Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Review – “The Beach Boys In Concert! - The Complete History of America's Band On Tour and Onstage”


Easily the most anticipated book among Beach Boys fans in some time, Ian Rusten and Jon Stebbins’ new book is easily a must-own for any serious fan or scholar.

The book essentially covers the band’s tours year by year, with detailed entries through 1998 followed by selected details for each touring faction’s activities post-1998. Each year features a brief text overview, with the main focus turning to entries for each tour date detailing the city, venue, and date. On select tour dates, more details are provided in text form, usually consisting of contemporary reviews from newspapers, journalists, or fans, and sometimes setlists. Also found scattered through the pages are photographs, many if not most of which are rare or never seen. Some chapters also end with a recap of tour dates that never happened, either due to cancellation or false reporting in other publications.

The book’s strengths are obvious; a detailed listing of tour dates alone is invaluable to fans and scholars. The book also more accurately than ever before outlines the comings and goings of band members. For instance, for the first time I know of, the book details that Carl Wilson actually returned to the band in early 1982, and then left again for a few months before returning again full-time. Did you know Brian “filled in” for Al in 1990 for a few shows, or that Mike missed shows in 1983 and 1990? The contemporary reviews that the authors have tracked down are some of the most interesting elements of the book. While contemporary reviewers’ lack of detailed familiarity with the band would sometimes lead to a lack of context, those on-the-spot details about songs, band members, and odd events on stage are invaluable. The general critical view from those reviews also offers an interest in insight into how some reviewers would be drastically at odds, while at other times (circa 1981-82) the reviews seem to accurately and uniformly describe a band on the verge of collapse musically.

The photos are also a great treat. The photos are used somewhat sparingly (easy for us to say too sparingly; they do have to pay to use these photos of course), but in some cases highlight key points in the band’s career. Most interesting (and also a bit tabloid-ish) are very late-era photos of Dennis and Carl. I’ve seen a number of supposed “last” photos of Carl around, but published in this book for presumably the first time is a fan photo taken in concert literally days before Carl’s final show in August of 1997. I’ll leave it up to readers to judge the contents of the photo. Suffice it to say it epitomizes the various ways to interpret Carl’s final touring days, whether one chooses to view it as sad or brave, or somewhere in between.

Because the book is so amazing in an overarching sense, it’s easy to say so in very brief terms while spending more time nitpicking. I’ll try to keep the criticisms brief. I personally would have liked to see more setlists, or at least noteworthy setlist inclusions. The authors correctly reinforce the point that the band’s setlist in the later era became quite stale. But to me, that makes oddball setlists more interesting. I would have liked to see perhaps an entry for each year showing a representation of a “standard” setlist from the year followed by a list of one-off and short-term setlist inclusions. I also would have liked a bit more text overall. Granted, maybe 1995 didn’t host a huge variety of goings-on for the band. But more commentary on setlists and the touring band and whatnot would have been nice.

I can’t argue too much with lesser details concerning Mike’s touring band in the 2000’s for instance, but a full list of tour dates for these years for Mike, Brian, and Al (to the degree those dates are available) rather than “highlights” would have made the book more “completist.”
A major issue that the authors can’t be faulted for is a lack of detail on the 50th anniversary tour. We get a list of tour dates, and some short text discussion, but I imagine a publishing deadline dictated that we couldn’t get detailed reviews of more shows and/or commentary on the tour’s aftermath and demise, which for better or worse, was the most controversy and media attention a Beach Boys tour had received in decades.

I haven’t read the book cover to cover, so I will of course add additional thoughts should they arise. Bottom line: This is an absolute must for all fans and scholars, and is one of the most important books to be published on the group in ages.

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