As lifelong fans gathered to see the reunited Beach Boys play the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Irvine on June 3, there was an undeniable aura of nostalgia in the endless summer air.
After playing a sold-out show at the Hollywood Bowl on June 2, the Beach Boys' 50th anniversary tour led the group to Orange County, which has happily embodied the surf culture popularized in their harmony-driven surf rock.
Generations of Beach Boys enthusiasts, including college students, families and older fans, nearly filled the amphitheater, leaving only a few nose-bleed seats open.
Opening act California Saga, featuring eight Beach Boys offspring, put their own twist on the band's classics and drew a well-deserved standing ovation.
With the crowd warmed up, the Beach Boys took the stage for the appropriate-for-a-reunion "Do It Again," a tune from the band's 1969 album "20/20."
Mike Love served as the wise-cracking master of ceremonies, at one point sliding down to his knees to milk an opening note. Realizing he couldn't get up, or at least pretending, fellow members David Marks and Bruce Johnston helped him to his feet accompanied by a creaking sound effect.
With that, they addressed the elephant in the amphitheater: They're not boys — not what they used to be.
Today's quintet features original guitarist Marks, the youngest at 63; longtime members Al Jardine, Brian Wilson and Johnston, who all turn 70 this year; and Love, 71.
More than 40 songs were packed into the three-hour concert, broken up by an intermission. Selections included Chuck Berry and Lead Belly covers, as well as classic hits and more unfamiliar tunes opening the second half.
Set list highlights included: "Catch a Wave," "Surfin' Safari," "Surfer Girl," "409," "I Get Around," "Good Vibrations," "California Girls," "In My Room," "Surfin' USA," "Kokomo," "Fun, Fun, Fun," "Wouldn't It Be Nice." Dean Torrence, of surf-rock duo Jan and Dean, joined in on "Barbara Ann."
The members' voices have deteriorated with time. Everything sounded two whole steps lower, and tempos were slightly slower, but the signature sound remained, Wilson's intricate harmonies were still sweet.
The core members were supported, and at times shown up by, a first-class backing band that authentically captured the original Wrecking Crew sound. Jeffrey Foskett, in particular, effortlessly took on the demanding falsetto parts that Wilson could no longer reach.
On Sunday, for the first time, many fans heard "Isn't It Time" and "That's Why God Made the Radio," new singles off the band's new album released Wednesday.
The latter, the new album's title track, had a timeless quality. Wilson's still-brilliant melodies and harmonies were reminiscent of the band's iconic 1960s surf rock albums, but possessed many modern melodic characteristics.
Performance-wise, most of the Beach Boys were still entertaining to watch, except for the stoic Wilson, who stared out blankly for the majority of the show.
He was confined to his piano bench until he was brought out to play bass during the encore — barely plucking the notes. During a Pet Sounds medley, his voice wavered and was pitchy, qualities accentuated by unbalanced mixing.
Love lent commanding stage presence as the front man, however, his vocal performance was inconsistent and, at times, too nasal.
Jardine beamed with personality and charisma during his polished performances of "Help Me, Rhonda" and the re-gendered Crystals hit "Then I Kissed Her."
Marks' youthfully agile solos on the Berry tunes and "409" were some of the most engaging moments of the show. Johnston on keyboards proved to be one of the strongest members during his spotlight moment in "Disney Girls."
A tribute to original members Dennis and Carl Wilson, who died in 1983 and 1998, respectively, gave off an endearing mood, as archival footage was displayed and the backing band played along to their vocal tracks on "Forever" and "God Only Knows."
But instead of spending time wallowing in legal and personal turmoil, the group — initially neighbors, cousins and brothers — told the story of how they met growing up.
And as they closed with the "Surfin' USA" finale and a standing ovation, the band members embraced — a true sight of public reconciliation.