It's July 2001, and for the first time in my life, I'm going to see the Beach Boys. They're my favourite band (except maybe the Beatles), I've never seen them, and I'm a fan to the extent that I used to be on their fan club comittee. So why am I worried?

I'm worried because, of course, the band I'm going to see isn't really the Beach Boys. The Beach Boys are Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston in roughly descending order of importance, and of those only Love and Johnston will be at today's gig. What I'm going to see is Mike Love's touring 'Beach Boys', and I've heard bad things about them.

The buzz amongthe fans was that this band were terrible, that they were mostly doing Jan And Dean covers with a few of the BBs hits done as medleys, and that Mike Love's onstage patter mostly consisted of offensive jokes about Brian Wilson. From the two albums I'd heard featuring members of the touring band (Mike Love, Bruce Johnston and David Marks of The Beach Boys salute NASCAR and Jan And Dean's Golden Summer Days) this sounded about right. I was particularly concerned about Adrian Baker, the falsetto singer, who to my ears had always sounded like a castrated Michael Bolton (though I quite liked some of the tracks by his old band Gidea Park). The band weren't even the headliners - they were supporting Status Quo.

A bunch of us from the fan club met Bruce Johnston before the show, and I remember thinking that that at least would make it worthwhile. He was an utterly charming man, possibly the campest person I've ever met, funny (if slightly bitchy about Al Jardine), and it made me more hopeful about the show given that he was prepared to come and meet 20 hardcore fans in a tiny cafe for an hour.

So the show starts, and it's an outdoor gig, and it's raining worse than it has in months. The band come on and start with California Girls and I'm feeling pretty bad about this... Mike Love's voice is even more nasal than usual. Oh god, they are... they're doing it as a medley with Do It Again. The band sound OK - the harmonies are good (apart from Baker, who's all over the place) and the band are fairly tight instrumentally (apart from Mike Kowalski, who has to be the worst drummer I've ever seen), but this is not promising.

They follow with another medley, of dance songs, and Bruce gets his first lead (he sounds better than Mike) and dedicates Do You Wanna Dance to Dennis Wilson, but casually, between lines.

Slowly, I start to realise that the band are actually pretty damn good. Over the next three songs, while Mike Love and Adrian Baker do pretty poor leads, Mike proves he's a funny frontman, albeit one who can't shut up, and he actually sings very well in his bass register. Then something spectacular happens. Chris Farmer, the bass player, steps forward and starts singing Then I Kissed Her and suddenly, even though this is a non-Beach Boy taking lead on a cover version, this sounds like the Beach Boys. Darlin' (sung by John Cowsill) and Cottonfields (Farmer again) follow, and this is now a great gig. Farmer doesn't sound exactly like Al Jardine, and Cowsill doesn't sound exactly like Carl Wilson, but both sound like Beach Boys, and I didn't expect to hear these great, late period, classic songs at this gig. Having come resigned to hearing Mike Love nasally sing a load of Jan & Dean songs, I'm ecstatic at this point.

A couple of covers follow, and then I Can Hear Music, one of my favourites, and then... wow! They're doing Sail On Sailor! If you'd asked me to name the one song I thought they wouldn't do, it would be this. A song from the 70s, a song that wasn't a hit, a song from the flop Holland album, a song that Mike Love has said in the past he hated... a song I personally love more than almost any Beach Boys song. This one song would have made it worthwhile for me.

After this, we have the short Pet Sounds section. Bruce takes the lead on God Only Knows and dedicates it to Carl Wilson. Sloop John B is next, and then one of the moments I will always remember. The opening notes of Wouldn't It Be Nice start up, the rain stops instantly, and the entire crowd (which had been rather apathetic up to this point) rose to its feet and roared. This was one of the most magical experiences I've ever had.

Good Vibrations was next, and kept everyone happy, but then came Kokomo. This was never a hit here, and confused the crowd, and lost momentum, as well as being simply a bad song. The rest of the set was a simple, competent run through the hits, the highlight being Cowsill on Help Me, Rhonda, but at the end, despite the problems with the show, despite it not really being 'the Beach Boys', I came away happy. I doubt the Beach Boys put on a better show during the last dozen years they were a band, and at this stage there's not much more you could ask.

But six months later I got much, much more.

