Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Holidays!

I know I probably don’t update the page here quite enough to make this daily reading for folks out there, but to any and all who might stumble across this, the folks at Beach Boys Opinion Page (meaning, me!) want to wish all Beach Boys fans a Happy Holidays.
I’ve been spinning the Beach Boys Christmas Album quite a bit this year; I’m always glad when I get around to doing that. Check out our section for December 2012 for a sort of "re-review" of the excellent 1998 Beach Boys "Ultimate Christams" compilation.
What do we have to look forward to for next year for the group? Not much is set in stone, but it’s likely we’ll get the new Brian Wilson album (and presumably/hopefully some more touring; and hopefully with Al and Dave (and Blondie!) in tow). The Mike and Bruce show have likely already booked shows for 2014, so I would imagine if there’s any chance of another full “reunion”, 2015 would be the earliest we would see that.
“Big Beat 1963” was an interesting and fun little curio of a release (review hopefully coming soon!). Nobody seems to know what the “copyright extension” issue means for future releases, so it’s unclear what might make it out in terms of archival material in 2014. We will apparently see the SACD/Vinyl partial album catalog reissues.
I’m truly hoping we get more archival releases. Apparently, it was revealed in a recent ESQ interview that there was a seventh “bonus” disc prepared for the “Made in California” set as a retailer exclusive. The deal to do that exclusive somehow fell through. Hopefully that disc will be made available somehow, or the “Beach Boys Central” website will finally launch with some new archival releases in some format.
I would implore those who have any control over the situation to keep in mind that the Beach Boys’ fans are getting older and literally dying off. Please put this stuff out while some of us are still alive!
The Beach Boys Opinion Page will strive as well to make more updates and post more commentary in the new year.
Hopefully back soon with more comments!


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Upcoming Releases - "Big Beat 1963" & Partial Catalog Overhaul via Acoustic Sounds

There are a few interesting things announced on the horizon for Beach Boys fans. First up is the odd compilation "The Big Beat - 1963." What exactly is the story here? Well, read all about it here:


Basically, we're seeing a bunch of weird activity from record labels housing oldie bands, as there are a bunch of confusing, vague copyright laws floating around that basically dictate that labels have to put out "unreleased" material in order to avoid having it pass into public domain and thus be freed up for anybody to legitimately release. Apparently, this pertains mainly to the odd category of material that has not been "officially" released but does already exist out there. Basically, the labels have to put out anything that has already been bootlegged, because that's the stuff that any label has direct access to and can put out legitimately if it falls into public domain.

As far as this release goes, it's a hodge-podge of demos and tracks with varying degrees of Brian Wilson/Beach Boys involvement. For those that have a fetish for early era Brian productions and collaborations, this will be an interesting release. But this is by no means any sort of "opening of the vaults" of Beach Boys outtake material from 1963. This is odds and ends, sourced from everything from master tapes to acetates to cassette tape dubs. The idea here (as with the supposed/alleged and equally bizarre release of Beatles outtakes from 1963 rumored to take place on the same day) is to simply technically get this stuff "officially" released by the end of this year. To this end, we're seeing download-only releases. December 17th is allegedly the date.

I'll reserve judgment until I hear this collection, but I'm not super enthused about. Some of it is literally pulled from the same sources as bootlegs, so we're not even sure right now how much of this will sound better than what's already out there, and if so, how much better.

Potentially  more interesting is Kevin Gray at Analog Productions taking a crack at a big hunk of the Beach Boys catalog on SACD and high quality vinyl.

On the plus side, this will probably be the best-sounding remasterings to date. That's a big deal. Gray is an excellent engineer (and will make this stuff sound better than recent album remasters).

However, at the risk of sounding negative yet again, I'm not that enthused about this. I own these albums numerous times over, and many of the tracks even more times. I want to see archival studio and live material. Not another milking of the band's catalog. Expanded reissues of each album with a disc of bonus material would be much preferable.

Additionally, they have once again randomly skipped over albums in the band's catalog. They've of course ignored anything post-1973, but have even left gaps in the 1962-1973 timeframe. What's the point? It will be great to hear "Sunflower" and "Holland" and whatnot in SACD quality. But this isn't a full catalog overhaul. The fact that Capitol in the last year or two did the same thing; issued part but not all of the band's catalog in a random fashion, makes this exercise even more puzzling. This also makes it even less likely that we'll see expanded deluxe editions of the albums anytime soon.

We can only hope this full help fund some archival releases, but I'm kind of bored with that contention. It isn't really true, as "Sounds of Summer" sold a butt-load of copies and it took nearly a decade for more substantial archival material to be released.

Hopefully they are independently still planning on something along the lines of the "Beach Boys Central" website; downloads of unreleased material. I don't want to buy "Surfin' USA" again folks. I want to buy some live 1972 and 1975 shows.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Review - Panini Beach Boys Trading Cards

I'm not even sure how a review works when it comes to something like this. I'm used to reviewing CDs, or books, or DVDs, and so on. In any event, following up on my previous post, I now have probably way too many of these cards on hand to give some impressions. Overall? A fun item for Beach Boys fans who haven't had much "merch" to purchase over the years. If you don't get caught up in the utterly ridiculous pyramid scheme that is card collecting, and just enjoy whatever cards you get, then this is pure fun.

First things first: As mentioned before, there are "Retail" and "Hobby" variations on these packs. Target stores are starting to get in the "Retail" packs, while most online sources are selling the "Hobby" variation. The two types feature the exact same set of cards. The main difference seems to be that each has one exclusive sub-set ("retail" gets guitar picks, "hobby" gets concert-worn clothing swatches), and the actual breakdown/makeup of packs may be different in terms of proportions of which cards you get.

While Panini offers no guarantee, buying a box does seem to easily yield one base set of 120 cards. The distribution of base set cards seems to be pretty good. I've purchased almost a box's worth of retail cards and got a full hobby box. I was hoping to pull two sets, but no such luck. I still ended up with only one #1 card, while some cards I have triples or quadruples on. This is normal of course.

The base set seems pretty random content-wise. Random photos of the group and individual members, from pretty much all eras. While there are a good amount of early shots, I was pleasantly surprised that they were not afraid to use some not-so-flattering 70's shots of the guys. I honestly never thought a company would make a trading card featuring a photo of 1979 Brian Wilson with the Grizzly Adams beard and "Help Me Rhonda" shirt. Some weird shots are here, in addition to some classic well-known shots. The card backs have random factoids, none of which are new information for hardcore fans. A few of the card backs surprisingly touch on solo activities; one even specifically mentions that Brian is now touring with Al and Dave.

The sub-sets are fun, but frustrating as there is no realistic way to amass much of any sub-set unless you buy numerous boxes. Some of the sub-sets aren't fancier, but simply themed differently. "Honors" picks on random honorably events, from Hollywood Walk of Fame stars to awards and so on. "In their Own Words" feature rather generic quotes from various band members. "Sounds of Summer" focuses on specific songs and singles. "Top 10" is obviously themed.

The more premium-looking cards include a series of album-themed cards that feature foily depictions of albums covers with a record popping out of the top. Some are "Gold" themed if they went gold, and so on. Some simply state "On the Record." We also have "Etchings" which are metallic-looking shiny cards that have a slightly raised head-shot of various band members. They picked some odd pictures for the cards I got, including the circa-1978 drunk-looking Carl. I got one "Artist Proof" which seems to be of dubious note. Apparently each card has a limited run of 99 "artist proofs" that are no different other than being stamped "Artist Proof" on the front and numbered on the back. They may be more rare than the "record" cards, but I frankly would have rather had another one of those, or one of the "etchings."

