The Beach Boys On CD: Live in Las Vegas

We’ve already dealt with the touring Beach Boys – Mike Love, Bruce Johnston, and (for a while) David Marks – and with Brian Wilson’s live performances. But what of the other surviving Beach Boy?

After Al Jardine discovered he was no longer part of the touring Beach Boys, he started two projects of his own. The first, which never came to fruition, was a folkish album with his sons Matt and Adam, to be titled The Jardines. Little studio work came out from Jardine for more than a decade, though – other than his overdubs on “Loop De Loop” for the Endlesss Harmony soundtrack, and a cover of the Garth Brooks song “Papa Loved Mama” for a tribute album, very little was heard from him in terms of studio work.

The other project, though, had slightly more success initially. Jardine formed, in 1998, his own band, “The Beach Boys Family And Friends”. When initially announced, the band had quite an impressive lineup – along with Jardine himself and his two sons (one of whom, Matt, had been for many years the Beach Boys’ touring falsetto vocalist) were longtime Beach Boys backing band members Billy Hinsche (himself earlier the singer on several 60s top forty hits with his earlier band Dino, Desi, and Billy), Ed Carter, Bobby Figueroa, and Richie Cannata, all of whom had lost their jobs with the Beach Boys two years earlier; Brian Wilson’s daughters Carnie and Wendy (who had had several big hits themselves a few years earlier with their band Wilson Phillips); Daryl Dragon, best known as the Captain from The Captain & Tennille; and Owen Elliot (later Owen Elliot-Kruger), the daughter of Cass Elliot of the Mamas & the Papas.

After an early TV appearance on Regis & Kathy Lee, both Elliot and Dragon dropped out, but the band (now including guitarist Craig Copeland and keyboardist Tom Jacobs) started to play dates, gaining very favourable audience response. The plan was that they would play sets incorporating music from all eras of the band’s career, not just the touring jukebox that the Beach Boys had become in later years, and in their early sets they incorporated a handful of less-performed songs.

Unfortunately for Jardine, this wasn’t to last. Legal disputes with BRI, the company that owns the Beach Boys trademark (co-owned by Jardine, Love, Brian Wilson, and the estate of Carl Wilson) meant that Jardine soon had to stop using the Beach Boys name in his band name, and soon after that the Wilson sisters left the band. Jardine’s band performed under various different names before settling on The Endless Summer Band, but from 1999 through 2012 they played very few gigs, and Jardine was most likely to be seen playing corporate events as part of the Surf City All-Stars (a band formed after the death of Jan Berry of Jan & Dean, consisting of Jan & Dean’s former backing band plus some or all of Dean Torrence, Jardine, and David Marks).

It’s shame, because on the evidence of Live in Las Vegas (the one record of their live performances, released as by “Al Jardine, Family & Friends”) they were a very, very good band. Recorded in November 1999 and released only through Jardine’s website, and now out of print, this recording consists of twenty-six live versions of Beach Boys classics, along with one studio recording of a new song by Jardine.

That new song, “California Energy Blues”, is a semi-humorous protest song, in torch blues form, about the rolling blackouts and electricity price hikes affecting California in the early 2000s. While it includes a spoken introduction (a fairly common feature of Jardine’s folkier songs) explaining the crisis, little of the lyric will be of much interest to anyone not intimately acquainted with the vagaries of local California energy policy from 1999 to 2003. Musically, it bears a slight resemblance in feel to 50s songs like “Fever”, although amusingly the backing vocal part (“I can’t get enough of the megawatts”) sounds almost exactly like Weird Al Yankovic’s Smile parody “Pancreas”.

While I won’t discuss every individual track here, there are a few observations that are common to the whole performance. The lead vocals are split more or less evenly between the three Jardines and two Wilsons (other than “Sail on Sailor”, which is sung by Figueroa and Hinsche, both of whom had taken the lead on the song during Beach Boys tours in the past), often swapping between them, and all are very competent singers, though Al and Matt Jardine are by far the best. The Wilson sisters’ lead vocals have a little too much stage-school sheen about them, though fans of their early-90s pop records will no doubt find much to enjoy in their performances, but the harmonies are sublime. Al Jardine had always been the crucial element in the Beach Boys’ blend, and when combined as he is here with Matt, Billy Hinsche, and Bobby Figueroa, all of whom had sung in the Beach Boys’ live performances for many years, the vocal blend is the closest thing one could get to the real Beach Boys after Carl Wilson’s death.

Similarly, the instrumental performances are all superb, replicating the fuller arrangements of the 1970s touring band rather than the shoddy Casio keyboard mess the live Beach Boys had deteriorated into by the 1990s. This band was in every way superior to the touring Beach Boys of the time, and while the current touring iteration of the Beach Boys has become a truly spectacular live band by the time of writing, it’s a shame that more people didn’t have a chance to see this band.

Full tracklisting:

Dance, Dance, Dance
Do You Wanna Dance
Catch a Wave
Hawaii
Do It Again
Darlin’
Wild Honey
Come Go with Me
Surfer Girl
Don’t Worry, Baby
Shut Down
Little Deuce Coupe
I Get Around
In My Room
Girl, Don’t Tell Me
Break Away
Sail on Sailor
God Only Knows
Sloop John B
Wouldn’t It Be Nice
Good Vibrations
Heroes and Villains
Help Me Rhonda
Surfin’ USA
Barbara Ann
Fun, Fun, Fun
California Energy Blues

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