The Beach Boys’ body of work ranges from sublime brilliance to petty pandering, embodying the contradictions personified by troubled genius Brian Wilson’s visionary innovations and frontman Mike Love’s cocky pragmatism. While it’s easy to appreciate both sides of that legacy, one can’t avoid the conflict between artistic invention and crowd-pleasing nostalgia when considering the band’s 50th-anniversary tour.
The tour reunites Wilson and Love with fellow cofounder Al Jardine, along with David Marks (a member for a couple of formative years in the early ’60s) and Bruce Johnston (who joined in 1965 as Wilson’s touring replacement). Conspicuously absent are Wilson’s late brothers: Carl, the group’s de facto leader and main creative force after Brian retreated from the spotlight; and Dennis, who emerged as a distinctive singer and songwriter in his own right.
This project, which next month will spawn the first album of new Beach Boys material in 20 years, seems motivated more by showbiz expediency than creative need, and the surviving members’ voices aren’t the marvels they once were. But the band’s best material has, if anything, gained resonance with the passage of time, and these veterans have shown a capacity for creating transcendent music in unlikely circumstances. So don’t be surprised if these 70-ish Boys—who’ll be accompanied by several members of Wilson’s long-standing live combo, plus a couple of Love’s touring sidemen—rise to the challenge of their history.—Scott Schinder