I did not manage a guitar pick in the loose retail packs I got. I did get the guaranteed two "Concert Gear" cards in the hobby box. I got one each for Brian and David. Interestingly, the card at least claims that these are actual "concert worn" bits of cloth. The cloth is included in a little square in the center of the thick card. The cloth is not covered,  you can touch it.

Other rare sub-sets I didn't get include metal stamping plates (more interesting to card collectors than Beach Boys fans I would imagine), and of course most sought after are the rare actual autographs from the five living members.

All in all, this is a fun diversion for Beach Boys fans. I for one simply have to divorce myself from the idea of "collecting" all the sub-sets, and divorce myself from being annoyed at the card collecting industry (both collectors and the manufacturers) for creating such an odd and manipulative market and style of marketing for these things. Frankly, I'd be happy to see a second "Series" of base cards with more goofy photos of the guys.

If you're interested in getting a full set, I'd say definitely buy a sealed box so statistically you're highly likely to get the full set. If you buy a box's worth through loose packs from different boxes, you will have a tougher time getting the full base set.

How collectible or rare will these be? Beats me. They seem to be selling well online right now, with the few retailers offering full hobby boxes slowly but consistently jacking up the prices. Rare (and not so rare) loose cards have already flooded eBay. I'd love to store an extra box of these away, but I'd rather get another box and open it all up!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

New Beach Boys Trading Cards

Announced several months back, and now apparently starting to appear for sale, is a strange item: Beach Boys trading cards. Panini, who I always knew more for their sticker books (which are essentially sticker versions of trading cards), are releasing this set of trading cards based on the band, following a slew of trading card sets out there pertaining to just about every TV show, music artist, comic book, and other media product imaginable.

Above all else, this sort of thing is interesting because the Beach Boys, unlike Elvis or the Beatles, have not released a great deal of “licensed” merchandise over the years. Especially once you discount merchandise sold at concert dates, they have had far fewer items available as far as the usual fare: mugs, plates, statues, and so on. There have been a few Beach Boys tree ornaments over the years I believe, there were the licensed die cast cars released back around 1999, and a few other odds and ends. But rarely something like a huge trading card set.

Unfortunately, Panini is also following the pattern of other sets in introducing a huge amount of “chaser” cards; sub-sets of special cards randomly inserted into packs. This phenomenon started quite a while back, but it began with perhaps one or two small sub-sets of chaser cards. Even in those cases, it was nigh on impossible to collect all the chaser cards unless you either bought cases and cases of cards, or bought individual cards on the secondary market for inflated prices.

I’m sure this new Beach Boys set is typical of other similar sets. But it’s still astonishing that, according to one comment on the Smiley Smile board, this 120-card set ballons to around 800 cards once you factor in all of the “chaser” cards. Apparently, you are either guaranteed or are strongly likely to get the full 120-card base set if you purchase a full box (consisting of 24 packs, with 8 cards per pack). The various chaser cards are allocated based on an elaborate list of ratios of cards-per-pack or cards-per-box. You are guaranteed some amount of these chaser cards in each pack and each box. Further confusing is that packs and boxes are offered in two variations: Retail and Hobby. The former style of packs will feature “collectible guitar picks” as one of the chasers, while the latter instead gets concert-worn swabs of clothing from the currently-living band members. Apparently all other chaser sub-sets will be the same.

Most enticing is the sub-set that includes actual autographs from the living members. We already see fans paying upwards of $200 for a Jardine autograph card (news bulletin: a nicer, larger Jardine autograph can be had for far less; he used to send them out for free when he had a fan club!), and one person is trying to sell a Brian Wilson autograph card for nearly $500. These autograph cards are apparently the rarest; you could conceivably buy boxes and boxes of these cards and not get an autograph card.

A bit of confusion is reigning among the sub-set of Beach Boys fans who actually have any interest in buying these cards. It probably has something to do with the fact that these cards have, in my view, an unclear target audience. The typical collector these days who collects non-sports cards like this usually skews a little younger than the average Beach Boys fan. It makes sense there are a bunch of young hipsters collecting “My Little Pony” or “Walking Dead” trading cards and chaser cards. But even presently it appears Beach Boys fans online are only moderately interested in these cards.
Who is going to stock Beach Boys cards? Hobby shops can obviously either stock them or order them. But they are at this moment not so easy to find. A few re-sellers have them, but are charging seemingly inflated prices for packs and boxes (and that’s not even getting into the strange flood of individual cards flooding eBay) online. Apparently, there are reports that Target stores will be stocking packs of these. How possible it might be to buy a whole box is unclear, but Target may be the best (or only) bet for finding these cards if you don’t want to order online.

I checked a local Target store last night, and they did not yet have these cards. I have a box on order, but how quickly they will actually materialize has yet to be seen. I’m not trying to be cranky about these cards; I actually have just the right amount of enthusiasm for them, for me personally. I’m excited to get my hands on them, but I feel not strong drive to start buying boxes and boxes trying to chase every concert shirt swatch variation.

I was going to post more pics of individual cards, and the breakdown of all the insert/chaser cards, but that information is readily available all over the web, much moreso than actual places to purchase the cards. There are some fun looking cards out there. The compilers apparently were no afraid to use some shaggy, wonky 70's photos. All eras appear to be represented, from the fresh, clean early-mid 60's, to the 70's shaggy era, to the flourescent 80's, and so on, up to 2012.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Review - Brian Wilson & Jeff Beck - Paramount Theatre - Oakland, CA - 10/22/13

After having read for a month about the “odd” pairing of Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck, it was interesting and ultimately quite enjoyable to finally experience this tour in person.

This was only my second trip to Oakland’s Paramount Theatre, the other trip coming in early 2007 to catch Brian and Al together on their “farewell” Pet Sounds tour. I honestly had forgotten how beautiful this theatre is, once you get inside the doors anyway. It’s a wonderfully restored (and/or maintained?) theatre, and not too large so that experiencing a show doesn’t keep you feeling too distanced from the stage.

I managed decent but not amazing seats this time around, in the back half of the floor section. I’ve seen Brian and Al both up close over the last 10-15 years, and got surprisingly nice seats (without the VIP package!) to last year’s 50th Anniversary tour, so I’m not preoccupied with getting amazing seats at this stage.

First off, a quick look at the swag on sale at the merchandise stand. It seemed very standard fare, with a selection of hugely overpriced t-shirts and hoodies, a few other miscellaneous bits; key chains and the like, and my usual picks on tours: I procured a program for $20 and a little poster for $15. The main disappointment I had with the merchandise was that nothing other than the t-shirts had the tour dates/cities listed. The program and poster don’t even list the year, let alone any tour dates. I barely went for the poster, as it’s literally the same as the cover of the program, just elongated. The program is the usual for Brian tours: Interviews with each of the principals (Brian, Jeff, Al, and David). The interviews are the usual fluff, but as interesting as this fluff seems to get. Some interesting photos are included as well, especially some fun early David Marks photos. Blondie Chaplin didn’t get a spot in the program, although strangely he is listed in the “Thanks” section.

The stage setup on this tour allows for both band’s rigs to stand side by side, with some shared space as well. For this tour, Brian continues his stage-right position from last year’s Beach Boys tour behind a pseudo-grand piano, with Jeff, Al, and David moving along stage-left. Paul Mertens is situated behind Al and David, with the rest of Brian’s band behind. As expected, Brian’s band retains all of his members from last  year’s 50th tour, with Mike D’Amico moving to drums plus the addition of long-time Brian bassist Bob Lizik.

