When: Sun., Jan. 22, 7:30 p.m. 2017
It would have been hard to predict that the biggest groups of the sixties would remain operational into the next century as bifurcated entities. Amicably, Paul McCartney plays Beatles hits to the masses while Ringo plays the songs he sang on to smaller gatherings; less amicably, David Gilmour tours as "the voice and guitar of Pink Floyd" while Roger Waters goes on as "the creative genius of Pink Floyd." But in the case of the two current touring versions of the Beach Boys music—one led by Brian Wilson, the other, billed as the Beach Boys, led by Mike Love—it almost feels imperative to choose a side.
Thanks to the apotheosis of Pet Sounds, exhaustive rock journalism, and the 2014 biopic, Love & Mercy, the creative genius of Brian Wilson and his struggles have become familiar. To a lesser degree, so has the story of Mike Love, who, despite being the band's lead singer, front man, and cowriter of hits like "California Girls" and "I Get Around," never enjoyed lead-singer status or became the band's focal point. In 1966, when the press started treating Brian Wilson like Mozart, Love's resentment began to calcify, and as the public has cozied to the wounded Wilson, Love has emerged as the proud heel. "For those who believe that Brian walks on water, I will always be the Antichrist," he recently told Rolling Stone.
Constantly being confronted with evidence that our artistic heroes hold unpalatable views or have acted reprehensibly is part of the current condition. Jazz critic Nat Hentoff, who died last week, became the object of scrutiny as readers tried to reconcile his music writing with his political views. After Meryl Streep delivered her bold anti-Trump harangue at the Golden Globes, a video circulated in rebuke, showing her applauding filmmaker and child rapist Roman Polanski—a moment she'd doubtless love to take back.
So yes, artists are human, often contradictory, and sometimes they even serve up a song like "Kokomo." But make no mistake, if it's the music of The Beach Boys that you love, don't write this off. Just as Wilson does, Love surrounds himself with a crack ensemble to deliver these sun-drenched classics with punch and detail and sumptuous harmony. As with the Wilson show, you'll hear plenty from that early surf era, as well as selections from Pet Sounds and worthy latter-era tunes.
The key difference is the man at center stage. Wilson's presence is genial and a little bit heart-rending. Love remains energetic, the seasoned frontman doing what comes naturally. As Love unfurls that unmistakable, still-spry reedy tenor of his, it would be churlish to be thinking about the time he called Mick Jagger "chickenshit." If all else fails, just close your eyes—you're sure to pick up some good vibrations. —David Klein