A monthly column from US-based session musician, songwriter, producer and one time Rolling Stone magazine writer, Jon Tiven. Lifting the lid off of the business of making music…
I’ve been out to see concerts by two of my favourite bands from the 60s and 70s in the past few weeks, thoroughly enjoying both shows. Bad Company at the Bridgestone Arena, Nashville and The Beach Boys at the Ryman Auditorium, Nashville.
I had my reservations, but each came through with a show that preserved the legacy and provided fun; and I don’t know how much more you can ask for.
Each had two real members – I won’t say ‘original’, because Bruce Johnston was not an original member, but he certainly is a ‘real’ Beach Boy – and each band has dealt with the passing of their brethren as best as they could.
Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers still has all his notes and sings his songs with the same power and fervour that he did when I saw them back when.
Simon Kirke is the closest thing to Al Jackson that the U.K. has ever produced. A soulful and inventive drummer who improves with age.
They are the two original members who continue to keep the band alive, and I suppose it would be appropriate to talk about Free here; because Bad Company really was an extension of Free (with better marketing).
Without Kossoff, Fraser, Ralphs or Burrell, the two guys onstage could just as easily called themselves Free and done that catalogue. Of course, they did one Free song: “All Right Now”, which always gets a big response.
Free v Bad Company
In America, Free did not reach the stadium audiences that Bad Company did, so when they play here, it’s as Bad Company and that’s that.
Free had my personal favourite bassist/songwriter in it. Andy Fraser. As well as one of the most stirring guitarists in rock, Paul Kossoff. So, replacing them would be near impossible.
The guitarist and bassist in this Bad Company certainly did a fine job in delivering the catalogue, although when I saw the two-guitar line-up last year, with Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes filling in, it did have more power and fullness when it was time for the solo.
But aside from any minor complaints, these four guys gave a show that was worthy of the name and seemed positively inspired.
I know they’re playing the same songs night after night, but the verve and spunk that Kirke throws down behind the kit, makes it sound like they’re going out on a limb for the first time.
Rodgers seems to be experimenting with songs that could easily be rote. If they got Steve Cropper, Chris Spedding, and Muzz Skillings to lend a hand, they could carry off the Free catalogue. But that’s my dream, not theirs… A very satisfying night.
Now, onto the Beach Boys, who are slightly more controversial…
Beach Boys fans like to choose sides, as if you can’t like both Mike Love and Brian Wilson.
I understand there has been some reason to look at this as a Beach Boys war, as there were legal actions some time back. And many fans were disturbed that the reunion of a few years back didn’t extend beyond the initial dates.
The reality is that when Brian decided not to tour with the Beach Boys, Mike and company got the name and Brian makes a pretty penny from live Beach Boys shows whether he performs or not. A sweet deal if you ask me.
Neither outfit seems to include “This Whole World,” “Breakaway,” “Little Bird,” “Till I Die,” or “How She Boogalooed It” in their sets, so whether you go to see The Beach Boys or Brian Wilson, you’re basically going to hear the hits or some album presentation.
I know “Pet Sounds” is venerated by most Beach Boys aficionados, but my jam was “The Beach Boys Today” (also “Summer Days and Summer Nights”) and when “Pet Sounds” came out, they lost me for half a decade.
So, I don’t go to a Beach Boys show armed with the musical prejudices that those who call themselves hard-core Brian fans, harbour.
They gave a great show. Opening with “Do it Again,” they had me from the first note. It would have been nice to have the other guys up there.
But Mike’s son Christian did a fine version of “God Only Knows,” and when drummer John Cowsill sang “Darlin’”, and Bruce Johnston did “Do You Wanna Dance”, it was as good as it gets.
Bruce sang “Disney Girls”, which came off better now than when I first saw them do it in the 1970s, and he did NOT sing “I Write The Songs” as part of the set, which was fine by me.
I went backstage during the break and hung with Bruce for a while, and he offered: “Do you know what ‘I Write The Songs’ is? It’s an interview with God,” which I found enlightening. He’s a very nice man, a truly engaging storyteller with a lot to tell.
Much has been made of Mike Love’s political bent, and I’m not going down that road, except to report that he did a song that was in tribute to George Harrison, after which he talked a bit about their trip to India.
And then he did his plug for meditation and said: “I wish all of our politicians would learn to meditate”, which got a great response from the audience.
I’ve seen this group multiple times and never heard anything that came close to a political statement, (particularly one that aligned with mine), so for this I was grateful. He also spoke of the Wilson Brothers in the most reverential and glowing terms that one would expect from someone who truly loved them.
Mike is a terrific entertainer, his voice is pretty much unchanged by time, and as far as I can remember, the show they gave this year isn’t that different from the ones I saw in the early 70s, around the time of “Sunflower.” The 2018 show, all against a backdrop of photographic slides from the group’s entire career. Fun Fun, Fun indeed.
A special shout-out to Randy Leago, a Nashvillian who’s been blowing sax with the Beach Boys for a few years now, and gives his all to Steve Douglas’s licks, as well as the flute in “Sloop John B.” A very nice and deserving man who’s found the perfect gig and adds a little showbiz schtick where it counts.
Two hours of solid fun. Not as many modulations as you’d hear in a Brian Wilson show, I’m sure. More cars and surf in this show, and 100% legit’.
Do you expect these greats to spend their post-hits lives, sitting on the sofa telling war stories to journalists who want to know what it was like back then?
I’d rather have them onstage, delivering their songs to audiences new and old, keeping the summer alive, as it were…
By Jon Tiven
Jon Tiven with Simon & Maria Angelica Figueredo Kirke: Photo by Lucy Piller
Ryman Auditorium photo courtesy of the venue
Mike Love, Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys: Photos By Jason Sheldon