Brian usually doesn’t let us down in the unintentional humor department, and provided a laugh for fans before the shows started as he not only visibly and openly milled around on stage behind the stage risers, but at one point literally crossed the front of the stage to wild applause and cheering. As only Brian could do, he barely acknowledged the fans, never turning to the crowd, and giving a tiny wave with one hand, as if to say “pay no attention to me yet, I’m not supposed to be on stage yet.”

The band assembled on stage with no announcement, and immediately launched into their set. Presumably because of the time constraints of two full sets, the band rarely spoke and whizzed through their 20-song set as quickly as possible. This was a good thing, as it kept as many songs in the setlist as possible.  Overall, the band sounded sharp. Brian was usual Brian, generally okay. He actually was in good voice; I didn’t hear any sour notes per se. His main issue was occasionally missing vocal cues and/or momentarily forgetting lyrics. He either isn’t using a teleprompter on this tour, or if he has one, he isn’t using it. Either way, it’s refreshing. Al sounded amazing as always; he should have been given a few more leads. Al audibly added a key element to the backing vocals throughout; his voice even in the backing vocals is what gives the sound even more authenticity than the typical Brian solo tour. David sounded perfect on “Little Bird”, and this was one of the more impressive performances from the entire band. We were lucky to get Blondie Chaplin on this date, and he belted “Sail on Sailor” with pure authenticity, and also provided a nice take on “Wild Honey.” I’m far too young to have been able to catch Blondie back in the 70’s, so it’s cool to have finally seen him in person, and with three other Beach Boys no less. Here’s the full setlist (Brian’s sets as well as the tracks he appeared on with Beck):
    1. Their Hearts Were Full of Spring
    2. California Girls
    3. Do It Again
    4. Don't Worry Baby (Jeff)
    5. Little Bird (David)
    6. Old Man River
    7. Cottonfields (Al)
    8. Sail On, Sailor (Blondie)
    9. Wild Honey (Blondie)
    10. Darlin' (Darian)
    11. Marcella
    12. Heroes and Villains
    13. Pet Sounds
    14. God Only Knows
    15. Sloop John B (Brian and Al)
    16. Wouldn't It Be Nice (Jeff) 
    17. Help Me, Rhonda (Al)
    18. I Get Around
    19. Good Vibrations
    20. Fun, Fun, Fun
    21. Our Prayer (w/Beck)
    22. Child is Father of the Man (w/Beck)
    23. Surf's Up (w/Beck)
    24. Barbara Ann (w/Beck)
    25. Surfin' USA (Brian and Al, w/Beck)
    26. Danny Boy (w/Beck)
I went into this show with moderate knowledge of Jeff Beck, and a feeling that I might even have more patience for Beck’s set than the typical Brian/Beach Boys fan. Having said that, Beck is an amazing and unique guitarist. He put on a fascinating show, but some of the bits were tedious. Instrumental guitar-driven material tends to get a bit repetitive, and that coupled with some jazz-ish noodling from his band meant there were some tedious moments. Beck’s set was also much louder than Brian, and at times the bass (both from the bass guitar and the drums) was so overpowering that it muddied the music up for me. Nevertheless, Beck’s set was enjoyable. Brian’s band came on stage with Beck to perform “Our Prayer”, and the bit of “Child is Father of the Man” leading into Beck’s wonderful instrumental take on “Surf’s Up.” The band added backing vocals, including Al reprising his end vocals. A few of Brian’s guys also added some backing vocals on an additional Beck number.
Both bands regrouped at the end for “Barbara Ann”, “Surfin’ USA” (both with unique Beck guitar noodling, including bottleneck slide on “Surfin’ USA”!), and their wonderful rendition of “Danny Boy” with Beck playing the melody backed by Brian’s band on vocals.
A wonderful show all around. Was this as good as the Beach Boys 50th Anniversary tour? No, not at all. There was a magic to all five guys being there, not to mention knocking out around 50 songs per show. This show is as close as we can get though. My only complaints would be the obvious required brevity of Brian’s set, which we knew would be the case from the outset, and a lack of additional leads from Al, whose voice continues to stay amazingly intact. It will also be interesting to see if this touring format continues next year. Presumably, Brian’s album will be out, and it features Al, David, and Blondie. In particular, it will be interesting to see if they add Blondie to more shows, or an entire tour. On the one hand, it seems a waste to bring Blondie along to only appear on stage for a few songs. Yet, he doesn’t seem to necessarily fit in extensively on the old vintage material that Brian’s band performs sticking to original arrangements. But it would be amazing to see Brian, Al, David, and Blondie be able to expand into a full setlist, where they could experiment with more rarities and new songs. How about “Funky Pretty” and “Leaving this Town?”

Friday, October 11, 2013

Brian Wilson Tour Update.....

It figures I get more tied up and unable to post more updates just as the Brian/Al/Dave tour begins. In any event, we’re about two weeks into the tour, and the setlist has slightly fluctuated but has provided a general guideline for how they are programming the shows.

Brian does a set of around 20 songs with Al and Dave (with Blondie featuring on several songs at shows he’s attending), then Jeff Beck peforms his set, followed by various elements of Brian’s band coming on with Beck to do a few songs together, followed by an encore with elements of both bands. Precise setlists are a bit difficult to track down, only because Brian fans don’t seem to be familiar with Beck’s catalog, and a few of the joint set song titles are getting garbled (for instance, I’m seeing “Child is Father of the Man” on some setlists, but it appears they are not performing the full “Smile” track, but rather some coda bits attached to the beginning of “Surf’s Up”).

As planned, Blondie appeared on opening night, singing “Sail on Sailor.” He made a surprise unscheduled appearance at the October 9th Boston show, singing both “Sail on Sailor” and “Wild Honey.” It appears they are trying to cram some “rare” stuff into Brian’s shortened set, and admittedly they are doing about as good of a job as possible of making such a short setlist interesting.

Here is a recent setlist from 10/9 in Boston:

1. Their Hearts Were Full of Spring
2. California Girls
3. Do It Again
4. Then I Kissed Her (Al)
5. Don’t Worry Baby (Jeff)
6. Little Bird (David)
7. Old Man River
8. Cotton Fields (Al)
9. Sail on Sailor (Blondie)
10. Wild Honey (Blondie)
11. Marcella
12. Heroes and Villains
13. Pet Sounds
14. God Only Knows
15. Wouldn’t It Be Nice (Jeff)
16. Sloop John B
17. Help Me Rhonda (Al)
18. I Get Around
19. Good Vibrations
20. Fun Fun Fun
- Jeff Beck’s Set  (which sometimes includes Brian’s band on a Beck track or two)
21. Our Prayer (w/ Jeff Beck)
22. Surf’s Up (w/Jeff Beck)
- Encore (w/ both bands)
23. Barbara Ann
24. Surfin’ USA
25. Danny Boy

Some other random notes: Beck’s setlist on some nights has included his version of “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” accompanied by Brian’s band. Some other songs rotated in and out of Brian’s setlist: “’Til I Die”, “Darlin’” (with Darian on lead), “Forever” (with Dave on lead), “She Knows Me Too Well”, “Shut Down”, “Little Deuce Coupe” (with Al on lead), “That’s Why God Made the Radio”, “Custom Machine”, “This Car of Mine”, “Surfer Girl”, “Do You Wanna Dance”, “Summertime Blues” (with Dave on lead), and I may be missing a few others. 

