In 1970, Carnie Wilson and Matt Jardine were toddlers posing on the cover of the Beach Boys’ stunning Sunflower album along with their respective parents, Brian and Alan. Today, the two have entered the family business — becoming key members of the offshoot “Beach Boys Family and Friends” ensemble.
As anybody who saw them knows, the Nineties Beach Boys were in a downward spiral. With no new material or arrangements for years, the shows became anachronistic. The death of founding member Carl Wilson from cancer in February of ’98 was the final blow, leaving a full, empty sound and no one named Wilson onstage.
That is not a problem here. Carnie is joined by sister Wendy, two-thirds of that band with Phillips. This is an ingenious stroke: With the plethora of soundalike backups the Beach Boys have used for years, why not raid the Wilson gene pool? The band has always promoted musical family values, so this passing of the torch is a natural move.
This group seeks to distance itself from the surf music machine led by Mike Love, setting out to perform lost gems from the group’s vast catalogue without concentrating on the predictable hits. But tonight, after reading the surf-oriented promotional material put out by the casino, Alan Jardine (the only original Beach Boy here) changed things around. Out went rarities like “Looking at Tomorrow” and “All Summer Long,” in favor of a hastily assembled version of “Kokomo” and other surf-infected hits. This pragmatic step was driven by perceived public tastes, and Jardine is not one to deny the people what they want. So for the moment, he caved.
Even with the change in direction, the show breathes new life into what have become tired old chestnuts — simply with the addition of female harmony. Who really needs to hear “Don’t Worry, Baby” again? How about if it’s sung by sweet-voiced Wendy Wilson? A third potent-girl sound comes from Owen Elliott, daughter of the late Mama Cass.
Vocal enhancements aside, the women stole the night’s focus. Carnie celebrated her thirty-first birthday with an onstage cake, while the eight-and-a-half-months pregnant Elliott tottered crankily around the stage and delivered most of her harmonies sitting down.
The boy zone also exploits the family motif with Alan, Matt and brother Adam Jardine, and support by Beach Boys stalwart multi-instrumentalist (and in-law) Billy Hinsche. The seven voices blend into a harmony that often takes on a life of its own.
Especially powerful was a four-song Pet Sounds interlude, leading off with a lush “God Only Knows.” The boys and girls traded off the verses, leading into the final section that had, astoundingly enough, more texture than the original. To close the section, they played “You Still Believe in Me,” something most have probably never hear the Love-led band play.
“In My Room,” driven by Hinsche’s gentle acoustic guitar, was similarly transformed by the light harmony of the Wilson/Elliott alliance. Only a “Monday, Monday” cover missed the mark; the harmonies were clear but the overall sound was out of balance.
The “Kokomo” encore, with Carnie taking Carl Wilson’s high parts, was injected with new life, but at the end of the evening it was clear that more intricate selections like “I Can Hear Music,” “Girl Don’t Tell Me” and “In My Room” beat the hits hands down. Throughout, Matt Jardine was the secret weapon. Long ponytail swinging, he provides the vocal parts that, on the original, were performed by three different people. Alan sang lead on “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” for years, but now generously bequeaths the part to his son.
“Growing up with the Beach Boys there was always a sense of family and warmth,” Matt said before the show. “But that has gone away in recent years. This band recaptures that feeling.”