Board shorts and Hawaiian shirts at the Opera House? Surely not!
Yep, that was the dress code at Bennelong Point last night when the legendary Beach Boys - or at least the remnants of the band, anchored by original singer Mike Love and long-serving bass/keyboards player Bruce Johnston - lit up the Concert Hall with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra arrayed behind them.
The faces may have aged, but the vocals and that distinctive sound of dense harmonies were are fresh as ever.
Love set the tone of the night when he gazed around the room and cracked: “Golly, when we first started this place wasn’t even built!”.
The crowd loved it when he introduced Johnston by pointing out that he had the rare honour of being the sole songwriter of a Grammy award-winning tune.
“But he didn’t give it to us,” Love added glumly. “It was I Write The Songs and he gave it to Barry Manilow.”
He sent a mock glare towards his band-mate before adding: “The bad news is that we won’t have time to play it tonight”.
Love and Johnston shared most of the lead vocals in the opening set, with laudable contributions from drummer John Cowsill and lanky bassist Randell Kirsch, whose soaring falsetto was flawless. Keyboard player Tim Bonhomme and lead guitarist/MD Scott Totten put in some killer solos.
The audience literally lit up when Love demanded they take out their mobile phones and switch them on for a rousing rendition of Surfer Girl, defying the pre-show recorded baritone ordering people to switch them off and don’t dare take photos.
The venue became a sea of swaying lights, punctuated by the occasional telltale red glow of a patron using auto-focus to sneak in a photo of their musical heroes.
The lone complaint about this opening night of the Beach Boys’ brief season concerns the sound mix and lighting work.
Perhaps they were still finding their feet in the opening set, but there were times when the band’s enthusiasm and layered arrangements all but swamped the orchestra. The brass section managed to muscle its way into the picture, but the strings were never in the hunt.
When lead guitar and musical director Totten sang lead in Ballad of Old Betsy,the entire front line was left in darkness until the last few bars in a puzzling piece of stage craft.
That said, things improved after interval and these wonderful songs simply sell themselves despite misgivings over the sound mixing. All the old favourites were there, plus some lesser-known pieces like Brian Wilson’s beautiful ode to teen-boy angst Disney Girls.
The a capella effort on Their Hearts Were Full of Spring, a Four Freshmen song credited with igniting Wilson’s obsession with the Beach Boys’ trademark layered harmonies, brought the crowd to their feet.
They pretty much never sat down again as the hits kept rolling, culminating in deafening audience participation in Barbara Ann and Kokomo to wind up the two hours-plus concert.
As they say in the classics, this is a “once-in-lifetime opportunity”. The legendary Beach Boys are unlikely to be back, given it’s been four decades in between tours - and certainly not with the mighty SSO behind them.
You still have time to don the boardies and the hibiscus shirt if you missed last night’s show. There are two more shows with the SSO at the Big House tonight and tomorrow. Ticket prices start at a modest $35. Book on 9250 7777 or online at sydneyoperahouse.com