A nostalgia-wallow that occasionally stole the breath - The Beach Boys, Royal Albert Hall, review

The Beach Boys Perform at The Royal Albert Hall - Redferns
The Beach Boys Perform at The Royal Albert Hall - Redferns

For a band famed for harmony, The Beach Boys don’t half relish discord. Even as the members of the Californian group reach their mid-seventies, personal disputes and rivalry mean there are two iterations of the band touring at the moment. One comprises co-founders Brian Wilson and Al Jardine, on a seemingly never-ending world tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Pet Sounds, the Boys’ experimental and latter-day classic 1966 album. The other iteration – the one with the legal right to call themselves The Beach Boys – comprises the remaining living co-founder Mike Love, who is Wilson’s cousin and adversary, and Bruce Johnston, who joined the band in 1965 when Wilson took a break from touring.

It was with some trepidation that I ventured to the Royal Albert Hall to see this latter group play the first of two nights there. After all, so bewildered and frozen did Wilson look on last year’s Pet Sounds tour that it was described by a fellow-Telegraph reviewer as ‘the saddest gig I’ve ever seen’. Could Love and co defy their age and London’s distinctly un-Californian weather to roll back the years with some of the lushest songs ever written? Or would this be an uncomfortable nostalgia-wallow, a version of a version of something once great?

The Beach Boys Perform at The Royal Albert Hall - Credit:  Redferns
The Beach Boys Perform at The Royal Albert Hall Credit: Redferns

 It turned out to be both. Visually, suspension of disbelief was certainly required. When Love – in baseball cap and Hawaiian shirt – said it was “miraculous” for them to be back at the Albert Hall, you believed him. With a squeeze of the eyes, these old men just about became their younger selves and that drummer at the back with the long hair and wild technique even started to resemble Dennis Wilson, who died in 1983.

But, sonically, those years fell away unprompted. The sheer breadth of the catalogue, and the skill of the 14-piece band in recrafting the songs, occasionally stole the breath. After nearly 50 songs, the Albert Hall felt slightly less like a rain-soaked Victorian amphitheatre in Kensington and a little more like a stretch of Santa Monica beach.

Surfin’ Safari, Surfin’ USA and Little Surfer Girl had early outings. But it was during the first of two Pet Sounds segments that the set came alive. The cascading harmonies at the end of the ghostly You Still Believe In Me were astonishing. The anguish and torment of the 50-year-old ballad were visceral, and proved that Love’s oft-quoted put-down to Wilson when he first heard the song – ‘don’t f--- with the formula’ – was baloney. When I Grow Up (To Be a Man) was accompanied by black-and-white footage of the band on a waterfall, harking back to happier days. After the interval, more Pet Sounds. When Sloop John B segued into Wouldn’t It Be Nice, the entire hall stood and we were off. God Only Knows, Lady Lynda, Help Me Rhonda, Good Vibrations and Barbara Ann came in quick succession.

It is just a monumental shame that in the very twilight of their careers the different factions of this once-great band can’t bury the hatchet, as they did for a world tour in 2012. As it was, it felt like seeing half a band.

Until May 28. Tickets: thebeachboys.com

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