“Gotta Keep Those Lovin’ Good Vibrations A-Happenin’”! The Beach Boys LIVE! at Ocean Grove’s Great Auditorium
“America’s Band” — The Beach Boys — brought their musical good vibrations to the Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove, NJ, on Saturday, July 16, 2016. Marking more than a half century of incredible music, the group has continued to ride a wave unparalleled in American musical history.
Led by lead singer Mike Love and long-time keyboardist Bruce Johnston (composer of Barry Manilow’s “I Write the Songs”), the current line-up of the group includes The Cowsills’ John Cowsill on drums, Brian Wilson Band alumni Jeffrey Foskett on rhythm guitar, musical director Scott Totten on lead guitar, Brian Eichenburger on bass, Tim Bonhomme on synthesizer, and Randy Leago on woodwinds.
All told, the Beach Boys have sold over 100 million records and have received more than 33 RIAA Platinum and Gold record awards. They have been honored at the Grammys with a Lifetime Achievement Award and are also Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees. With more than five decades of touring experience on their resume, The Beach Boys have performed more live concerts than any other major rock band in history.
At the Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove, the Beach Boys take the stage running with their classic surf anthem, “Surfin’ Safari.” As images of tanned surfers fill the background screens, lead vocalist Mike Love, 75, moves to the very edge of the stage to get closer to the fans as they sing along to every word. Beach balls start popping up from around the front row and are playfully bounced into the ready crowd as fans with glow sticks happily wave them from the balcony.
Following enthusiastic applause, the Boys proceed to perform a medley of additional surfing songs including “Catch a Wave,” “Hawaii,” “Do it Again,” and “Surf City,” featuring long-time band member Bruce Johnston, 74, on vocals and keys and founding member Mike Love on vocals.
On yet another hit surf number, “Surfin’ USA,” the lively crowd claps and joyously sings along on the well-known chorus, “Everybody’s goin’ surfin’, Surfin’ USA.” Even the infamous Ocean Grove Auditorium flag can be seen high above the stage “waving” and flashing its electric lights in approval.
After the song is over, band leader Mike Love looks around the impressive 122-year old interior of the Great Auditorium and jokes, “ I think when they booked us they were looking for a group almost as old as this place.”
Following genuine laughter on the part of this multi-aged crowd, Love asks, “Are there any requests?,” to which audience members gleefully shout out the names of their favorite Beach Boys numbers: “Wendy,” “Good Timin’,” and many more.
Interrupting them, Love quips, “Well, I’d like to request an intermission followed by a long nap.”
Love tells the audience that the group’s next song is “dedicated to all the ladies” adding, “this is a participation song, so everyone turn on your cell phone lights!”
Almost instantaneously, the glow of hundreds of cell phones dot the auditorium like dancing fireflies on a summer evening.
As Love observes the scene he’s just created, he begins to croon the lead to “Surfer Girl,” and is quickly joined on stage by his daughter, Ambha, who dances with him much to the audience’s delight.
Moving on to some less familiar songs for some members of this crowd, the group performs two “Good” songs by the Beach Boys — “You’re So Good to Me” and “Good to My Baby” — while a kaleidoscope of colorful flower power images are projected onto the auditorium walls and morph and change shapes and colors to the rhythm of the music.
Going back to the days when Love and his original bandmates — cousins Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson, friend Al Jardine, and neighbor David Marks — sang classic harmony songs together back in their hometown of Hawthorne, CA, this current edition of the Beach Boys performs The Students’ 1958 hit, “I’m So Young,” featuring bass player Brian Eichenberger, a former member of The Four Freshman, on lead vocals. Eichenberger’s performance is soulful and heartfelt and it’s clear the audience is feeling the warmth of the music while, at the same time, enjoying the cool ocean breeze as it wafts through the open doors into the theater.
Next up is “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?,” featuring a line-up of mighty falsetto voices which contrast nicely to Randy Leago’s rockin’ baritone sax. Lights illuminate the six harmony singers as they expertly blend their individual parts.
Then, the group moves on to two more familiar Beach Boys numbers — the classic “When I Grow Up to Be a Man,” and the rockin’ “Darlin”’ — both accompanied by the solid keyboard work of the band’s talented synthesizer player, Tim Bonhomme.
At the song’s conclusion, Love looks up and says, “Raise a joyful noise unto the Lord — this is the right place for it!,” and introduces a song which he announces is “for the people in uniform — cheerleaders!” He goes on to reveal that it was the girls with the pom-poms who were the inspiration for the Boys’ 1963 single, “Be True to Your School.” As the song begins, a guitar chord is strummed, Love finds his note, and he proceeds to hold it on the song’s first word, “When…,” for 21 long seconds! This gets the crowd cheering, and as Love continues with “…some loud braggart tries to put me down,” images of cheerleaders cartwheel on the screens in the background and create a dancing montage to the Beach Boys’ live soundtrack.
Following robust acclamation, Love replies, “Thanks for having us back year after year,” and goes on to add, “Because we are in such an amazing place, we’d like to try something new.”
