After surfing or revving through six songs in 13 hot minutes on Saturday at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Beach Boys singer Mike Love joked that they needed an intermission and a nap.
Not so much: The surf of ’60s nostalgia was up, way up.
The opening was a drag race: “Do It Again” roared renewal, “Little Honda” cruised along, the most innocent of their motorhead rockers, while “Catch a Wave,” “Hawaii,” “Don’t Back Down” and “Surfin’ Safari” rocked the soundtrack of mind and memory — idealized left-coast escapism at its sunniest.
Just as their new “That’s Why God Made the Radio” album was way better than it needed to be to declare these “boys” are still rocking after 50 years, so was the show. Original Beach Boys Mike Love, Al Jardine and Brian Wilson played and sang at the front, flanked by longtime member Bruce Johnston and Jeff Foskett, the 30-year sideman who sang the highest part in their harmonies — fanstastically, it must be said. Eight supporting players rocked on an arched riser behind them.
While their 1960s radio hits celebrated motorized adrenaline or ocean-powered fun, the Beach Boys are really about celebrating the human voice, linked in Wilson’s sumptuous super-pop arrangements. Wilson sang few leads in the first set, which — apart from “Isn’t It Time” and “California Sun” from the new album (they played the title track later) — dove deep into the 1960s. This was the Beach Boys of easy, fast fun, mostly in the high, nasal voice of Mike Love.
Fans slow-danced to “Surfer Girl” and cheered Wilson’s short lead vocal, but he totally owned “Please Let Me Wander.”
The second set was better, mainly because Wilson sang more, tentatively at first but strongly in “Heroes and Villains,” “Sloop John B” into “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” — their two most majestic cruisers — “I Just Wasn’t Made for these Times,” in which he poignantly embraced his strangeness, the towering “Sail on Sailor” and, later, the rapt, lushly harmonized “In My Room.”
Vintage video and vocals of the late Dennis and Carl Wilson — “Forever” and “God Only Knows,” respectively — reminded that these guys were in fact really just boys when they invented orchestral scale California pop, and that they had huge crews along in the studio to record it. Onstage on Saturday, the 14 Beach Boys (principals and supporting musicians) made a huge sound. And it just seemed to grow as the introspective “God Only Knows” erupted into “Good Vibrations” and brought everyone back to their feet, Brian Wilson singing and leading it right up to the standing ovation.
Then the Beach Boys shifted gears back to short, sharp pop hot-rodding: “California Girls,” “All Summer Long,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “Do You Wanna Dance,” “Surfin’ USA,” “Kokomo,” ‘Fun, Fun, Fun.”
It was that, of course — peppy, can’t-miss songs imprinted like a lifelong tan. But the show at times also brought the feeling that we may not see them do this again. However, the new album hit the charts at No. 3 — higher than any previous Beach Boys album — and the show on Saturday had impressive spirit, crispness and power. So, who knows?