From left, Bruce Johnston, Al Jardine, Brian Wilson, Mike Love and David… (Robert Matheu )
The sands of time can be cruel, sure, but sometimes they settle for wryly ironic. After years apart, the three surviving founding members of the Beach Boys will launch a 50-date, 50th anniversary tour in April and at every show they will ask the musical question, "Wouldn't it be nice if we were older?"
"It is weird," said Mike Love, who turns 71 next month, about singing those young man's lines from "Wouldn't It Be Nice." "We do another one, 'When I Grow up to Be a Man' -- the opening is incredible, it's got fantastic harmonies -- but yeah, it's written from the point of a young guy looking to the future and here we are, very much in that future."
For anyone who's followed the riptide history of the Beach Boys, this is a future that seemed very unlikely; after years of feuds and legal filings -- most notably by Love, who sued to get his share of royalties -- who would have expected Love, Brian Wilson and Al Jardine to be in harmony again? The trio are joined by two other longtime members, Bruce Johnston and David Marks, for the golden anniversary tour, which includes a June 2 stop at the Hollywood Bowl, a booking that is sand-packed with Southern California music history.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, March 06, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 2 inches; 95 words Type of Material: Correction
Beach Boys: A Feb. 25 Calendar article on the reunion of the Beach Boys said the group has been in the studio at Ocean Way Recording on Sunset Boulevard, which was incorrectly described as "a site that was called United Western Recorders back when they recorded much of 'Pet Sounds' there." United Western Recorders comprised two studios in the mid-1960s: Western, where many of the 'Pet Sounds' sessions took place and which today is East-West Recorders; and United, where artists such as Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole worked and which is now Ocean Way.
More than that, the reconstituted Beach Boys have also been in the studio at Ocean Way Recording on Sunset Boulevard -- a site that was called United Western Recorders back when they recorded much of "Pet Sounds" there -- and say that they are about halfway through a new album.
"We just had to make our minds up to do it," Wilson said. "It's a thrill, I like being with the guys. I didn't see them for a long, long time and then I've been seeing them recently because we're getting ready for our tour."
The world got a glimpse of the new old group Feb. 12 at the 54th Grammy Awards and the performance was a reminder that Wilson has an air of fragility around him and -- despite his undisputed stature as sonic genius -- his stage capabilities are limited, to say the least.
That may not matter much. The music of the Beach Boys is so soaked with nostalgia and affection that many fans will go to concerts just so they can sing the old songs. Gary Bongiovanni of Pollstar, the concert industry trade publication, said after years of knockoff tours (by groups that used the name but usually had only one Beach Boy member on stage) this real-deal edition of the group has sunny prospects.
"In many ways this is the group's first real tour in decades," Bongiovanni said. "This tour should be very successful if they don't get too greedy with the ticket price. Their Grammy appearance did put the band back in front of the public but it's hard to tell if anyone was put off by the obvious lip-syncing."
Tickets to the Hollywood Bowl show are preselling on Ticketmaster for a relatively reasonable $40.50 to $170.60, and some VIP packages are sold out. Tickets go on sale at the Bowl box office on Sunday at 10 a.m.
The group (and Grammy producers) stridently deny that there was any canned component of the performance but, even so, more than a few critics said the graybeard act was creaky or lethargic.
Johnston knows that when audiences are paying for tickets, the group will have to live up to their own legend.
"I never hoped for [a reunion], because I never thought any of us wanted to do it," the 69-year-old Johnston said at rehearsals for the awards show. "We have probably, you know, the presidential honeymoon of six months but then we have to show something to keep it going. We have to make sure we have a great flowing song list but also make sure we don't sound like a greatest-hits band. We have a lot to balance."
On a recent afternoon at Ocean Way, the group was the picture of loose-limbed relaxation -- although that didn't apply to Wilson, who was aching from a procedure on his bad back and was forced to skip the day's sessions. Without him, Love was working on lyrics while the other three members talked about the old days -- and that Hollywood Bowl date that each has circled on their calendars.
"Right over there is where Jan & Dean did all their stuff, in the next studio," Johnston said with a nod. Marks added: "I remember I wandered over here one day and I saw Rick Nelson in the studio and I was so jazzed to see him."
Jardine and Marks tried to piece together a quick mental scrapbook of the Beach Boys shows at the Hollywood Bowl through the decades. There was the 1962 show, for instance, with the Fairmont Singers, Shelley Fabares, Soupy Sales, and then the 1965 bill with the Byrds, Sonny & Cher and the Righteous Brothers.
"The first time we played there was in 1962," said Marks, who joined early enough to play on "Surfin' Safari," the group's debut album. "Debbie Reynolds was there and she sang. She went nuts and jumped into the pool in front of the stage. She had an acoustic guitar and she started smashing it too. She invented the Who's thing before the Who."