You've never seen such unabashed joy on the faces of so many boomers. They sang. They danced. They got hit in the head with beach balls. They all wore the sort of silly grins that, after a certain age, only come out at weddings or for the grandchildren.
Never underestimate the power of nostalgia. It can inspire a crowd to plop down upwards of $125 to see a group that is one-fifth its original number. Or render the spectacle of two nearly 70-year-old men dressed in loungewear and singing songs about catching waves in cartoon-high voices perfectly normal.
The Beach Boys may not have had youth at the helm onstage at Robinson — Mike Love, the 68-year-old leader and only original member, stood wooden for all but a few leg kicks, limiting his movement onstage to little more than spirit fingers and tentative tambourine shaking — but the group's harmonies live forever. Love and 67-year-old Bruce Johnston, who joined the band in 1965 (he replaced Glen Campbell), didn't always have the wind to nail their parts, though Love's nasally, forever-young vocals were right enough of the time that one couldn't help but consider taking up transcendental meditation. Even when they were wrong, it didn't matter much. In multi-part harmonies, there's always someone to pick up the slack. Or carry the show.
Those doing the carrying — Tim Bonhomme, keyboards; John Cowsill, percussion; Randell Kirsch, bass; Christian Love, guitar, and Scott Totten, guitar — might be the second best Beach Boys impersonators around (I saw Brian Wilson work with the Wondermints several years back in Dallas; can't nobody do it better). Like any good coverers, they let the songs speak for themselves. Aside from a few brief guitar solos, there wasn't any showboating. Still, even hidden on the band's second row, Kirsch — tall, gaunt and pale and wearing John Lennon sunglasses with a black cowboy hat — managed to stand out, and not just because he looked a bit like the guard on “Cool Hand Luke.” He provided the bulk of the high harmony, and like those original Wilson brothers' harmonies, his voice often sounded like a helium-drunk yodel.
That this was an Arkansas Symphony Orchestra gig will likely be hard to remember in the coming months. Of course the ASO made everything sound bigger, but often bigger just sounded superfluous. The orchestral rendering of “In My Room,” sans Beach Boys, was boring, but that's a source material problem more than anything. Only in the second act, when we got five songs from “Pet Sounds” and two from “SMiLE”/“Smiley/Smile” (“Heroes & Villains,” “Sloop John B,” “Wouldn't It Be Nice,” “Here Today,” “You Still Believe in Me,” “God Only Knows” and “Good Vibrations”) did the collaboration really come alive. Those songs allowed the symphony space to fill, rather than simply ornament. Brian Wilson wrote them, of course, at the height of his compositional genius, just as he was slipping away. Hearing them performed live by nearly 70 players was enough to make you consider alternate realities.