Before this year, Brian Wilson had never played a solo concert outside the US, and had only rarely performed with the Beach Boys, so when he announced a four day residency at the Royal Festival Hall it was greeted almost with the same shock that the second coming of Christ would provoke. I only managed to get tickets for two of the four nights, but that's two more than I ever expected to get in my life.

This show was something totally different, and undescribable. There are things that can be described of course. The set list (forty-one songs in three hours) including the entire Pet Sounds album in sequence, Til I Die, Sail On Sailor, Marcella, three songs from Smile, and rarities from all over his career ; the ten piece band, including three of the Wondermints, Jeff Foskett, and Paul Mertens of Poi Dog Pondering, which managed to reproduce every nuance of the records perfectly; the audience, which was made up roughly 50% by my hard-core fan friends and the other 50% by the likes of Roger Daltrey, Nick Lowe and John Peel (yes 50% of the audience would fall into the latter group), but who were all equally in awe. But what can't be explained is the atmosphere.

You can hear part of these concerts on the forthcoming CD Brian Wilson presents Pet Sounds live, and you should buy that CD, because these were genuinely awe-inspiring performances.

But what you'll miss is the feeling of hearing Surf's Up, maybe the greatest song ever performed beautifully along with three thousand people all frightened to breathe for fear of spoiling the music. What you'll miss is seeing Brian Wilson - a man often written off as a vegetable - doing wonderfully inappropriate yet perfectly right hand gestures during the instrumental break on Please Let Me Wonder. What you'll miss is coming out during the interval and seeing people you've known for years pale, shaking, crying, emotionally drained but happier than they've been in their life. What you'll miss is the thing that made a friend of mine travel to London from Sweden and come out saying he'd seen God - and everyone around him, from atheists to the most devout Christians, knowing exactly what he meant.

What you'll get is a CD of an extraordinarily good band performing some of the best songs ever written, accurately and with affection.

If you want a good time, and to spend an hour or two being entertained , then you won't get a better show than Mike Love's touring 'Beach Boys', and if they're playing a county fair near you, you should go along, and you won't be disappointed.

And if you want to experience heaven while still in your body, go and see Brian Wilson.

Set lists and band members for the shows

'The Beach Boys'

Mike Love (vocals)
Bruce Johnston (keyboards)
Chris Farmer (bass)
Tim Bonhomme (keyboards)
Mike Kowalski (drums)
Adrian Baker (guitar)
John Cowsill (keyboards)
Scott Totten (guitar)

California Girls
Do It Again
Dance, Dance, Dance
Do You Wanna Dance
Little Honda
Surfer Girl
Don´t Worry Baby
Then I Kissed Her
Rock And Roll Music
Why Do Fools Fall In Love
I Can Hear Music
Sail On Sailor
God Only Knows
Sloop John B
Wouldn't It Be Nice
Good Vibrations
Help Me, Rhonda
I Get Around
Barbara Ann
Fun, Fun, Fun
Surfin Safari
Surfin USA

Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson
Jeffrey Foskett (Guitar, vocals, banjo, percussion)
Bob Lizik (Bass, vocals)
Paul Mertens (Woodwinds, Harmonica, vocals, bass harmonica, bass flute, flute, piccolo, sax)
Darian Sahanaja (Keyboards, vibraphone, vocals)
Nik Wonder (Guitar, vocals)
Probyn Gregory (Guitar, French horn, trumpet, vocals, Tannerin)
Taylor Mills (vocals)
Scott Bennett (vocals, keyboards, vibraphone, quiro, bicycle horn, tambourine)
Jim Hines (drums)
Andy Paley

The Little Girl I Once Knew
This Whole World
The Warmth Of The Sun
California Girls
Sail On, Sailor
Brian Wilson
Til I Die
I Get Around
Lay Down Burden
Please Let Me Wonder
Desert Drive
Kiss Me Baby
Your Imagination
Meant For You
Our Prayer
Heroes And Villains
Surf's Up
Do It Again
Wouldn't It Be Nice
You Still Believe In Me
That's Not Me
Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)
I'm Waiting For The Day
Let's Go Away For Awhile
Sloop John B
God Only Knows
I Know There's An Answer
Here Today
I Just Wasn't Made For These Times
Pet Sounds
Caroline, No
Good Vibrations
Surfer Girl
Help Me, Rhonda
Barbara Ann
Surfin USA
Fun, Fun, Fun
Love And Mercy

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