Whenever Mike Love shut up, the Beach Boys show at Merriweather Post Pavilion last night was an unexpected delight, the band's best show in our area in years. On a few songs, the harmonies were so right and so full that the show rivaled Paul McCartney's recent revival of a similar repertoire. The credit must go to Carl Wilson (the only one of the three Wilson brothers on stage last night) who as musical director policed the tempos and vocal pitch with an audible payoff.
Wilson has shaken up the band's stale set list by inserting such seldom-heard numbers as the 1965 ballad "Please Let Me Wonder" (sung by Bruce Johnston with gorgeous backing harmonies), the 1973 song suite "California Saga" (sung by Al Jardine with nice counterpoint harmonies) and last year's "Somewhere Near Japan" (with the group trading leads smoothly). The evening's highlights came on Wilson's lead vocals on two songs from "Pet Sounds" and on the group's new single, "Problem Child"; his voice was still achingly pure, and it rescued the Beach Boys sound from mere nostalgia.
Nonetheless, Love did his best to ruin the evening. Once one of rock-and-roll's most persuasive tenors, he has developed an annoying nasal whine to go with his smug stage posturing. He was noticeably flat on the band's recent No. 1 hit, "Kokomo," and his tenor sax solo on "Shut Down" was painfully off-key. Love's song introductions were inane and tiresome, and he used four scantily clad, relentlessly cheerful young women as props on "California Girls," "Be True to Your School" and "Surfin' U.S.A.," reducing these landmark songs to tasteless jokes.