On the Rocks: A musical safari
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
MORRISON, Colo. – I’ve finally come down from the natural high that was the Beach Boys’ 50th-anniversary concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Monday night. Because I am so in awe of the band and its contributions to pop-music history, I find it difficult to write about the experience. With any story, it’s a lot easier to discuss flaws than to describe perfection – is that why the news media generally focus on the negatives of any given situation?
From my sixth-row seat, I had the ultimate vantage point for watching my favorite band member, Brian Wilson, a music-industry icon. I was so close I could have yelled at him and caught his attention. Knowing about his lifelong battle with mental problems, I left him alone and was content to observe and enjoy the 50-plus tunes that he and the rest of the band rolled through with heart and precision. I had a few beers during the show but otherwise was on my best behavior.
The tough part of going to see your favorite groups is that you sometimes have a preconceived notion of what they ought to play. A few gems that I would have preferred to hear – “The Little Girl I Once Knew,” “Here Today,” “Good to My Baby,” “Caroline No,” “Dance, Dance, Dance,” “You’re So Good to Me” – were absent from the Red Rocks set list. I realize that the band has been making music for half a century and can’t perform everything. It would be selfish and unfair to complain, especially since I was captivated for most of the night. Still, I have to wonder what they were thinking when they included “Ballad of Ole Betsy.”
Brian was atypically animated; he finally might have hit upon the right combination of meds. I saw the band in late April in New Orleans, an early stop on the current tour, and he sat expressionless at his white piano save for three or four songs that showcased his unique talents. It was a different story Monday as he smiled a lot and joined the band on harmonies and piano rhythm, even on the silly songs (“Hawaii,” “Disney Girls”) that featured other members. Perhaps this “sea change” had something to do with the fact that Rocky Mountain PBS was recording bits and pieces of the show for its “Front Row Center” broadcast at 11 p.m. on July 29.
Red Rocks was packed from top to bottom. Everybody seemed to be in great spirits, except maybe for the guy on my right, whose wife dragged him to the show. The first set, highlighted by up-tempo early hits like “Surfin’ Safari,” “Be True to Your School” and “I Get Around,” was dominated by frontman Mike Love. After a brief intermission, they returned with the more poignant compositions for which Brian is known: “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times,” “In My Room” and “God Only Knows.” They got a little trippy with “Heroes and Villains” and “Good Vibrations.” It was all one big teenage symphony to God.
Nearly three hours of live, reunited Beach Boys wasn’t nearly enough for someone who’s been a huge fan for more than 30 years. Brian and Mike have been somewhat estranged for the past two decades, suing each other over songwriting credits, among other things. Does this year’s tour mean they’ve finally patched up their many differences? Will they come back to Red Rocks in a year or two for another blockbuster show?
Don’t bet on it.
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