Mike Love’s Beach Boys vs. Brian Wilson & Friends: Who Is The Real Deal?

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(provided photo/Guy Webster)

(provided photo/Guy Webster)

Brian Ives
Brian Ives
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With the Beach Boys‘ 50th anniversary tour firmly in the rear-view mirror of their little deuce coupe – and Mike Love effectively ditching his bandmates on the side of the road to drive off on his own – what is a Beach Boys fan to do in 2013?

Love, the legal owner of the Beach Boys name, announced a few months ago that the group’s 50th anniversary tour – which welcomed former members Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and David Marks back into the fold – had ended.  The tour, he said, was conceived as a finite event, and that he was going to continue playing dates under the band’s name with the incarnation of the group he’d been working with prior to the reunion. While many in the press painted him as the “bad guy,” he pointed out in a letter to the Los Angeles Times that there were originally 50 reunion dates planned, which quickly grew to 75. He also noted that, early in the tour’s planning, Wilson was just going to join the band for “a few dates in big cities.” “Brian, Al and I signed an agreement outlining the beginning and end of the tour,” Love wrote.

After the tour had been scheduled to end, Love’s pre-reunion version of the band had been booked for the types of smaller scale venues that they had been playing for years. On one hand, as Love pointed out, “It is not feasible, both logistically and economically, for the 50th anniversary tour to play these markets.”  Whether or not it would actually have been “logistically” feasible for reunion version of the band to play smaller markets, it most likely would not have been “economically” feasible. There’s no doubt that playing concerts with Al Jardine, David Marks and (especially) Brian Wilson have a much higher overhead, and playing smaller venues in these markets would not be nearly as profitable.

On the other hand, Love could be criticized for booking shows for his smaller incarnation of the band too quickly after the reunion. Although, to be fair, he points out, “Initially, there was to be plenty of space between the two tours, but then we added 25 more dates and the two tours bumped up against each other.”  Also, Love most likely enjoys the control he exercises over his version of the group; it is essentially his solo project in all but the name. It’s well known that he’s rather conservative in creating setlists, generally sticking with the band’s biggest hits. Wilson, on the other hand, goes deeper into to band’s catalog, which doesn’t seem to be Love’s preference.

Still, Wilson expressed his disappointment with that Love’s decision to end the reunion, and Al Jardine went so far to start a petition to get Love to change his mind (that petition has since surpassed its goal of 10,000 signatures). (Related: Is Mike Love Music’s Biggest Villain?)

But in a variation of the old adage “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” it looks like the Beach Boys in exile will join together and play shows that will most likely feature a set of songs by their former group. Wilson will play the Fraze Pavilion in Kettering, Ohio on July 25, and, according to his official website, “special guests Al Jardine and David Marks will be performing with Brian.” That is the only show listed on the tour page, which features a press photo of Wilson, Marks and Jardine. The fact that they’ve done press photos would lead one to believe that a full tour is in store.  Another show at the Ravina Festival in Chicago featuring Wilson with Jardine and Marks is scheduled for July 26, according to the venue’s website.

So, it seems that two incarnations of the Beach Boys may be on the road at the same time.  This has happened with a number of bands (including, at the moment, heavy metal group Queensryche). But it has very rarely happened with a band of The Beach Boys’ stature.

One of the few parallels to the Beach Boys current scenario can be found with a very different legendary band: Pink Floyd. In the mid ‘80s, Pink Floyd’s chief creative force, Roger Waters, left the band and went on a solo tour. At the same time, Floyd released the Waters-less A Momentary Lapse Of Reason and hit the road as well. Despite the fact that Waters was the mastermind behind the band’s biggest albums, Pink Floyd’s album and tour dwarfed Waters’. However, Floyd always tried to be as “faceless” as possible, and in the pre-Internet era, it’s quite possible that fans didn’t know that the band was missing a key member.

The Beach Boys have a very different scenario. In 2011, Love’s Beach Boys toured playing wineries, performing arts centers and fairs. When the band reunited with Wilson, Jardine and Marks – heralded by a high profile performance at the 2012 GRAMMYs – they played much larger theaters, amphitheaters and arenas, including NYC’s Beacon Theatre and the Hollywood Bowl. Clearly fans realized the difference. As Love argued in his letter, he feels that  the Beach Boys need to go to smaller markets – and they can’t do that with the more prestigious version of the band. But if Wilson takes his tour to the same markets that Love is playing, he could end up regretting giving his bandmates the pink slip.

Love ended his letter quoting the lyrics to “Summer’s Gone,” the song that closes the Beach Boys’ recent reunion album, That’s Why God Made The Radio: “Old friends have gone, they’ve gone their separate ways.”

Today, Beach Boys fans (and some of the Beach Boys themselves) are left to wonder if those are fitting last words.

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