This is how they introduced them, America’s greatest surviving band: “Ladies and Gentlemen, from Hawthorne, California, the Beach Boys.” During this three-hour High Mass of breathing nostalgia, they seemed more like Santa Barbara’s house band, though. After all, three first-string members have histories here. Mike Love, the secondbest band member after Brian, evoked fond memories of Mesa Lane life. Then there was Bruce “I Hate Obama” Johnston, who asked for a ride home to Montecito, where he currently lives. Most subtly impressive, however, was Jeff Foskett, who was plucked from our bar band scene in the 1980s and supplied Monday’s searing licks and high driving falsetto. But such localism proved fleeting. By the end of the night, as the band crossed from bumped-up novelty songs like “Little Honda’” through generational anthems like “I Get Around” and into the atmospheric stratospheres of Pet Sounds and Smile, it became obvious they do not represent Southern California so much as they invented it.
Of course, the big question: How was Brian? The answer is: weird, beautiful, and then weirdly beautiful. Sitting behind a white baby grand, lips barely moving for most of the set, he suddenly reprimanded the crowd for bouncing a beach ball. But this was just before he launched into a mini-set of wonder, (aptly) beginning with “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times,” “Sail On Sailor,” and the blissful “Heroes and Villains.” If the concert had ended there, many would’ve been satisfied.
It didn’t, though, and even after the 14-piece orchestra played a perfect version of “Good Vibrations” there were nine more, each a showstopper. Perhaps the brainiest moments were when Love explained his influences (doowop, barbershop) and offered a spot-analyses on the corny “Be True to Your School.” “The fundamentals of patriotism are embodied in Friday Night Football,” he said. It ended with everybody from age six to 60 (me, who saw them first in 1965) on their feet, singing, dancing, embodying “Fun Fun Fun” and rejoicing in “California Girls.” Maybe they hail from Hawthorne, but they made a world where many of us would rather live.