The setlist has evolved quite a bit for such a short setlist over only two weeks. It seems they are edging out some of the more common stuff for more esoteric stuff, although there are some fun bits that have been dropped like “Custom Machine”, “This Car of Mine”, and Dave’s first turn on “Forever” with Brian’s band.

It will be interesting to see if Blondie pops up at any more unscheduled shows. Hopefully they can keep this lineup a going concern into next year, as they likely promote the new album with more shows. This lineup doing a full 40-plus song setlist would be amazing. Everybody could get more chances to shine.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Beach Boys in 3D?!?!?!?!

Get ready. We may just get Mike Love sweat, Al Jardine wrinkles, Bruce Johnston leg, and Brian Wilson frump all in full 3D!
An odd bit of questionable status that I ran across recently is a mention of the Beach Boys' 50th Anniversary show from last year at the Hollywood Bowl having been shot in 3D.
Apparently, it may still be in the works for release of some sort. Not much is out there, other than the poster above. The poster is odd in that it mentions the 3D presentation, but uses material from the actual show poster. In other words, it makes it seem as though the 3D theater showing will be on June 2, 2012, when that was in fact the date of the show.
In any event, the main point of interest is not so much that it was shot in 3D, or even that it may show in some theaters in 3D. The hope is that this will lead to a normal "2D" Blu-ray/DVD release, which usually accompanies any 3D Blu-ray release. It's billed as potentially being 120 minutes, which means we would at least get a longer concert presentation than last year's "Live in Concert" Blu-ray/DVD.
After the odd disintegration of the other live DVD project from the 50th tour, I'm not assuming anything with this project either. It may have already been shelved for all I know. There is also the possibility that it could be shown in a few theaters and never released on home video. We shall see.
The only info on the production can be found at this website: http://rockfuelmedia.com/event/the-beach-boys-3d-live-at-the-hollywood-bowl/
There is also mention of the project on the IMDB (Internet Movie Database).

Blondie Chaplin Joining Brian/Al/Dave Tour for Select Dates

Interesting news in the last few days is that not only has Blondie Chaplin been working on Brian’s new album in the studio, he will now join the Brian-Al-Dave/Jeff Beck tour on select dates.
As the year has progressed, fans have continued to speculate on what, if anything Brian intends by touring with Al and David, vis-à-vis Mike Love and the demise of the full reunion lineup. It hasn’t been a big leap to speculate if at least part of the intention, and certainly an interesting byproduct, of Brian adding Al and David to his tour has been to send some sort of message to Mike and his touring operation. What type of message has and continues to be up for debate. I for one tend to doubt Brian is truly moving towards attempting to wrestle back control of the “Beach Boys” name for touring purposes. But it’s not impossible that some sort of subtle message is intended with this touring lineup. Perhaps it’s a subtle way of showing up Mike (the whole “three Beach Boys in Brian’s band versus two Beach Boys in the actual band using the Beach Boys name” scenario) or implying that Brian *could* move to take the name back. Perhaps it’s intended as a motivator for Mike to get back to the reunion lineup. In any event, fan debate has been mixed as to what, if anything, is intended by Brian having Al and David on his tour, beyond of course simply wanting to put together an enticing show for fans with guys he likes playing with.
Adding Blondie Chaplin to the tour, even for only select dates, makes things even more interesting, and it makes it harder to brush off Brian’s touring plans as not having any sort of political aspect or subtext. It may well be that Brian is simply making more connections, or “reconnections”, with people for his new album. But it’s hard to ignore that at some shows on this tour, Brian’s “solo” tour will now have FOUR Beach Boys in attendance, literally doubling the two in Mike’s band. None of Chaplin, Marks, or Johnston are corporate members, nor is there apparently any longer anything written into the “Beach Boys” touring name license that requires X number of “official” Beach Boys in the band touring under that name. So adding Chaplin (or Marks for that matter) doesn’t give Brian any more legal advantage in terms of using the name. So if adding Chaplin has any inter-band political subtext, it would have to be a much more subtle one. It may be as simple as trying to shape the impending press for Brian’s tour in such a way that it becomes impossible for the press to ignore that Brian’s band will have twice as many Beach Boys at some shows than the band calling itself “The Beach Boys” presently.
Adding Chaplin will certainly please a lot of diehard fans, certainly especially those that romanticize that heyday of 1973. Frankly, having listened to the 1972/73 live recordings of the band on the “Made in California” set, the romanticizing and pining for that era of the band is warranted. Those live tracks kick ass.
Fans are already also speculating on how Chaplin will figure into the live shows. With Brian and Jeff Beck splitting sets, meaning shorter sets presumably than they would normally play on their own, there probably isn’t a ton of room to expand any of the sets. We can presumably assume Blondie will sing “Sail on Sailor.” Beyond that, who knows? Fans have been speculating on “Wild Honey” and “Funky Pretty” as two more obvious possibilities for Chaplin to add vocals to.
The weird combinations on display continue to fascinate me. Who would have thought even a few years ago that we’d be seeing David Marks and Blondie Chaplin touring alongside Brian Wilson and Al Jardine, with Jeff Beck to boot? Crazy!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Review - "The Wilson Project (2013 Edition)"

As briefly mentioned earlier, I had been meaning for years to read Stephen J. McParland’s “The Wilson Project”, but it was always an expensive proposition (while at other times it was out of print). A new relatively affordable 2013 edition available through Amazon.com made this an easy decision to finally make.

The book is the latest updated version of McParland’s work which previously had been published in several permutations over the years (detailed in an introduction in this new edition).
Simply put, this book is a tantalizing read. If you’re a Beach Boys/Brian scholar, it obviously holds plenty of interest. But even outside of that realm, it’s an intense look at elements of show business, the music business, and good old fashion human drama.

