This is simply everything a live album should be, and then some. Most of the performances hold their own beside the quality of the originals (even in those stubborn, hard-to-get-at places — “Marcella,” “Heroes And Villains,” “Funky Pretty”) and yet they’re never static. They remain faithful without becoming plodding or repetitive.
The production is Carl Wilson’s idea of pretty good with a few messy spots, which means it’s unflaggingly superb but you can hear him whispering “Shut up, you guys” right before he launches his haunting vocal on “Caroline No.”
The set itself is carefully selected to touch on all facets of their 12-year career, and it highlights the ease with which they can slip from a Phil Spector sound (“Don’t Worry Baby”) into one influenced by Chuck Berry (“Surfin’ USA”), or from “Good Vibrations” into “Fun, Fun, Fun.”
An accurate listing of the high points here would have to include all 20 cuts, but the ferocious intensity they bring to “Darlin'” puts that one in a class all its own. “Marcella” is their most electrifying single moment, beefed up by a brilliant pedal-steel line from Ricky Fataar and a louder, faster, grittier arrangement than the version on Carl and the Passions. The set’s one new song, “We Got Love,” mixes fresh rhythms with that eternally versatile arranging style, and generally bodes well for the futures of all concerned.
There are five very able sidemen playing alongside the band’s six touring members; aside from that there’s no outside help — just one tiny overdub, an ooh-part on “Funky Pretty.” Nitpickers may want to note that this collection doesn’t include such eminently includable numbers as “I Get Around,” “Do It Again” and “Long Promised Road,” which were presumably left off, because, since nothing else was expendable, they would have necessitated a three-volume set.