Just got back from the Beach Boys Family and Friends show Saturday in Dubuque, Iowa. Incredible show; incredible voices. What a weekend.
Pull up a chair; I’ll tell ya all about it...
First, allow me to repeat the background info. I’m a 36-year-old Beach Boys fan from way back. I saw the Boys perform in concert no less than nine times between 1981 and 1992, sometimes with my girlfriend-then-wife, Sharon. I’ve got all the albums, lots of collectibles... When my daughter was born in 1993, I rocked her to sleep while singing “Sloop John B.” and “I Can Hear Music.” Elizabeth grown into a six-year-old Beach Boys fan herself.
So when I discovered Al and his band were in Dubuque July 31 and Mike and his band were coming to Des Moines on Aug. 6, we did the “right” thing. We bought tickets to see Al. We blew off Mike’s show.
Beach Boys Family and Friends were appearing at the Dubuque County Fair, which is a good five-hour drive from Des Moines. We reserved the closest motel room we could find—in Cedar Rapids, a good 90-minute drive from Dubuque—loaded up the car Saturday morning and drove to the eastern side of the state.
It was a wonderful day for an outdoor concert. While most of the nation sweltered, the temperatures in Iowa finally dipped back down into the low 80’s. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. By the time the 8:30 showtime rolled around, it was very comfortable outside.
During dinner, I had received an omen from the Gods of Vocal Harmony: At a Ponderosa Steak House, we had walked in to hear Dion’s “Ruby Baby” on the restarant speakers. The very next song was the Beatles’ ”Tell Me Why.” I tried to explain to Sharon why I was so amused, but I don’t think she understood. I was hoping “Mountain of Love” or “Alley-Oop” would come on next, but no such luck.
Anyway, our seats turned out to be on the eighth row, stage center, directly in front of the sound mixing guy. By sheer luck, they were either the best seats in the house or darned close to ’em, if you ask me.
Not long before showtime, fair workers set up a table from which the band’s t-shirt vendors could operate. They had white “Family and Friends” shirts, featuring a nice-looking logo, in a few sizes. I bought one for Elizabeth and lamented that they didn’t have any large enough for myself.
As you might expect, the crowd there at the Dubuque County Fair was a fairly older crowd—most of the folks around us were in their 40’s and 50’s. I’m 37 and Sharon turns 36 Monday. There were only a few folks—I’d guess less than 15 percent of the audience—younger than us. Maybe 80 percent of the $18 floor seats sold and perhaps 70 percent of the $16 grandstand bleacher seats were filled. There were a good number of folks in the uncovered free wooden-bleachers and on the grass hills.
The stage came to life only about ten minutes late, but unfortunately, there were a LOT of Fair officials that had to welcome the crowd. Then, they had to introduce the King and Queen of the fair, along with the Beef Queen and the Pork Princess. I swear to God, I am NOT making this up.
Finally, two local DJs got up and recited their station’s daily lineup and attempted to banter for a while. Finally, they gave up and introduced the band.
My first reaction was—OH MY GOD, That Wendy Wilson is inCREDible!
Now, I’ve seen lots of photos of Wendy over the years. I have both the Wilson-Phillips albums and both of her albums with Carnie. And yes, I’ve seen the famous lingerie-on-the-beach photo included with the “Shadows and Light” album.
But I’m here to tell ya, folks... ‘gorgeous‘ just isn’t enough of a word to describe Wendy. Holy cow!
Despite the sudden influx of teenagesque hormones, I actually managed to notice the other performers, too... and the music, of course. I’ll try to do them some justice in this post.
The harmonies weren’t just tight; they were dead-on tight. In contrast to the Beach Boys shows I’ve seen over the years, these guys REALLY cared about their sound. You could see it in their faces whenever they’d come to a harmonically intensive part of a song. They’d cock their heads, half-close their eyes... and the voices would sound so, so sweet...
My God. What a show.
On stage were Al Jardine, his sons Matt and Adam and Wendy and Carnie Wilson. Billy Hinsche apparently was the musical director; the band seemed to take their instructions from him. Billy seemed very Paul Schaffer-esque up there last night. And his hard work paid off: the backing band was every bit as tight as were the vocals.
The set list was exactly the same as JeffH posted last week, so I won’t bore you with the details. I’ll only bore you with the highlights...
The third song was “Catch a Wave,” which featured Adam. Now, I hadn’t read about this, but Matt Jardine is definitely the more outgoing of the Jardine boys. Matt—a veteran of several Beach Boys tours—sang more than half the lead vocals, in fact.
Meanwhile, Adam is apparently much more shy. He didn’t seem terribly comfortable on stage. He sang solo only once or twice... and one of those times was on “Wave.”
After the song was over, Carnie made a point of congratulating Adam. “I just LOVE his voice,” she said. Adam burst into an extrememly bashful smile.
Damn, I thought. These people really ARE family and friends! Such a refreshing change from Mike’s shows.