“The Wilson Project” is composed largely from a series of audio diaries (later transcribed) recorded by Gary Usher concerning his work with Brian Wilson in 1986-87. The diaries are both directly quoted from as well as used to inform a running narrative of events. Usher had of course collaborated with Brian in the 60’s on some key early hits. Usher went on to produce and record in the 60’s and 70’s before semi-dropping out of the music scene. By the mid 80’s, Usher had delved back into music and had a small functioning studio adjacent to his home. After pretty much being estranged from anybody related to the Beach Boys for a couple of decades (save a few exceptions, such as producing Bruce Johnston’s “Going Public”, a debacle detailed in this book as well), Usher found himself in 1986 working with Brian Wilson again.
Ostensibly, the idea was to work up to finally launching Brian as a solo artist. Brian had at this stage been under the care of Eugene Landy for over three years, and his estrangement from the Beach Boys was growing as Landy continued to control Brian’s life and career. Landy obviously had less control when projects involved the entire group, so it was for that reason and numerous others that he was seriously pushing to get Brian’s solo career going, while simultaneously keeping a tenuous connection to the Beach Boys due to the prestige and financial support the band and its name still lent Brian.
Simply put, there may well not be another tome relating to Brian or the group that is this detailed about a short period of time. The book basically serves as an extremely detailed biography for a year-long period in Brian’s life. Usher details every session, as well as every phone call, conversation, and social gathering he attended relating to Brian. While the reader of this book is obviously getting Usher’s perspective on events, his perspective seems to be about as objective as one could be when intimately involved in this project. Usher seems to be almost comically level-headed and kind. That is, he contrasts the craziness of the music business and the Landy operation so much, it seems almost farcical. Usher gets involved in the project by writing, recording, and producing demos for Brian, the idea being to work up to actually recording an album. Usher learns how to navigate the minefield of the Landy regime as best as one can, but it is a constant struggle to deal with Landy and his associates, not to mention cajoling Brian into being productive. Usher describes Brian’s condition in detail, and seems very empathetic and even-handed in describing the ups and downs of Brian’s condition. Usher accurately describes that Brian is not the crazy, fully damaged person some seemed to think he was at the time, nor was he a fully-functioning artist with his wits about him 100%.
Usher’s work with Brian intersects a few times with the other Beach Boys, with odd and again nearly comical results. The episode with Usher and Al Jardine regarding a 20-year-old alleged debt comes off like something out of a Spinal Tap movie. When Usher not only has to navigate the minefield of Brian and Landy, but also the other Beach Boys, their manager (Tom Hulett) and producer (Terry Melcher), things get rather interesting.
Those who know Brian’s career but who haven’t read this book will still know how the basic story ends; nothing much came of the Usher project despite all the work done. A few of the written songs were reworked on subsequent projects (“Walkin’ the Line”, “The Spirit of Rock and Roll”), and one actual recording with Usher was released (“Let’s Go to Heaven in My Car”). That leaves the majority of the songs, and nearly all of the recordings made with Usher, as completely unreleased. A good hunk of the material has “circulated” among fans for years, and I hadn’t given this material much listens in years until I got into this book. Listening to the actual material is perhaps one of the only things in all of these episodes that doesn’t paint Usher in the best light. Usher goes to great lengths to describe in the book how Brian’s writing, while showing flashes of excellence, wasn’t at full force, and his commercial instincts for what could be a hit in 1986 were virtually non-existent, and it was in this area that Usher felt he was most helpful. Usher seems to be as proud if not more proud about his writing prowess than his production talents. The recordings we have access to, while demos, do not bode well for endorsing Usher’s abilities. Many of the songs are pure cheese 80’s, both compositionally and certainly in terms of production. Usher seems to be immensely proud of his electronic programming prowess, touting his expertise with the Linn 9000 machine and all the time spent programming sequencing the drum machine parts and synth parts. While the mid 80’s was ripe with this odd fascination with new gadgetry, one is left wondering how anybody felt a cheap-sounding drum machine sound was preferable in any way to using a real drummer. Further, one has to wonder why they were so fixated with spending so much time programming these machines instead of just employing a real drummer playing real drums. As for the writing, some of the material that Usher seems hottest on, such as “Heavenly Bodies”, is not lyrically and certainly not musically interesting. It sounds like a bad 80’s movie theme, complete with era-appropriate saxophone noodling. At one point in the project, Usher is tipped off by an acquaintance about Brian’s 1976 unreleased track “Still I Dream Of It.” Usher loves the song, but wants to re-record it and re-write nearly all of the lyrics. The idea to resurrect the track seems spot-on, but Usher’s lyrics as reprinted in the book are puzzling to say the least. Usher is super well-intentioned, but musically, lyrically, and production-wise, things don't pan out well once you start examining the material.
But I digress. This book is a must-own for fans and scholars. It's also a highly entertaining and intensely interesting read. Brian or anybody for that matter should be so lucky to have someone as apparently kind and level-headed as Usher looking out for their best interests, questionable musical taste aside.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Made in California - The Epic Review!

Okay, maybe not so much epic as just another of the many, many reviews you'll find all over the place. Can I offer any new insight? Who knows, but let's try anyway.....

This long-in-gestation project was originally vaguely announced to accompany the band's 50th anniversary celebrations. It may have taken an extra year to materialize, but is it worth the wait?

The answer is a resounding yes. There are plenty of gripes to offer (and I will!), but as I mentioned a few posts back, this is the most substantial amount of unreleased material to be released all in one shot since the 90's (apart from the "Smile Sessions" box of course).

"Made in California" definitely serves as sort of a "Version 2.0" of the 1993 "Good Vibrations" boxed set. It mixes in a cross section of the band's hits and key tracks with previously unreleased studio and live stuff. Concerning the unreleased material, the compilers have clearly gone out of their way to not include much of anything that has been put out on previous compilations of outtakes. So if this set indeed was allotted X number of unreleased tracks, they wisely mostly gave us stuff we didn't already have.

That goes in stark contrast to the rest of this set, in which Capitol and the group have forced their dedicated fans to buy yet ANOTHER copy of numerous discs worth of material they own already, often several times over. You can read my previous posts back around the time the set was announced for more thoughts on this topic. The bottom line is that it is extremely lamentable that fans have to shell out $140 or so for essentially around two full discs worth of stuff they didn't already have. As I mentioned before, I'm not sure who this set is targeted at, other than generic consumers buying nice coffee table-style holiday gifts. The set is too much for the more casual fans, even fans that want more than a hits set, yet every single "hardcore" fan who wants the "new" stuff already has the rest. The bottom line, though, is that there is no way Capitol/Universal or the band are going to put out multi-disc collections of all outtakes, certainly not a mainstream set like this one. Perhaps they will at some point give us more unreleased material in the future in some sort of "music club" set up where fans can buy multiple live shows and other releases as downloads or short-run collectible editions.

In short, this set was the only way we were ever going to get the "good" stuff, the "new" stuff, so gripes about buying the hits again eventually do wear thin. Also, I can't say the "old" stuff we already had is bad. It's amazing music. That's why we like this freaking band, right?

My disc-by-disc review will focus largely on the "new" stuff, but I'll try to touch on the overall compilation as well:

Disc One

This focuses on material from 1961 to 1965. There isn't much leeway in the track selection on this disc, as it includes so many well known hits and key tracks. There isn't much I can gripe about in terms of the track selection on that stuff. A few things aren't what I would have picked. "Our Car Club" isn't quite that much of a key track in my mind. "All Dressed Up for School" is a cool outtake, but again not a key track from that period in my mind. Mostly stereo mixes are used where possible on this set by the way, including latter-day stereo remixes that range from awesome ("Pet Sounds") to rather ear-bleedingly over-saturated with reverb ("Please Let Me Wonder").

The main "new" material on this disc consists of alternate edits on the home recordings and "Surfin'", a couple of tracks with session chatter intros ("Surfers Rule" and "I Get Around"), and the 1963 version of "Back Home" making its debut here. This has circulated for a while in rather iffy sound quality, so it's nice to have a clean version of this early track that is rather slight, but interesting mainly because we're used to the 1976 version.

Disc Two

This focuses on 1965 to 1967. It's mostly devoted to "Pet Sounds" and "Smile", although we do get a new "Early Version" of "Amusement Parks USA." This has never been a huge favorite of mine, so I can't say this alternate version blows my mind. But it's cool to hear. We also get fresh remixes of the studio version of "Graduation Day" and an "Unplugged" version of "There's No Other." These are cool tracks, and the more clean-sounding takes of "Party" material are immensely more enjoyable. The "Pet Sounds" and "Smile" material is unquestionably marvelous, but nothing new here with the exception of stereo mixes of some of the "Smile Sessions" "album version" tracks that were previously exclusive to the vinyl edition of the "Smile Sessions." This is a nice little bonus to have. We also get a new stereo mix of "Country Air" near the end of the disc that is wonderful. They evidently were missing a few bits of the multitracks to make a full album stereo remix of "Wild Honey" last year, but hopefully they can approximate something. Kudos as well for not utterly drenching this in reverb as most of these remixes often are.

