Friday, March 7, 2014

An Update (Finally!): Mike's "Ella" Award, Al's TM Show, Brian's Maybe-Album

A Variety of Updates…..

Apologies again for not offering more updates sooner. Rather than getting into the boring why, let’s dissect some recent goings-on in the Beach Boys world:

In no particular order, let’s start with the “Ella Awards”, which honored Mike Love in late February.
If we are honest with ourselves, most of us had never heard of the “Ella Awards” before. One presumes it has much more to do with philanthropy (not a bad thing of course) on Mike’s behalf rather than some sort of artistic/musical merit.

In any event, the event featured an array of musical guests on stage, and was of interest to Beach Boys fans mainly due to the first appearance by Al and Dave on stage (or in person at all publically) with Mike (and Bruce) since the demise of the reunion in 2012. One had to wonder just how “on the outs” Al and Mike were, remembering that between 1998 and 2011, you could count their joint public appearances on one hand. It’s good to see that they either aren’t as at odds as they were in the 2000’s, or have at least learned to get past differences and still appear together. Al offered the requisite “Help Me Rhonda” backed by more or less Mike and Bruce’s touring “Beach Boys” band, with Jeff Foskett in tow as well, perhaps representing the “Brian camp.” It was a decent-enough performance, but stark proof of how much better the full, large reunion tour band was.

In a post-show essay, Mike expressed gratitude for Al and Dave for appearing, and regret at Brian not appearing. Cue rampant fan speculation, without of course any actual knowledge about whether Brian was invited, and if he was why he may not have attended, and whether he expressed any sentiments to Mike regarding the show. My theory is that their contentious, awkward relationship (both interpersonally and between their “camps’) certainly could have played a role, in addition to Brian or his camp avoiding creating a situation where the entire reunited group appeared, which would lead to a degree of scrutiny that they aren’t interested in at this time.


Meanwhile, in early February, Al performed a unique show in New York billed as “Al Jardine & Friends”, with collaborator Larry Dvoskin as well as Blondie Chaplin among the ensemble. A largely acoustic show, with a setlist emphasis on folk and TM-related songs, it was certainly one of the more unique shows Al has put together. Considering the demise of the reunion tour, the lack of substantial touring from Brian (who may or may not have Al back in the band whenever he goes back out on the road), and no apparent invitation from Mike to re-join his version of the “Beach Boys”, we have to once again re-state the obvious: Al should start putting out his own stuff and doing his own shows. Maybe he doesn’t want to do the “club” circuit at age 71. I’m not sure why he doesn’t stay more active. He has the most in-tact voice of the group, and this show proved he can do a pretty darn eclectic setlist (including “TM Song”, “Transcendental Meditation”, and “At My Window” among others).

Fans are also continuing to speculate on Brian’s new album plans. Articles super-hyping up Brian’s recordings with Jeff Beck (and Al) last year seemed to strongly indicate we’d see something before too long, presumably a new Brian album with contributions from Beck as well as Al, Blondie Chaplin, and Dave among others. A late 2013 tour involving all of these guys seemed to reinforce that. But now it all seems up in the air. It still seems strongly likely that Brian will have a new album out this year; he’s still recording, and there’s a “biopic” to promote later this year as well. A few recent Jeff Beck interviews haven’t offered much clarity, other than to indicate Beck isn’t presently working more with Brian, and has no idea when or if the stuff will be released. Beck’s only other insight is that he seems to feel they should have finished the recordings and then went out on tour rather than touring in the middle of the sessions. Yet, Beck also admits they may have grabbed him for the 2013 tour because that was the time he had free on his schedule.

Some hopeful fans have begun to wonder if Brian is prepping something for another full Beach Boys album. The evidence is scant at this stage, with the main pieces of evidence simply being that Brian continues to apparently demo and record new material beyond what he did last year (see the picture above; it's from some sort of 2014 session), and he recently surprisingly brought in Matt Jardine to sing on some sessions (with Blondie Chaplin among others). Matt Jardine later described that he was apparently cutting “guide vocals”, both lead and backing, for new Brian material. This of course raises a bunch of questions. If it’s for a Brian album where Brian would be singing, why is he having someone else cut guide vocals? Also, if he needs someone to cut guide vocals, why is he calling in specifically Matt Jardine? Brian has numerous guys in his backing band, even assuming Jeff Foskett was busy, that could cut simple “guide” vocals.

The main indicator for me that Brian does not have at least any imminent plans for Beach Boys recordings (beyond the obvious; that Mike Love seems to still not be agreeable to Brian’s camp; specifically Joe Thomas, and also sees another album as contingent on writing with Brian from scratch) is that it seems exponentially less likely to launch a group project as he prepares to promote a “Brian Wilson” biopic, titled after a solo Brian song (“Love and Mercy”).

On the touring circuit, there isn’t a great deal to report. Mike and Bruce continue their “Beach Boys” tour. Despite the warm and fuzzies at Mike’s award show, there doesn’t seem to be anything in the works to bring Al and Dave into the touring band. It wouldn’t be nearly as impressive as the reunion tour and band, but it would be nice for Al to get his voice out there in some form. While some of the band members’ ability to get along a bit better publically may have improved, the basic dynamics and economics of the situation have not: Mike knows that bringing Al back into the band will cost more than any increase in revenue Al’s inclusion might bring. The only two times Mike would have received any significant backlash due to lack of “original members” would have been in 1998/99 after Carl and Al were gone from the band, and in 2012/13 in the aftermath of the reunion. Mike braved both of those storms without much ultimate financial hardship as far as touring revenue is concerned (or I should say the “Beach Boys” trademark braved the storm; it’s the thing that sells the tickets), so there’s really no incentive to bring Al or Dave back into the touring band other than all of a sudden trying to look like a bit less of a d**k. Curiously, I don’t believe Al has ever been asked point blank in an interview since 1998 if he would return to Mike’s touring band if an offer was made. As a fan of the group, and of Al’s, and not so much a fan of Mike’s touring band, I’m not even sure whether I’d like to see Al join from a fan perspective. I’m inclined to say no, because I’m not sure how much Al we’d get beyond the standard bits of Al singing “Rhonda”, “Sloop John B”, and a few others. Will Mike want Al to start adding “Lookin’ At Tomorrow”, “At My Window”, etc.?

Brian has booked a few European shows we know of (no indicator as to whether Al or Dave (or Blondie) might be involved), with the suggestion of more fall dates either in Europe or elsewhere to promote a new album and the biopic.

Al and Dave meanwhile don’t seem to have anything going on other than a hand full of bookings under various iterations of the “Surf City All Stars.” After C50, and his unique solo show in New York, it’s a bit disappointing to see Al back to random fairs and corporate bookings singing “Little Deuce Coupe” with Dean Torrence and various outcasts from old touring Beach Boys-related bands. Not that it would be a bad show; I’d go see it.