At this point, a quartet of singers from the group launch into an incredible acapella (meaning “in the church,” explains Love) version of The Four Freshmen’s arrangement of “Their Hearts Were Full of Spring.” Hearing this amazing acapella sound in a venue as awe-inspiring as the Great Auditorium brings thunderous applause as many in the audience leap to their feet in admiration and appreciation for what they’ve just experienced.
And just how do the Beach Boys follow that?
Simply by performing a straightforward yet heartfelt version of “In My Room,” featuring vocals expertly performed by Love, Johnston, and high-harmony vocal specialist Jeff Foskett.
Now really getting into gear, the band goes on to play a medley of car songs including “Don’t Worry, Baby,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” “409,” “Shut Down,” and the group’s 1964 chart topper, “I Get Around.” By this point, the Great Auditorium feels like a Great Beach Party with colorful beach balls dancing, glow sticks swaying, and people up and out of their seats moving to the music.
After performing “Summer in Paradise,” a new environmental song which reminds listeners to be conscious about clean water preservation, The Boys feature drummer John Cowsill’s lead on a cover version of the Mama’s and the Papa’s 1966 #1 hit, “California Dreamin’.”
Continuing with a West-Coast theme, the group segues into its own well-known song about California — their unofficial “anthem” of summer: “California Girls.” Despite the fact that The Great Auditorium is at the Jersey Shore, all generations in this crowd from kids to grandparents respond to this song as if there is no east, west, north, or south — there’s just one America, and that’s here, where we’re all having a great time — at least until Love brings things closer to home again when, in the middle of the song, he croons, “I wish they all could be Jersey girls,” to whoops and hollers.
The band follows that up with “And Then I Kissed Her,” and “Dance, Dance, Dance.” Then, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the album that inspired The Beatles to create Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band —the brilliant Pet Sounds — the Boys perform live a collection of songs from that classic recording including “Here Today,” “I’m Waiting For The Day,” “You Still Believe in Me,” “Sloop John B,” “Wouldn’t it be Nice,” and “Caroline, No.”
They also play another song from Pet Sounds as a tribute to Beach Boy Carl Wilson who passed away in 1998. In Carl’s honor, the group performs live to a pre-recorded lead vocal of Carl’s on his signature song, “God Only Knows,” with the live voices of Mike Love, Bruce Johnston, and Jeff Foskett beautifully performing harmony vocals “with” Carl, notably on the song’s exquisite concluding musical canon.
Following another tribute — this time, to The Beatles’ George Harrison — the group performs the Love original, “Pisces Brothers,” featuring a blistering hot guitar solo in the style of George Harrison played by the band’s musical director and lead guitarist, Scott Totten, and then they follow that up with a rollicking version of “Sail on Sailor” featuring solid lead vocals by Love’s daughter, Ambha.
The band performs one last tribute number — to Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, the only group member who actually surfed! — featuring Dennis’ pre-recorded lead vocal on “Do You Wanna Dance?”
Winding down the show with the classic tune from the film, American Graffiti, “All Summer Long,” the Boys go on to play one of their most popular numbers, their 1965 #1 hit, “Help Me, Rhonda.” Here, Love encourages the fans in the audience to sing along as the house lights come up, the band stops playing, and the audience takes a series of solos on the famous “Help, help me Rhonda” chorus. Likewise, on the band’s all time best-selling single, 1988’s “Kokomo,” Mike continues to encourage the audience to sing, leading his microphone around as the audience joins in and prompting everyone to sway to the tropical lilt of the music.
Finally, Bruce, Mike, and the Boys rock the Great Auditorium rafters with a stunning live 50th anniversary performance of their 1966 musical masterpiece, “Good Vibrations,” leaving the members of this entranced audience standing on their feet.
And if that isn’t enough, amid thunderous applause, the group returns to the Great Auditorium stage for two encores: “Barbara Ann,” in which family members and friends join the Boys up on the bandstand dancing, and “Fun Fun Fun,” where a rockin’ kick line of guitarists have a blast as they shimmy in unison across the stage!
“This IS fun!,” exclaims Bruce Johnston!
As the audience members file out of this historic space, filled with memories of a wonderful night of music featuring, arguably, the greatest catalog of songs ever assembled by any American band, many leave with smiles on their faces and a jukebox full of songs in their hearts. In the far corner of the auditorium, a small crowd stops in their tracks as they see long-time Beach Boy Bruce Johnston slowly exiting the stage, descending the stairs directly in front of them.
Waving to Bruce, saying “hi” to him, wishing him well, and giving him “thumbs-ups” and “A-O-Ks,” these devoted fans take a moment to wait to get Bruce’s reaction to their heartfelt greetings following his nearly 3-hour performance on stage.
Bruce pauses, looks over at the small gathering, gives a slight wave, and then flashes an enormous smile from ear to ear, proof positive of the result which occurs when — after experiencing some of the greatest music on earth— one naturally and instinctively has learned to follow the Beach Boys’ golden rule:
“Gotta keep those lovin’ good vibrations a-happenin.”
For more on The Beach Boys current tour, please go to thebeachboys.com For more on upcoming summer programs at Ocean Grove’s Great Auditorium — including Neil Berg’s 100 Years of Broadway on July 23, The Grass Roots & The Buckinghams on July 30, Engelbert Humperdinck on Aug. 6, and Michael Bolton on Aug. 13 — go to oceangrove.org.