Beach Boys – Old Vibrations (Goodfellas FELL 02)

Beach Boys “Old Vibrations” (Goodfellas FELL 02) 2009

Love ’em or hate ’em, the Beach Boys have made a tremendous impact on popular music, and have an expansive catalogue full of unmined gems for fans and casual listeners to explore. Most people don’t know that the Beach Boys continued to make fine records into the 1970s. What’s easy to forget, even for die-hard Beach Boys fans, is that the same Beach Boys who recorded these songs also toured extensively to support their new releases. The guys who sounded so amazing on record were a working band who brought the same vocal skills to work in concerts, and were also the unaccompanied live musicians during their heyday of the 1960s. While their studio masterworks bear repeated listenings, and the heaps of pristine studio outtakes leave no doubt as to Brian Wilson’s composing and arranging genius, the Beach Boy’s overlooked live recordings are also worth exploring.

“Old Vibrations” (Goodfellas 2009) is a single disc compilation of two such shows. Both are soundboards. The first concert, recorded at the Daughters of the American Revolution Hall in Washington DC on 11/19/67 (not at Washington Coliseum as previously circulated) features the core band (minus Brian Wilson) of Carl and Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love and Bruce Johnston.

This gig captures a band in transition. Brian is gone (and getting more gone by the day), Mike doesn’t take the new material seriously, and Carl is not yet ready to step up to the plate and really take over leading the band. The high points, unsurprisingly, are Carl’s soulful lead vocals on “God Only Knows” and “Wild Honey,” which was their next single. The low points are Mike Love’s tone-deaf attempts at humor, which give the whole affair a casual garage rehearsal feel and dilute the level of showmanship that the band was capable of. It’s easy to overlook that the songs played at this concert were once new, fresh and challenging to audiences. In November of 1967, the oldest of the songs played here were only a few years old, and “Good Vibrations” was still very radical, groundbreaking stuff.

Of course it’s regrettable that “Smile,” the experimental masterwork that the Beach Boys had recorded (and abandoned) in recent months, was not the focus of their stage show in 1967. But, we can also lament that the Beatles didn’t tour “Sgt. Pepper” and Jimi Hendrix didn’t undertake a live “Electric Ladyland” set… and both of these would be more practical than the 1967 Beach Boys touring band taking on “Smile.” To be honest, it’s amazing that Brian Wilson was able to perform it thirty five years later, with a large, young (and not high) band, and unburdened by a lead-singing cousin who was hostile to the material.

The second concert captured on “Old Vibrations” is the often booted performance from the Big Sur Folk Festival held at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in California on 10/3/70. This gig features the core band mentioned above minus Dennis, who was filming “Two Lane Black Top” with James Taylor during this tour. Mike Kowalski and future Captain (of Captain and Tenille) Daryl Dragon perform with the band.

This was the tour where the band set out to dispel their tarnished image as an oldies act in the midst of the progressive rock movement (which ironically they helped seed with “Pet Sounds” and “Good Vibrations” four years earlier). The Big Sur Festival, and well received gigs at Carnegie Hall and with the Grateful Dead in the following months helped make inroads among the new, hip FM rock crowd.

The band is more comfortable and rocks harder on this show, and more effectively combines the odd stew of disparate elements that they achieved at their best: Chuck Berry licks, Four Freshmen harmonies, Phil Spector drama, quirky psychedelia and more importantly, signs of 1970’s style folk rock, for which the 1970 Beach Boys were also an influence. This historic gig was the result of a phone call from “Smile” lyricist Van Dyke Parks, who gave them a second chance at the audience building opportunity the band squandered by pulling out of the Monterey Pop Festival, held three years earlier at the same location. The Big Sur set deletes past hits about surfing and cars and focuses on the band’s commercially and critically ignored post-“Good Vibrations” material, including songs from their recent invisible gem “Sunflower.”

At this stage the Beach Boys had no chart hits to ride on and had to sing for their supper all over again…. and it’s a good listen. This is the gig that finally won the approval of Rolling Stone’s previously dismissive Jan Wenner, who wrote that the newly shaggy, hippy-dressed Beach Boys “were the group that went right to the genesis of California music.”
For those of you who are more than casual Beach Boys fans, here are a few details worth mentioning about “Old Vibrations.”

Both of these concerts have been booted before, sourced from the same soundboard tapes (1967 is mono and 1970, stereo). Both are on the Vigotone “Goodbye Surfing, Hello God” box set with different equalization (the Vigotone version has better bass, Goodfellas has better top end). Washington 1967 is on Dumb Angel’s “Rarities Volume 10” and Big Sur 1970 is on Dumb Angel’s “Rarities Volume 12.” My Dumb Angel discs are hopelessly buried somewhere, so I didn’t A/B these sources. This is speculation, but it’s possible that this Goodfellas boot is sourced from a torrent version from a site that required the seeder to delete “Graduation Day” from the Washington 67 gig, as the song is introduced but left off “Old Vibrations.”

This is the major strike against this particular boot, as otherwise it’s a convenient source for two decent shows on one disc. Maybe I’m old school and other collectors wouldn’t feel this way, but the omission of one song from the first show drops this release from consideration by similarly obsessed collectors (who value completeness and fidelity to what was played, within reason) to a disc that primarily appeals to either casual fans, people who don’t realize it’s missing one song, or people who harbor a distaste for “Graduation Day” and long for a unique release that omits the song, and saves the listener pressing “next track” when it comes up in sequence.

At 64:57 “Old Vibrations” has room for both circulating soundboard sources, and the reason for one song’s absence remains a mystery. In the interest of full disclosure, additional songs were performed at Big Sur that exist in audience tape sources. “Tears In The Morning,” “Wake The World,” “Vegetables” and “God Only Knows” fit between “Aren’t You Glad” and “Cottonfields“… but a jump to audience quality on this soundboard disc isn’t what the compilers intended, wouldn’t blend acoustically, and wouldn’t fit on one disc anyway.

The glossy fold-out packaging is competent and would fit in perfectly well with your released CDs. The cover is a decent photoshop job featuring some surfers in silhouette. A label with more passion for this particular material would have likely made different choices with graphics, as the Beach Boys were no longer about surfing when these gigs were recorded, and it isn’t so tough to find suitable band images that would have been more appealing to Beach Boys fans in particular and fans of unreleased concert recordings in general.

For both casual listeners and passionate fans of the Beach Boys, these shows are certainly worth checking out. The studio versions of these songs have entered the American psyche and have risen to iconic status, hearing live versions is a treat. For those collectors who’ll play “Old Vibrations” and move on to seeking a representative live disc by other bands they enjoy, this disc is a fine entry point to live Beach Boys. For those fans who will hear this and seek additional live Beach Boys to scratch their itch, then those are the collectors who will want the Washington 1967 show complete, and they’ll have to seek it elsewhere…. or wait for a “corrected” second printing of “Old Vibrations” from Goodfellas. Zzutak

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