Fourth up was a song I hardly listen to anymore: “Hawaii.” Somewhere in the middle, Billy Hinsche completely screwed up and, as far as I could tell, started playing a chorus where a verse should have gone. Al took it pretty well; he glanced over, grinned and continued to sing his verse. When the song was over, Billy backed away from his keyboard, smacked himself on the head and looked apologetic. Everyone on stage laughed. Carnie sang a line from Billy Joel’s “You’re only Human.”
Seventh: Wendy stepped up to the mike to sing one of my all-time favorites: “I Can Hear Music.” Man, this sent me into Heaven. She sings like an angel.
Very next song was “Come Go With Me.” I’ve seen the Boys sing this song at least a half-dozen times. But the group managed to put a great new spin on the song. The backing vocals by the younger Wilson and Jardines were tighter and sweeter than even the recorded version on the M.I.U. Album. Nice.
The next song was “Surfer Girl.” Before the band starts the song, Carnie mentions that the tune, along with most of the other songs they’re singing tonight, were written by her and Wendy’s dad, Brian. “We love him, very much. And we miss him.” Carnie said. At that exact moment, Elizabeth—to whom I’ve carefully given Beach Boys geneology lessons—reaches over from the folding chair in which she’s standing and gives me a big hug. Really brought a lump to my throat.
Wendy shared lead vocals on the verses to “Don’t Worry Baby.” I’m taking pictures, dancing with my daughter, taking notes... and every ten minutes or so, thinking, well, THIS is the highlight of the show for me. Ten minutes later, I’d think, no, THIS is the highlight. Then, no, it’s THIS...
A little while later, Adam stepped out again on “Girl Don’t Tell Me.” The kid can sing just fine. I sure hope Carnie succeeds in drawing him out of his shell.
Al followed that up with “You’re So Good To Me,” after which Carnie talked about how difficult it is to sing the backing vocals to that tune. Man, they sounded incredible. I know, I know, I’m using that word too much. Please bear with me; I don’t know how else to describe it. The show was only half-over and I was already completely blown away.
That’s when Al dropped the bombshell: He played “Lookin’ At Tomorrow.”
Al’s guitar bits were fantastic. His vocal was fantastic. As he progressed into the song, I felt chills running down my back. But When Wendy and Carnie jumped in with the background “Ooooooh,” I couldn’t hold it back any more.
I’ll continue this admittedly long-winded essay in part two...
This post is part two of my somewhat long-winded description of Saturday's Beach Boys Family and Friends show in Dubuque, Iowa, yesterday, July 31.
In part one, I set up my tale and wrote about the first half of the show, up to Al Jardine's surprise performance of "Lookin' At Tomorrow: A Welfare Song" from the "Surf's Up" album.
That's a song I've been wanting to hear live for many, many years. And Al made it happen for me last night.
As I sat in stunned silence after "Tomorrow"... yep, you guessed it: That's when the band launched into its four-song "Pet Sounds" suite. My friends, you have not lived until you've heard Wendy and Carnie sing "You Still Believe In Me."
The girls sing the first verse of "God Only Knows" but Al and Matt pick up the second verse. The three Jardines team up on "Sloop John B."
A funny thing happened on "Wouldn't It Be Nice?" Not only does Matt sing many of the vocals, he also plays a few percussion instruments, including a giant drum. Sorry, I'm sure there's an official name for the instrument, but I don't know what it is.
Near the end of the song, the music stops and the singers harmonize that last, slow bit. Then, there's a moment of silence. Then, Matt beats the giant drum, which rolls into the close of the song, right?
Well, all I can say is that they must have had the drums miked too loudly. Matt reaches WAAAAAY up ino the air with these big, padded drumsticks and CRASHES them onto the drum...
The result sounded like an earthquake. I glanced over to Carnie, who literally jumped on stage. Al glanced over toward Matt nd cracked up.
If I haven't made it clear, these folks had fun on stage. Their enjoyment of the music and of performing the music came through loud and clear. No rote performances here. At one point in the show—unfortunately, I don't recall when—Matt abandoned his post on the audience's left and went around to the right side to "pick on" Adam a bit. Nothing unprofessional, mind you, just a little brotherly on-stage patter. Again. these folks love performing and they love each other. I couldn't stop grinning throughout the show.
After the "Pet Sounds" songs was "Good Vibrations." And after thant, the band played another of my favorites—and another difficult, vocal-intensive song: "Heroes and Villians." Their performance was, again, dead-on perfect. I watched and listened in amazement as they boldly plowed though the a cappella bit in the middle. What incredible voices these kids have, I thought for about the hundredth time.
I kept looking over at Sharon with a look that said "Isn't this great?" Sharon spent most of the second half of the show out of her seat, movin' and groovin' to the music.