Disc Three

Rounding out Disc Two and starting Disc Three are stereo remixes of "Wild Honey" and "Darlin'" previously only available on the questionable "50 Big Ones" compilation from last year. Nice to have those here for those that didn't want to blow money on that set last year. This disc covers 1967 to 1971. This disc features several alternate mixes of "outtakes" that have been released on previous compilations. The new alternate mix of "Sail Plane Song" is interesting, but a bit of a head scratcher in the context of this disc. "We're Together Again" gets a fresh remix that is enjoyable. I'm still confused as to why they keep giving us the "alternate" version of "Break Away" on numerous compilations. It's nice to hear, but there's no reason at this stage to essentially attempt to assert it as the new "standard" version of the song. The original is just fine.

We get a good dose of Dennis on this disc, including both sides of his 1971 solo single. "Sound of Free" is a better song that I remember, so that's cool to finally have a clean version of it. It is featured in its original mono mix. Not sure why they couldn't also just give us the original mix of "Lady" (aka "Fallin' in Love"), but oh well. "Celebrate the News" is fine, but not a key track to me. Small quibbles, though. So what else is new? A really nice alternate version of "Meant For You" may have some rather slight additional lyrics (ponies?), but it's an amazing piece of music and vocal work and hearing more of it is awesome. I like especially how it comes back around to the "and these feelings in my heart" bit at the end. For some reason, they also remixed "Susie Cincinnati" for this set. Is it a better mix? Not sure. It's not insanely different, but is a bit more punchy. It also has some more vocal riffing from Al during in-between bits, and assuming it is indeed Al doing these bits, it's about the most R&B-ish I've ever heard Al sing.

Disc Four

This covers 1971 to 1979. So, we finally get Dennis' epic "(Wouldn't It Be Nice To) Live Again." Does it live up the hype? Nothing really could, as fans have for some reason built this up to Smile-esque status in recent years. I'm not sure why. Even the mythology of knowledge of the song has been overhyped. I've read stories mentioning this track as having been "discussed by fans for decades", but my recollection is only in the last 8-10 years or so has this track been particularly known of by fans. So is the song any good? I'd say folks like author Jon Stebbins have done a great job of describing it in the past. It's not Dennis' best composition, but it is indeed probably the best lead vocal he ever cut. His voice soars and sustains amazingly well. The song itself is cut from a similar cloth as other stuff of his, like "A Time to Live in Dreams" and "Barbara." A bit like "Forever", its lyrical message is simple but effective. This is not "Smile" caliber material, or even "'Til I Die" caliber material, but it's *really* good and I say the obvious when I point out that it's dumbfounding that this track took OVER 40 YEARS to be released.

Alternate mixes of "Rock and Roll Music" and "It's OK" at least make those rather boring songs more interesting. They both sound somehow simultaneously more punchy and more cluttered. The former includes the extra "mambo" verse. A new mix of "It's Over Now" does sound a bit more crisp and defined, and most noticeably runs significantly faster. I thought they might try some digital pitch altering stuff on this, but it sounds like they just ran the tape faster. It's still a nice track, and Carl still sounds kind of drunk even at a faster speed. Marilyn still sounds like Marilyn.

A few more head-scratchers (to me) are on this disc. With a backing track following on Disc  6, did we really need two versions of "Had to Phone Ya?" Also, I actually like the "Love You" album, but "Solar System" does not need to be here folks. It's quirky and Brian freaks like me dig it, but it's not their A-list material.

The "LA (Light Album)" version of "California Feelin" finally sees release here. Some futzing has been done here, as it sounds like they flew Brian's vocal from the beginning in from some other take of the song. The mix itself has been reformatted somewhat, dropping the drums in and out throughout the song, and some editing has been done on the ending to loop stuff in a different order a bit. But it's probably more listenable now. The group vocals are powerful and amazing.

A new mix of "It's a Beautiful Day" has similar results to other remixes. It's a bit more crisp, but not terribly different. This remix also for some reason replicated the edited single version of song. Rounding out the disc is "Goin' to the Beach" from the "Keepin' the Summer Alive" sessions. The song is what it is. It's like a lot of the material from this era. Generally well done, and rather superfluous lyrically. Nice group vocals on this one at least. Mike apparently had some guitar added to the song recently, otherwise it all sounds vintage, which is good.

Disc Five

As with the "Good Vibrations" set from '93, this set also whizzes through the 80's and 90's very quickly. The first six tracks take us from 1980 to 1988, and two of them are outtakes. "Why Don't They Let Us Fall in Love" previously circulated in horrible sound quality. It sounds pristine here. But why is it on this set? It sounds like a wonky "15 Big Ones" outtake with slightly better production values. Brian and Mike sing nicely enough together. It's just a total head scratcher. But "new" stuff is still good. We also get the "KTSA" era outtake of "Da Doo Ron Ron." It already circulated among fans in nice quality. Here, the mix has been drenched in more reverb and the cold ending that breaks down has been faded early. In any event, it's a competently-performed oldie, with nice group vocals as always. Otherwise, 1980 to 1988 is represented by "Goin' On", "Getcha Back", "California Dreamin'", and "Kokomo." That's a bit light for a "career spanning" compilation.

Rounding out the studio material on this disc are two of the group's unreleased "reunion" tracks from 1995, written by Brian with Andy Paley with those two as well as Don Was producing. Simply put, they are stellar tracks, easily better than most of their post-1973 recorded work. In a band history filled with missed opportunities, this was one of the biggies. "Soul Searchin'" features Carl's lead and the group's excellent backing. Unlike Brian's fudged 2004 "duet" version, this version retains Carl throughout on lead vocal as well as Beach Boys backing vocals, with Al and Matt Jardine in particular sounding stellar. More group backing vocals are heard here compared to version we've heard in the past. The bridge vocal does have somebody doubling Carl. I can't tell if it's Carl, or Brian, or Andy Paley, or someone else. Not sure why they needed to mix it this way. Still, amazing stuff. "You're Still a Mystery" is a good example of the direction the band could have taken with Brian in this era. It sounds a bit eccentric and weird, but not too  much so. Again, awesome group backing vocals. The one odd bit is that Brian's vocal has been re-recorded. Nobody is sure when it was done, but it sounds much more recent, perhaps during the 2004 "Gettin' in Over My Head" sessions, or perhaps even more recently. Brian's 1995 vocal was gruffer and whiney, but it had a spark that is lacking in the new, slightly bored-sounding lead. Still, the song is excellent and a welcome addition to the band's official catalog.

The rest of the disc compiles various live recordings from 1965 to 1995. Early takes of Al singing "Runaway" and "You're So Good to Me" are great fun. Al had a great voice back then too. Another variation on "The Letter" is included, and is sparse as always. The band provides a surprisingly robust live 1968 take on "Friends", as well as Dennis' "Little Bird." We get a non-truncated live take on "All I Want to Do" that rocks convincingly, for the Beach Boys anyway. A quartet of live tracks from 1972/73 are revelatory, proving a release of much more material from this era of the live band is a must. Dennis' lead on "Help Me Rhonda" is fun, and the live take on "Only With You", while not terribly dissimilar from the studio recording, is still lovely. Two of the best tracks on this set are Blondie Chaplin and the band's sizzling take on "Wild Honey" from 1972, and a rocking 1973 take on "It's About Time" that easily betters the bloated studio recording.

A live 1975 take on "I Can Hear Music" sounds impressive; we need more stuff from the 1975 tour! Two tracks from the 1993 "boxed set/rarities" tour are included in the form of "Vegetables" and "Wonderful." Slightly odd selections; but nice. Let's hope we get the full show, which already circulates in pristine sound quality among fans. A 1993 live take on "Summer in Paradise" is, well, a nice live performance of a "meh" song. A 1995 live take on "Sail on Sailor" with Carl on lead is wonderful to hear; it sounds like a "live soundboard" mix, so it's not perfectly balanced mix-wise. But no matter, Carl's lead is impressive; soulful and gruff where it needs to be.

