The Beach Boys beaten and battered, but still rockin’

American band The Beach Boys performs in Singapore. (Photo courtesy of Lushington)
American band The Beach Boys performs in Singapore. (Photo courtesy of Lushington)

The Beach Boys came back to Singapore shores, with a bang, for their 50th anniversary celebration.

As lead singer Brian Wilson joked, it's not easy to stay together as a group for five decades. So to see the members come together to ring in the night was a treat for the fans — and the musicians alike. In celebrating their legacy, and bringing good music to fans both old and new, this was a night that went down in the history books.

At the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Wednesday, the stage was set. As you wait for the big entrance, the lights are low and all you see before the big show is the silhouette of equipment on stage — the promise of the performance to come, with nary but a brief hint of what awaits you on the big night.

As you take a look around, you realise this is the second coming revisited for many fans. Comprising folks mostly in their 50s on up, there was also a smattering of younger, newer fans of the iconic band. But some of the original die-hard fans were definitely in the building, to pay homage to the idols of yesteryear. Although the Beach Boys didn't play to a full house, and unseated rows were cordoned off, alongside glaringly empty seats in the ticketed areas, on this night, none of that mattered.

The Beach Boys marked their comeback in more than two decades with their 50th Anniversary Tour. (Photo courtesy of Lushington)
The Beach Boys marked their comeback in more than two decades with their 50th Anniversary Tour. (Photo courtesy of Lushington)

The band walks out to raucous applause and cheers, rising to a crescendo as they walk with deliberation to their individual positions. As the 14-man strong team take to the stage — with the original line-up and younger back-up musicians to pull the show together — a frenzy overtakes the crowds, even before one finely-tuned note is sung. Upsound the lights and music, and the stage is set: the Beach Boys are off to a running start, and catching up to them is the order of the day.

Theirs is a unique sound that is synonymous with authentic, home-grown Americana, to many. Still singing about the surf, pretty ladies and nights under the moonlit stars, the vernacular remains the same, even after so many years. Decked out in Hawaiian shirts, baseball caps, and the original floppy surfer hair for the most part, the guys could be mistaken for having showed up to a backyard barbeque — invite and beer optional. And yet, for those in the audience, this was doubtless a winning formula. When the Beach Boys break out into lilting falsettos and low bartiones, there is almost a sense of coming home. No need for autotune, forget about dropping the bass — this was a night of good music, and then some.

The favourites were par for the course, that goes without saying.

Strongholds like Kokomo, Surfer Girl, Isn't She Lovely, Wouldn't It Be Nice and Sitting On Top of the World rocked the house, but so too did newer songs off their latest album.

At times, the singing was a little pitchy, even to the untrained ear -- and you almost expected Randy Jackson to pop up and chastise them with a "What happened dawg?" And truth be told, the group also relies on lip-syncing, it would seem, to get them through certain songs. When the close-up on the monitor shows a singer squinting to read the lyrics, and being a little out of sync with the actual song, that's not necessarily the best sell.

But, let's be honest, these guys are singers in their own right, and have proven their own mettle. So for them to be relying on a little help to get through a concert that went on for over three hours, particularly in their sunset years, this is easily excused. You're not there for the raspy breathing and out-of-tune melodies; you're there for the Beach Boys and that means swaying to the music, with a smile on your face and excusing the less-refined aspects in the process.

In essence, their vocal integrity still remains on-point and they know what makes a good song. While the general rules still apply at the National Stadium — you can rock the night away, just don't think of leaving your seat and dancing — some brave souls let the music lead them to the aisles, to shimmy and shake with the Beach Boys, as the latter brought the house down.

Until the tireless ushers walked up to the recalcitrants and informed that they were not to leave their seats, that it. Sheepish happy feet abruptly stopped dancing and returned to the assigned seats, duly chastised and with tails between their legs. All in a night's work for concerts here. But to the credit of both the performers and the audience, this didn't dampen spirits and the party went on well into the night. Watching the Beach Boys, you see theirs is a dance reworked to a fine art. The falsettos are tempered with the deep bass notes, and acapella rifts pull the performance together.

"Is it C or B?" band leader Brian Wilson asks. (Photo courtesy of Lushington)
"Is it C or B?" band leader Brian Wilson asks. (Photo courtesy of Lushington)

At one point, Brian — standing right in front of his microphone — references the key of an upcoming song and asks somewhat abruptly "Is it C or B?" The audience, privy to a moment that was meant as an offside, cheers this lack of pretence, inciting the singers to laugh themselves. In the background, someone lets out a hearty hear-hear, shouting "Now that's what you want to hear at a live gig!"

At other times, you're reminded of how far these guys have come — and how time has caught up with them, just a touch.

The intermission stretches on for over 30 minutes, and you wonder if the guys have been called away to the pressing matter of a cat-nap. And on the huge monitors, every nuance is amplified — including some general looks of tiredness and a little, dare we say it, unhappiness? This shows itself in the performers unceremoniously letting certain instruments fall to the stage when they are done with them, rather than keeping up appearances and handing them over to ever-present roadies. The odd disgruntled look breaks through the veneer of the Beach Boys revival, but it's still a hot-house of down-home music, without question.

50 years on, the Beach Boys are a little rough around the edges and a little wearier for the journey, but a work of art only gets better with time. They school you on their roots of singing doo-wop and the intricacies of a good melody. A half a century later, this is a well-oiled machine. The lyrics might be a little anachronistic in today's context, yet they still hold true while rining of simpler times.

The Beach Boys have stood the test of time, and Singapore had the privilege of being schooled on the art of the big band and big performers in their anniversary tour.

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