DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

The Beach Boys: Good Vibrations Tour (2013)

Beach Boys buyers should be wary.

Published on August 23, 2013

The Beach Boys: Good Vibrations Tour (2013)

Studio: Eagle Vision/Broadway Video EV306099 [6/18/13]
Director: Gary Weis; Producer: Lorne Michaels
Video: 1.33:1 for 4:3 Color
Audio: English DTS Surround Sound, Dolby Digital Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1
No extras
Length: 49:33
Rating: ***

There is no doubt the Beach Boys are one of the most influential and successful American pop bands of the Baby Boomer generation. Tunes such as “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “I Get Around” and “Surfin’ USA” were staples of top-40 radio, played endlessly on jukeboxes from coast to coast, and became part of the summery soundtrack for countless teens.

Despite a huge string of hits and some definitive albums, by the 1970s the Beach Boys were in a problematic period: most of the band’s latest singles were flops; personnel came and went; the group’s creative backbone, Brian Wilson, was not involved either as a songwriter or performer; and most of the releases displaying the Beach Boys’ name were compilations trading on youthful nostalgia. The Beach Boys only continuing achievement was non-stop touring, which made them one of the major live draws in the U.S. arena market.

In 1976 (after a three-year hiatus from the studio) the classic line-up of Al Jardine (vocals, guitar), Mike Love (vocals), and the Wilson brothers (Carl, Dennis and Brian) reconvened to tape the aptly-termed 15 Big Ones, which acknowledged the Beach Boys’ 15-year anniversary and also had 15 songs. Wilson revisited the producer’s chair, while the record featured a blend of new tunes and appropriate covers associated with Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, the Righteous Brothers and others. With media coverage elevated, the Beach Boys also snagged an hour-long, NBC-TV special (produced by Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels with some segments scripted by SNL scribes) to help promote their supposed return and the group’s concert schedule.

The DVD The Beach Boys: Good Vibrations Tour is the most recent reissue of that 1976 television program (previous editions have had other titles; and Eagle Rock issued this DVD in the UK a number of years ago), and includes live footage mainly from an Anaheim Stadium gig; band member interviews; and edited sequences which contain Carl Wilson revealing his love for aviation, Dennis Wilson judging a beauty pageant, and a middling comedic skit where SNL cast members John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd attempt to get Brian to go surf.

Unfortunately, regardless of lots of great music, the DVD is not a winner. If this DVD was just the Beach Boys on stage (as the title implies), playing fan favorites and melding voices in the famous Beach Boys harmony style, then this would probably be an enjoyable look back. But the live scenes are cut apart by video shots of girls in cars, cheerleaders, Dennis’ sailboat coursing through the waves, and interviews from the Beach Boys and assorted guests (including the Wilson brothers’ high school music teacher, who ironically relates how he once gave Brian an “F” for a class assignment). There are also difficulties concerning the interviews. Brian appears lost and it is obvious he still had a ways to go before full recovery from his emotional and/or psychological struggles. He is not the focus of attention and gives the impression he is adrift (to be fair, Wilson collaborator Van Dyke Park does not come across much better during his brief interviews, either). Dennis, however, is enthusiastic and attentive, and proves why he was always considered the coolest Beach Boy. The nadir is a tepid sketch with Belushi and Aykroyd as California Highway patrolmen from the “surf squad” who cite Brian for “failing to surf.” The skit is silly but not funny. Belushi and Aykroyd would later put their sunglasses to better use as the Blues Brothers.

Of course, any live Beach Boys is splendid. Even though separate songs do not flow from one to another, viewers get to see Mike Love energetically dancing about while wearing a glittery, disco-era vest or spangled jacket; the arrangements embrace a horn section and two drum kits; and Dennis seems healthy, a perceptible disparity from how he would look just a few short years down the road: he also showcases his expressive voice during a solo interpretation of the romantic standard “You Are So Beautiful.” Carl Wilson’s evocative voice is pitch-perfect, particularly during a sensitive reading of “Good Vibrations,” which shifts from a rendition recorded during an impromptu party or rehearsal, to one from the Anaheim amphitheater. Notably, Brian is either absent from the live footage or hardly seen or heard: he wasn’t really ready to tour in 1976. [By the way, you won’t hear or see any Electro-Theremin—or even an oscillator— or cello on “Good Vibrations"...Ed.]

The DVD’s tangible highlights aren’t part of the live performance. Early on, the Wilson brothers extemporize in the studio on Brian’s sly homage to their overbearing father, “I’m Bugged at My Ol’ Man,” where Brian recites his dad’s tough-love lessons such as forcing his son to get a haircut and blacking out Brian’s windows so Brian could not write more compositions about having fun in the sun: Brian even belts out a lyric about the need for cough drops and a glass of water when his voice cracks: eccentric and entertaining. Another outstanding moment comes when Brian leads the band through a recent piece, the joyous and soulful “That Same Song,” with support from a Baptist gospel choir. This is the only time Brian is engaged and wholly alert, his eyes dashing from choir to Beach Boys members and back again while he assesses the call and response between the soloists and the chorus, at the same time swinging his body to the infectious beat.

The visuals have not been remastered or cleaned up. The transfer appears to be from a marginally-weathered and faded print: no one used the original film negative. Considering the age of the source material, it’s equal to other TV specials from the same era. The sound is an improvement from the original airdate: the Dolby surround sound provides punch to the Beach Boys’ rhythmic foundation (the doubled drums resound nicely, and the rhythm guitar is noticeable in the mix), although the audio source is undoubtedly from an original mono soundtrack. The DVD has no bonuses, and is housed in a simple clear package with front and back artwork: no liner notes, lyrics or other supplementary material.

—Doug Simpson




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