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Beach Boys make first Twin City stop in decades
by Dan Craft
August 26, 2010
Bloomington, Illinois

Mike Love and Bruce Johnston are the key links to the past hoping to keep the good vibrations going for fans attending their end-of-summer U.S. Cellular Coliseum show at 7 p.m. Sunday -- the Beach Boys' first pass through the Twin Cities in more than a quarter-century.

The Beach Boys '10 are not the Beach Boys '63, not by a long shot. But that isn't stopping the fun, fun, fun, so help them Rhonda.

As of the current tour, only one authentic original Boy is still standing: Mike Love, who, at 69, is no boy. In fact, he's the eldest of the surviving founders.

The lanky, ball cap-clad singer is accompanied by an almost-original: Bruce Johnston, 68, the genial Peoria native who joined Love, Al Jardine and the Brothers Wilson (Brian, Dennis, Carl) in 1965, just four years into the group's fabled history.

Love and Johnston are the key links to the past hoping to keep the good vibrations going for fans attending their end-of-summer U.S. Cellular Coliseum show at 7 p.m. Sunday -- the Boys' first pass through the Twin Cities in more than a quarter-century.

Needless to note for the group's fans, Dennis and Carl are long gone -- the former dying at 39 in a tragic (and not un-ironic) drowning mishap 27 years ago; the latter succumbing to lung cancer a dozen years ago.

The enigmatic and famously eccentric Brian, now 68, is off soloing with his latest project, a just-released Wilson-meets-Gershwin album ("Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin").

Jardine, who turns 68 next week, tours with his own Beach Boys variant, the Endless Summer Band.

The Boys' last big popular triumph was the No. 1 hit, "Kokomo," 22 years ago this fall.

Meanwhile, several lawsuits have flown in recent years from the Love camp, aimed at both Brian and Jardine -- not-so-good vibrations that haven't boded well for the band's impending 50th anniversary next year, a can't-avoid milestone generating rumors and fan hopes of reunions as we speak.

For all of that, "I would say we sound better than ever," insists Love, cousin to the Wilson brothers, and co-lead singer with Brian on many of the key hits, usually taking over on the up-tempo classics like "Fun, Fun, Fun," "Surfin' USA," "California Girls" and "Help Me Rhonda."

His continuing presence as a matured Beach Boy can't be underestimated, despite the controversy that has sometimes followed in his wake per the lawsuits.

In fact, the constant queries regarding Brian's ever-changing status with the band led to Love issuing a formal media statement earlier this summer.

It says, in part: "At this time, there are no plans for my cousin Brian to rejoin the tour. He has some solo projects on the horizon and I wish him love and success. We have had some discussions of writing and possibly recording together, but nothing has been planned."

Love concludes with: "I, as I'm sure he is, am proud and honored that the Beach Boys' music has endured these 50 years, but felt the need to clarify that there are no current ‘reunion tour' plans."

Though Love's publicist requested that he not be asked about Wilson and the reunion, the singer brought up the topic while musing on the 50-year milestone.

He mentions that "Brian and I have had a few conversations about getting together" and seemed a bit more hopeful in casual conversation that something might come of them.

As for Jardine, who left the band in 1998 following Carl's death, "there's a possibility he could join us at the start (of the reunion tour) with Brian."

But that is then (maybe) and this is now (for sure).

Love insists that the current lineup can match the group of '60s yore, good vibration for good vibration. And they can do it far more authentically than, say, the closest the Twin Cities has gotten to a Beach Boys concert in decades - last summer's faux-Boys concert at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts featuring tribute band Still Surfin'.

"My son Christian is singing with us, and he does a lot of the parts cousin Carl sang, like the lead in ‘Kokomo,'" says the proud papa (the last time The Pantagraph interviewed the band, per a 1993 Illinois State Fair show, Jardine's son, Matt, was the second-generation star; needless to say, with Jardine's exit 12 years ago, the son followed).

More importantly to the Beach Boys ethos, "Christian lives the lifestyle we sang about -he grew up in Santa Barbara, and he loves surfing and beach volleyball. He's a fine musician on his own and writes his own music, and he looks and sounds great on stage. He's sort of the embodiment of it all."

The other brand name on the bill comes, aptly enough, from another sunny, clan-based '60s pop group, The Cowsills, whose future also was tainted by early death and tragedy.

Keyboardist and singer John Cowsill is the youngest and sole survivor of the three Cowsill brothers, two of whom died young - Barry drowned in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and his body not discovered until four months later; and Bill, 58, died of apparent natural causes on the eve of Barry's memorial service.

John can be heard, says Love, taking the leads on hits like "Wouldn't It Be Nice?" and "I Can Hear Music."

Also still popping in from time to time - but not likely for this weekend's Bloomington concert - is actor and famously committed Beach Boys fan John Stamos, who handles percussion when he joins the party.

"He's the ultimate fan," Johnston told us prior to the State Fair show. "He's not our drummer, he's our kind of bonus percussionist. He doesn't take anybody's place, and he'd be the first to tell you that."

Even so, says Love today, Stamos knows the Beach Boys score as well as anyone, so much so that he was the producer of the 1993 made-for-TV movie biography, "Summer Dreams."

Johnston ended up ambivalent ("it's truly brilliant for the first 12 minutes, then it goes in the trash barrel and turns into tacky television") but Love liked it ("it was reasonably well done, and the final version captured the story with total accuracy").

"John is supposed to join us at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago (three nights following Sunday's Coliseum date), but I don't know about Bloomington. I don't think so. But never say never ..."

Always say "fun, fun, fun," however.

"It's all about accentuating the positive," says Love after nearly 50 years of experiencing both ends of the spectrum in his career.

"That's always been my bias, if you will. All of the songs we sing make people feel good when they hear them -- they feel the energy and the positivity. And that's why the music has lasted and endured."

Boys in the band
Since the deaths of Dennis Wilson in the ‘80s and Carl Wilson in the ‘90s, the Beach Boys lineup has been in a continual state of flux. On the eve of the band's 50th anniversary, the current touring membership features:

Last man standing
Mike Love: Though Brian Wilson and Al Jardine continue to make music on their own, Love is the last original Beach Boy on the bill dating from 1961.

Bruce Johnston: Johnston joined the group in 1965, after another member, Glen Campbell, departed to pursue his own career; as close to an original member as you can get.

Heirs to tradition
John Cowsill: Survivor of another tragedy-plagued singing '60s clan, The Cowsills; handles keyboards and vocals formerly taken by Carl Wilson and Al Jardine.

Christian Love: Mike's surf-and-sand-loving son, probably the truest "beach boy" currently on the stage.

New kids
Scott Totten: Joined in 2000 as lead guitarist and music director; credited by Mike Love with maintaining the group's sonic integrity.

Randell Kirsch: Joined in 2004 as bass player; solos "Don't Worry Baby" and others.

Tim Bonhomme: Joined in 2006 as keyboardist.

Cameo player
John Stamos: Full-time actor/Beach Boys groupie; has been sitting in on various concerts as token percussionist for nearly two decades (though likely not at this weekend's U.S. Cellular Coliseum show).

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