August 30, 2006

America's Band Delivers The Goods

Independent / Jessica Mackin (click for larger version)
OK, let me get this straight. The Beach Boys are in Ohio tonight and playing in Canada the day after tomorrow. But you're telling me they'll be playing in this empty field behind Main Street in East Hampton tomorrow?

Well, yes.

Bill Gardiner's James Lane gentleman's farm was transformed, literally overnight, into a surfer's Shangri-La on August 22. "I've never taken on the job as promoter," Gardiner said afterwards. "It was a real mom and pop operation." Nevertheless, the stage, sound, bleachers, bathrooms, tents, food and lights all arrived like clockwork and were assembled with ruthless efficiency. A jet set down in Westhampton and a waiting limo whizzed the Boys into the village.

Then, on a perfect summer night, America's Band delivered the goods.

Led by original member Mike Love, who co-wrote many of the hits and sang lead vocal on quite a few of them, the Beach Boys have been performing to rave reviews all summer and on this night those in attendance heard why.

The surfer tunes, the hot-rod tunes, the hits from four different decades, were all performed to uncanny perfection. The stars of the show, as always, were the majestic compositions of Brian Wilson, the maniacal genius whose music remains unique, indefinable and unfailingly poignant.

In the beginning, in the early sixties, the band mined its surfer image by taking Chuck Berry riffs and turning them into catchy singles like "Surfin' U.S.A.," which Love, as was the case all night, performed flawlessly.

The hot-rod period also proved a treasure trove for Wilson and Love, scoring Top Ten hits with songs like "Little Deuce Coupe," "Fun, Fun, Fun," and "409." The original Beach Boys, Love, his cousins Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson, and Al Jardine, were competing - and holding their own and then some - with the likes of The Beatles and Motown for space on the Top 40 list. But just as The Beatles yearned for something more, Brian Wilson did as well - he quit touring, sequestering himself in the studio, and continued to conceive his masterpieces, cementing his legacy as one of America's finest composers.

Before nearly 1000 guests in East Hampton who had ponied up money for a number of local charities, Love's band, featuring longtime member and collaborator Bruce Johnston, turned in heartfelt renditions of Wilson's angst-filled heartbreakers, "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "God Only Knows," "Don't Worry Baby," and his drug-fueled trip into psychedelia, "Good Vibrations," with the band brilliantly delivering the complex harmonies to perfection.

There was much more. "Surfer Girl" reminded what your very first slow dance felt like; "In My Room," provided a stunning realization that Wilson's little boy insecurities mirrored those of a generation of teenagers unsure of themselves; "Barbara-Ann," during which the crowd, unable to contain itself any longer, stormed the stage and climbed up the runway in front of it for some frenzied boogying, featuring, literally, people ages eight to 80.

A trio of hits from the fifties included a perfectly rendered "Duke of Earl" and the three-song encore featured the classic "California Girls," which segued into "Kokomo," and closed appropriately with "Fun, Fun, Fun." In all, it seemed, the band played dozens of songs without missing a beat, the four and five part harmonies delivered as Brian Wilson conceived them so many years ago.

No other band has even attempted to duplicate the sound. The songs are as fresh today as they were back then, and there is magic in the air when played to perfection, and Love and company on this night did just that.

All the band members deserve kudos. They include John Cowsill (yes, the drummer for the TV family) on keyboards and vocals, bassist Chris Farmer, who played with Jan and Dean and sports a healthy tenor and falsetto voice, Scott Totten, a veteran of a number of Broadway touring shows including Tommy on lead guitar, Tim Bonhomme, who has played with the Turtles and the Monkees on keyboards, Raleigh-based guitarist Randall Kirsch, and Mike Kowalaski, who has played with The Beach Boys since 1968, on drums.

The event raised "tens of thousands" for local charities, said David Rubenstein, one of the organizers, though the final tally wasn't available by press time. "Everyone involved was a volunteer," he said. "No one got paid. This was a local event for local charities." Garda Harmany was especially helpful he said, as was Debbie Mansir, who organized the silent auction that raised about $40,000 for charities like Meals On Wheels, Project Most and the Kendall Madison Fund.

The event was in stark contrast to last year's fiasco featuring Foreigner, when organizers gave away the high-priced tickets to political cronies, sampled delicacies from 20 vendors brought in to serve the VIPs, and then stiffed everyone, leaving the charities stuck with the bills.

The Boys' concert was preceded by a fashion show highlighting the "Fashion For Passion" designs of Jacquelyne Love, Mike's wife, and featuring professional models from Elite and other agencies, that drew oohs and aahs from both sexes. The event was hosted by TV personality Judy Licht, who was introduced by Assemblyman Fred Thiele.

There were reports of grumblings from some members of the local Democratic Party, who bristled that Gardiner, the head of the East Hampton Republican Party, was getting positive press. Some, it was rumored, tried to undermine the concert by trying to get the permit lifted.

"I heard that. This was charity only," Gardiner said, though he cautioned he had no firsthand knowledge that the rumors were true. At any rate, many local politicians were conspicuous by their absences.

They missed one hell of a show.

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