Disc Six

Here's the "good" stuff; a full disc of largely "new" material, covering all sorts of eras. Let's dig in:

Vocals-only mixes of three "Sunflower" tracks make me believe we need vocals-only mixes of pretty much every Beach Boys album! "Slip on Through" had all sorts of stuff going on vocally that we hadn't heard before. So does "This Whole World"; we even get some alternate lead vocal lines with Brian singing instead of Carl. "Our Sweet Love" features vocals with some strings added in. Great stuff.

Circling back, we get an alternate lead on "Don't Worry Baby" that isn't terrible different. I kind of get the feeling they were so jazzed (as they should be!) about recently getting some "lost' "Shut Down Vol. 2" session reels, that they wanted to prove how awesome an event it was by giving us this track. The surfacing of the tape might be more interesting than the take itself. But it's all good stuff.

A vocal session for "Pom Pom Playgirl" is a bit puzzling, but again I can't complain. "Guess I'm Dumb" is really an important track to include. We evidently will never get a vintage Brian lead (that probably never existed!), but here we get the pristine backing track with backing vocals. We also get the infamous "Sherry She Needs Me", where 1976 Brian added all the vocals to the 1965 backing track. For this mix, they've also mixed in some of the vintage 1965 backing vocals near the end. Bravo to Brian for letting them put this on the set, to make up for the bland remake version on his 1998 solo album.

Dennis' "Mona Kana" backing track is interesting, kind of a "Smile" ripoff vibe. But an interesting and important work for Dennis' burgeoning production and writing. Brian's "Where Is She?" is a tough one to review. It's so mind-blowing to hear pretty much any post-"Smile" work from Brian that we haven't heard before. The song is not super substantial, and is vaguely similar in some bits to "She's Leaving Home." It does sound more like a nice, full rough sketch/demo sort of thing. It's a bit simple musically, but still intensely interesting.

The afore-mentioned "Had to Phone Ya" backing track is fun, and certainly one of the more interesting "15 Big Ones" era tracks production-wise.

The "Smile Vocal Montage" and "Good Vibrations" sessions excerpt are simply un-needed here. I hate to say it. "Smile" and "GV" are deservedly the crown jewels of the BB catalog. But all the fans that are into the "vault" stuff already have all of this. I'm sorry, I love "GV" as much as anybody, but I simply don't need any more session noodling from it on another compilation. We’ve had GV session highlights on the “Good Vibrations” boxed set, the “Smiley Smile” two-fer CD, the “Good Vibrations” anniversary CD single, the “Pet Sounds Sessions” set, and a full disc’s worth on the “Smile Sessions” set. I can see at least a tenuous argument being made that the “main” discs on the set should give a sampling of the band’s entire catalog. But if anything on this set actually is aimed at the “hardcore” fans, it would be this “From the Vaults” disc. Rant over. 

Dennis’ “Be With Me” demo will be a boon to Dennis fans. The song bores me a bit, but it’s enjoyable to hear unreleased stuff like this. “I Believe in Miracles” is a very brief backing vocal bit. Only Brian and the Beach Boys could put together such intriguing vocal arrangements that an unearthed 20-second bit could be this interesting! Many fans have been raving about “Why”, which is presumably a generic title for an instrumental Brian cut during the “MIU” sessions. I will say it sounds very Brian. There are a lot of chord changes, but they seem a bit more meandering and not as awe-inspiring as, say, the chord changes in “This Whole World.” The song has a 6/8 sort of time signature, and sounds a bit old-fashioned. It would have been interesting to hear what Brian could have done with a melody and vocal arrangement on this one. The recording is a bit odd in that production-wise, sonically, it doesn’t sound much like other “MIU” material. It has more treble than the rather flat, muddy productions on much of “MIU.” Curious. 

Dennis’ “Barnyard Blues” is a fun track from the circa 1974 era, sounding much like his “Pacific Ocean Blue” work. It’s bit simplistic, but I like it. Some alternative Dennis sounds are always good to hear, and apparently Ricky Fataar gets his only (partial) lead vocal on this track, singing along with Dennis.

Some fans initially derided the inclusion of a backing track for “Don’t Go Near the Water”, but I think it’s a good one. It shows the other guys could put together some good instrumental arrangements. This supports the clear fact that we should be getting vocals-only mixes *and* instrumental mixes of the band’s catalog!

Brian’s now legendary virtually solo take on “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’” from 1976 is great to have in an officially released format. Some fans have been griping about this mix here. I have to say I hear what they’re talking about. Brian’s productions from this time were rather muddy, murky, and cluttered. In the past, we only had what was presumably a rough mix of this track of rather middling fidelity. The sound quality here is much better, but it sounds like they’ve added extra Spector-esque echo onto the track, which means any improvement in sonic quality is outweighed by the muddiness that the echo adds. It’s understandable that the track shouldn’t necessarily be a bone-dry mix. It is a Spector homage. But this mix is a big disappointment, because the performance is so wonderful. It’s easily the best “15 Big Ones” era cover version the band recorded. 

The backing track to “Transcendental Meditation” is quirky and interesting. It must be someone’s personal favorite or something, as I can’t see any other reason it warrants inclusion on this set. It’s wonderful to have, but this is another one that would have made more sense as a bonus track on a “Friends” deluxe edition, not in a prime location on a boxed set like this.

Yet another stab at “Back Home” is served up, this time from 1970. It’s been circulating for a while, but it’s cool to have here in official form. It’s probably more interesting than the ’63 take. Al does a nice lead vocal. It’s still not super substantial musically, but it’s cool. 

Brian’s uber-legendary 1974 studio demo for “California Feelin’” is up next, and it really is a demo in every sense of the word. This is not a serious take on the song. Brian appears to be literally demonstrating how the song goes, and perhaps offering some exaggerated ideas on various crooner-type voices they could use for the song. His lead vocal is not taken very seriously, and he trips up and stops and starts several times. The two main reasons this recording is even interesting are that it does indeed display that his 1974 voice was a weird cross between his 1970 and 1976 voice. Secondly, it seems to indicate that this recording was what Al Jardine modeled his 2010 solo version after, in terms of the format of the song. 

A couple of “Lei’d In Hawaii” studio takes follow. Am I the only one kind of bored by this material? A lot of it has been circulating among collectors for years, and I don’t see much novelty in a variation titled “Help You Rhonda” where the main point of interest is one changed pronoun. 

A new mix of the late 1967 “Wild Honey” era piano demo for “Surf’s Up” follows. I don’t hear a ton of differences. Also, while this was one of the mind-blowing tracks on the “Smile Sessions” set, every fan that “From the Archives” is targeted at already have the track. 

The rare studio material finishes off with appropriate tone with a mind-blower: A completely unknown (to most anyway) Dennis track from 1974 titled “My Love Lives On.” It’s another Dennis piano ballad. I’m not quite as enamored with Dennis’ material as some fans, and this track is also cut from the same cloth as many of his other piano ballads. He’s in full gruff “Pacific Ocean Blue” voice here. But it’s undeniably a wonderful song and performance; easily better than much of what the band was releasing in the later 70’s. This is the great stuff that archival releases allow for. 