After "Kokomo,""Help Me Rhonda" and "Surfin' U.S.A.," the band exited. And my daughter immediately began tugging at her wax earplugs and complaining that they didn't play her favorite song, "Barbara-Ann." Sharon and I laughed and tried to keep her from removing the plugs. Elizabeth, obviously, had never experienced an encore.
Al brought the band back out and announced to the crowd that they were going to do something a little different this time. That caught my attention. My eyes snapped forward. I couldn't believe what they did next.
They brought the County Fair queen and her court onto stage for the encore. In other words, during "Barbara-Ann" and "Fun, Fun, Fun" Al Jardine and the Beach Boys Family and Friends shared the stage with real, live teenaged dancing girls.
Real. Live. Dancing. Girls.
Now, I don't know what Al's thinking was here. Perhaps he thought it was appropriate, since the queen and her court were the honored guests during the concert and their speeches had even delayed the start of the show. Or maybe he was thinking that it would be some weird commentary on Mike's shows to invite young women of tiny Dubuque, Iowa, on stage instead of Mike's traditional Hawaiian Tropic models.
Either way, it was a real blast to see Al, Matt, Wendy, Carnie and Adam sharing the stage with the Dubuque Beef Queen and the Pork Princess. Please insert your own naughty double-entendres here.
The girls were still wearing their evening gowns and their ribbons. A couple of the girls shook tambourines. Wendy paired up with one of the girls and danced "the swim" with her. They all did the traditional Beach Boys leg-kick with Al.
And I must report that Al and Matt made it through "Fun, Fun, Fun" without a single steering-wheel hand-motion and without picking up a microphone stand.
Then, the show was over.
Afterwards, the band set up shop near their t-shirt table to greet their fans and sign autographs. Sharon and I debated on whether or not to get in line. It was WAAAY past Elizabeth's bedtime, but we figured, how often will she get a chance to meet her favorite band? If it had been anyone else, we might would have passed, but it WAS Al and his folks. I met Al once, back in 1982 or so. I looked forward to speaking with him again. So we joined the small crowd.
I want you all to know that Al, Wendy, Carnie and Matt signed and spoke with us for more than an hour after the show. Not a single person who wanted an autograph left without an autograph. They were friendly, gracious and seemed genuinely grateful that we came to their show.
Like a total idiot, I failed to bring any albums or, as is my custom, to draw caricatures of any of the band for signatures. I got them to autograph their publicity photo in the county fair brochure I picked up at an information desk.
My daughter, however, REALLY lucked out: Sharon had confiscated one of the beach balls that came rolling though the audience during the show. We let the air out of the ball and got the band to autograph it for Elizabeth. Matt wrote in huge letters; "To Elizabeth!" and signed the ball.
Sharon told the group how much Elizabeth likes Beach Boys music. She told them the same story that I believe I posted a while back: That Elizabeth has always called the Boys the "Barbara-Anns." It wasn't until recently that I made her understand that their NAME is "The Beach Boys."
They all got a kick out of that.
I leaned over to Elizabeth and told her what I had before, when I had shown her the group's publicity photos. "That's Al's little boy... that's Wendy and Carnie; they're Brian's little girls..." Carnie cracked up laughing.
After Al signed my photo, I just couldn't hold it in any longer. "Al, I just wanted you to know... I waited almost 30 years to hear you sing "Lookin' for Tomorrow" on stage."
Al's eyebrows shot up. "Really?"
"Well, you know, we like to slip a little something extra in for the fans every now and then," Al said. "We weren't sure about that one."
"Well I appreciated it so much. I meant a LOT to me," I told him.
"We'll try to surprise you again with something next time," Al said. "Uh... do you have any requests? What song would you like to hear?"
What would you say if Al asked YOU that question? I didn't know until he asked me. And I've been wondering—this happened about 16 hours ago, as I type this—if I said the right thing to him. There are so MANY songs I'd like Al to add to the setlist.
Shooting my mouth off before I put my brain into gear, I answered, "Anything from that era, really. Surf's Up, Holland..."
And then I nailed it down. "Um... actually, MY favorite song on Holland is 'Steamboat.' I'd like to hear that one..."
For a split second there, I thought I'd blown it. I could have shown I saw his pupils shrink. Then he began laughing.
"STEAMBOAT?" he roared. "Oh, man..."
I shrugged and glanced over to Carnie and Wendy, who were watching our conversation and were enjoying Al's reaction as much as I was.
Finally Al looked back at me and said "That's just what my wife says. She wants us to play 'Steamboat,' too. But—MAN!—I don't know HOW we could pull THAT one off...!"
I thanked Al and the rest for a great show and left the fairgrounds. We didn't get back to the hotel until after 1 a.m. We drove back to Des Moines this afternoon.
I don't think my feet have touched the ground yet.
My friends, check those tour dates. If you haven't bought Family and Friends tickets yet, then do it. Now.
I have a new favorite band. And Mike Love is NOT the lead singer.
Thanks for reading.
Contributed by: Charles