Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Beach Boys Still Get Around

It’s Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show
Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies
And everyone goes, ‘cause everyone knows
Brother Love’s show

The only group on the Kennedy Center stage that has played longer than the Beach Boys was the National Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1931; but they were more than willing to share the stage with the kids from California.

At least this version of the band was still acting like teenagers (and making the audience feel the same)  while they were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Pet Sounds album.

That tribute was to come later. First it was a greatest hits fest which included too many to list, including Surfin, Catch a Wave, Surfer Girl, Why Do Fools Fall in Love, California Girls, Little Deuce Coupe and I Get Around.

While some groups acknowledge their past, this one reveled in it with a video and light show that had film of Bruce Johnston actually surfing, Mike Love doing the Watusi, clips from every music show broadcast in the 60’s and enough bikini clad girls to fill several Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues. But the home movies (some of which matched the live singers with lip-synch from the original songs) contained enough self-deprecating humor and shared nostalgia that they seemed just another ride on the Beach Boys Roller Coaster.

The program called Love the “Captain” of this cruise which seemed appropriate as he led the band, sang harmony (he lets Jeffrey Foskett carry the lead vocals along with Brian Eichenburger) and joked with the audience and narrated the historical transitions.

The second set paid tribute to the Pet Sounds era with film of Carl Wilson singing on the screen above the live bands and Dennis Wilson also getting a solo bit.  Missing from the show was any tribute to Brian Wilson who travels with his own singers (and orchestra) in support of Smile. It was a subtle reminder of the Big Breakup that derailed the band just as they were doing their best work.

Caroline No, Sloop John B and Wouldn’t it Be Nice were done well and pleased the crowd. The show hit a speed bump when Mike brought out daughter Ambha for Warmth of the Sun and Bruce Johnston stumbled on Disney Girls, apparently unable to get his mic and earpiece working properly.

The Symphony was often drowned out by the band (playing in front of them) but their two marvelous overtures (Warmth of the Sun and In My Room) made me wish for an entire evening of the NSO’s take on the rich music that under girds the pop lyrics.

Love’s tribute to George Harrison, Pisces Brothers, was a wonderful surprise and showed he can still create new songs after all these years.

Music and memories are all that’s lost
Your songs are what go on and on.

The big finish had the crowd on its feet singing along with Kokomo, Help Me Rhonda (we didn’t need lyrics on the big screen for that, Mike) Good Vibrations,  and  Barbara Ann.  At the end we were having so much Fun, Fun, Fun, I had to break out my air guitar.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Boring Bob and Magic Mavis

It seems a shame you have to buy a ticket to Bob Dylan this summer to see Mavis
Staples but at least she is worth it.

Dylan’s never ending tour stopped at our nearby national park, Wolftrap, to show us  he is still up to his old tricks. Despite his opening number, “Things Have Changed,” he is still doing what he’s done for the couple of decades since I last saw him live. 

His band is tight and provides a wall of sound to which he adds his idea of barely intelligible narration.  It is as if he has become such a towering figure that all he needs to do is show up on set and read his lines, sounding more like Marlon Brando than the Frank Sinatra he is currently showcasing. One of the five Sinatra covers he essayed pretty much sums it up:

So let people wonder, let ‘em laugh, let ‘em frown
You know I’ll love you till the  moon’s upside down
Don’t you remember I was always your clown?
Why try to change me now.

It was Dylan’s old girlfriend, Mavis Staples who stole the show and our hearts with her smokey singing, her family anecdotes and wise-cracking with the audience. She began with a Staples Singers' call out, “If You’re Ready (Come and Go With Me).” We were and we did. After a cover of Talking Heads' “Slippery People,” she offered a brief mission statement:

 “I’m here to bring you some joy, some happiness, some inspiration and some positive vibrations.”  To do that she started with “Love and Trust,” which seemed painfully relevant to the week’s news.

The judge and the criminal, the sinner and the priest
Got something in common, bring ‘em all to their knees
Do what you can, do what you must
Everybody’s trying to find some love and trust.

Mopping her brow with a towel, she told us the next song was written by her father, Pop Staples for Selma in 1962.  Then she  had the audience side by side with her marching up Freedom’s Highway as she declared herself  “a soldier in this army of love marching for peace.” Her topical series wrapped with a richly nostalgic take on Buffalo Springfield’s  “For What It’s Worth.”

She closed with a rousing, extended version of the Staples Singers # l hit, “I’ll Take You There” which brought us to our feet clapping for the woman who proclaimed: “My Family has been “taking” you there for sixty-six years and I am not tired yet.”