took calls from excited fans leaving the show. There are very few bands I could stomach hearing on the radio after hearing 50 songs from in person, but call The Beach Boys that kind of band. I didn't even flip the station during "Kokomo."

Maybe some sort of "tropical contact high," right?

See next page for notes and the setlist.

Critic's Notebook: Last Night: The Beach Boys at Grand Canyon University Arena

The Crowd: Generally older, but plenty of youngsters too.

What a Minute: The girl in the Joy Division shirt is singing along to "Kokomo?"

General Fashion statement: Hawaiian shirts and baseball caps. Lots of them.

Sound good? The whole thing was filmed for PBS, so hopefully you'll see it soon.

I Got Shivers: During "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times"

It's Ridiculous to Ask For More When They Played 50 Songs But: I wouldn't have been terribly excited to hear "I Know There's an Answer/Hang on To Your Ego," "Caroline, No," or "Funky Pretty."

Setlist "Do It Again" "Little Honda" "Catch a Wave" "Hawaii" "Don't Back Down" "Surfin' Safari" "Surfer Girl" "Come Go With Me" "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" "When I Grow Up to Be a Man" "Please Let Me Wonder" "Getcha Back" "Wendy" "Marcella" "Then I Kissed Her" "Disney Girls" "Good Timin'" "Darlin'" "Kiss Me, Baby" "Isn't It Time" "California Saga" "Be True to Your School" "The Ballad of Ole Betsy" "Still Cruisin'" "Don't Worry Baby" "Little Deuce Coupe" "409" "Shut Down" "I Get Around" [Intermission] "Pet Sounds" (David Marks solo) "Add Some Music To Your Day" "Heroes and Villains" "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" "Sloop John B" "In My Room" "All This is That" "That's Why God Made the Radio" "Sail On Sailor" "Forever" "God Only Knows" "Good Vibrations" "California Girls" "Help Me Rhonda" "Rock 'n' Roll Music" "Do You Wanna Dance" "Surfin' USA" [Encore] "Kokomo" "Barbara Ann" "Fun, Fun, Fun"

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