A quick radio spot precedes three recently discovered 1964 BBC Radio recordings: “Wendy”, “When I Grow Up”, and “Hushabye.” This seems to be another case where the discovery of the tape might be more interesting than the performances themselves. It’s great to hear early era live Beach Boys, with Brian to boot, and there certainly aren’t a ton of Brian-era live radio performances floating around. As with other groups’ BBC recordings of the era, the tracks sound like they have been recorded live, but in a studio setting with potentially some sweetening/overdubbing. But they are still raw and live-sounding. How interesting? If your fetish is circa 1964 live Beach Boys, you’ll love this. Otherwise, it’s an interesting curio.

To end things, we get a new edit of Carl’s ending coda from the “Hawthorne, CA” compilation. It’s a nice way to cap things off. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"The Wilson Project" Re-Issue Now Out......

This is another item I'll hopefully have a review of before too long. The new issue of ESQ (more on recent ESQ issues in another post!) tipped me off to a new reissue of Stephen J. McParland's "The Wilson Project", which details Brian's late 80's work with Gary Usher, among other things. I honestly have never had a chance to read the various printings or iterations of McParland's work (it has been published in a few different formats/configurations over multiple volumes over the years) due to the high cost of importing the book. But it's now available from Amazon.com (via a third party seller, in the case the book's actual publisher), so it's relatively affordable now, and I'm looking forward to finally reading about this era in Brian's career in detail. 

Made in California - Out Today.... Review Soon!

As fans are well aware, this uber-desired set is out today, and I'll hopefully have my copy in hand today from Amazon and will have a review up at some point. While the set didn't "leak" at any point, fans started getting their copies several days early, so a few tidbits and lots of reviews and discussion are already out there.
It's sounding promising overall. A few things may be grating; it sounds like the two 1995 group tracks may have been futzed with, and a few other things have some potentially "Beatles Anthology" style crossfading/comping of multiple takes going on. But overall, this is literally the most substantial amount of unreleased material to be released all in one shot since the 90's.
I really hope Amazon gets it to me today!

More Brian/Al/David/Jeff Beck Dates......

Oct. 1 -- Houston, Texas (Bayou Music Center)
Oct. 16 -- Montclair, NJ (Roberts Wellmont Theater)
Oct. 30 -- Milwaukee, WI (Milwaukee Riverside Theatre)
I just recently got my tickets in the last couple of weeks for the October 22nd show in Oakland!

Monday, August 19, 2013

50th Anniversary Live DVD Project Unceremoniously Cancelled

It seems the long-in-gestation live DVD/Blu-ray project that was first announced last December has been cancelled. Back in December, producers of this project solicited donations via the PledgeMusic website, donations that would presumably help fund the project. Various levels of pledges were offered, including getting your name in the credits once the project was released.

A targeted December 2013 release date seemed to give them plenty of time. The Pledge Music site was to be a hub through which the producers could offer donators exclusive sneak peeks into the making of the film. However, these "previews" and various "exclusive content" seemed to dry up only a few months into the project. Many fans were skeptical from the get-go. Additionally, the few clips and bits posted on the site weren't very promising. The whole thing had a rag-tag, somewhat unprofessional feel from the get-go.

A few days ago, donators started receiving refunds without explanation. A few fans e-mailed and got some generic responses concerning the project being cancelled. Head over the Smiley Smile board, where one fan did some impressive digging into recent stories to discover what may have been the downfall this project, a convoluted story involving a bunch of funding and business dealings totally unrelated to the Beach Boys. It seems the funding may have been what fell through on this project, and it was tainted by the point that fans' money was returned.

We are certainly glad everyone is presumably getting their money back. One fan received an e-mail response indicating Universal (who now own Capitol) may be taking this project in another direction. So we can hope something will surface of this project in the future, and hopefully it will entail above all else a full, complete presentation of a show (or shows) on the tour.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

More Mike Love Interview Whatnot......

More press stuff from Mike Love. Same story here from Mike about the end of the 50th tour (http://www.theoaklandpress.com/articles/2013/07/31/entertainment/doc51f82da0e9133216293773.txt), but with a much more direct version of how he felt about those who were "running everything":

“It was always to be (just for) the 50th anniversary,” explains Love, 72. “We started off with the agreement to do 50 shows in honor of the 50 years, but then it expanded into about 73, I believe, and I have talked to various promoters who’ve said ‘Hey, this is really great. You guys sold out, and it would be good to have you back in a couple of years.’

“The amount of production and the amount of band members on stage and everything was just not the kind of thing that can continue on ad infinitum. There are many, many venues that can’t even afford the cost of the band and the production and all that kind of stuff. So by doing that kind of tour, with that many people and that expensive, it kind of precludes you from doing a lot of these places we’ve always enjoyed doing.

“So those are a couple of the reasons why — in addition to the fact we agreed to do X amount of dates — we’re back to doing how we do things or how we’ve done things for a decade and a half.”

Love helped to curate the upcoming Beach Boys box set “Made in California 1962-2012, which comes out on Aug. 27. And he sounds potentially amenable to another reunion tour, although after last year’s go-round he says there will be some conditions before he gets involved again.

“Only if I can do it with people who I trust and like and are honorable,” Love says. “It was great to be in the studio again and listen to those harmonies coming back, but I had serious issues with the people who were running everything. I have no problem with just Brian and I in a room together with a piano, writing music, but unfortunately it’s not that uncomplicated, so I can’t promise anything right now other than doing this show that we know people love and come out to see every summer.”

It is interesting to see the return of the claim of unnamed "promoters" telling Love that the reunion should stop and build up demand and come back in a couple years. This is interesting because it seems highly unlikley at this stage that we'll see a reunion in 2014. Mike's reasoning about the size and cost of the reunion band also rings hollow, as it presupposes that the band has to play a lot of small markets every year, and also presupposes that there's no way at all to even slightly cut costs on the reunion band. The 50th tour was highly successful financially, so this business that the show is too expensive is ridiculous. Perhaps Love is simply unwilling to say that the reunion format is simply too expensive for his liking, and that he may simply make a bit less money. I'm particularly annoyed by the straw man argument about playing smaller markets. Not only is it simply not true; even if it was true, it insults the quality of the 50th tour to suggest playing smaller markets is more important keeping the entire band together. The 50th tour played 73 shows, they did not simply play huge metropolitan areas. If the reunion tour had done five shows in the US in 2012 in simply New York and Los Angeles or something, this argument would hold more water.

Love’s reference to people “running everything” still seems a bit ambiguous, but most fans have deduced that the reference is either to Joe Thomas or various persons or person in the Brian Wilson camp. The reference to Thomas seems a bit less likely. While Love previously referenced someone who presumably had to be Thomas when citing the lack of ability to write from scratch with Brian, these newer comments don’t seem to be specifically about the album only. But was Thomas “running everything”? Thomas was heavily involved in the album, and Thomas did form the “50 Big Ones” production company with Brian and Mike to run the 50th tour. But was Thomas “running” this? It seems Brian and Mike’s respective camps were running things as much as anybody. Obviously, Mike is not likely referring to his “camp.” Love was also heard to praise Joe Thomas during the tour, pointing out how nobody else could have put the whole thing together and made it work.

Did something sour during this tour? Was something more than the expected awkwardness and power struggles between Brian and Mike’s camps going on?

Ultimately, Love’s comments about having issues with those “running everything” also ring somewhat hollow. Love was an “Executive Producer” on the album, and was a full partner in the production company running the tour, not to mention of course an equal shareholder in BRI. He maintained control of the tour’s setlist. This doesn’t seem like a guy who is subservient to anybody running things. It sounds less like he has an issue with people “running everything”, and more of an issue with compromise or having to do anything by committee.