It’s been five decades since the Beach Boys topped the charts with hits like Surfer Girl, Surfin’ USA, and Catch a Wave. Can their music do justice to the Hong Kong Philharmonic? Does it still resonate with modern audiences?
The Beach Boys performed with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra on 18 and 19 March 2016 at Queen Elizabeth Stadium on Hong Kong Island.
I wasn’t sure what kind of a crowd a Beach Boys concert would draw in Hong Kong. I didn’t know if they had ever been popular here.
The crowd was a bit younger than I had expected. It was mostly expats, and I suppose they were mostly Americans … but certainly not everyone was American. At least my two friends weren’t …
Entering the venue there was more buzz than usual at a performance in Hong Kong. There was an undeniable excitement in the air.
The concert began right on time with an overture by the Hong Kong Philharmonic, which performed a medley of what I assume were Beach Boy hits. I only recognized about two of the numbers.
The string section was a bit raspy. Visions of the disastrous Rufus Wainwright concert I suffered through a few weeks earlier danced in my head. I feared I was in for a long night.
And then it happened.
The Beach Boys strode onto the stage, and suddenly everything was right with the world.
As the Beach Boys burst into “Surfin’ Safari”, I was transported back to my teenage years.
The music was exactly as I remembered it except it was much louder, it was much more defined, lights were flashing, and there were live performers on stage singing and playing it.
Other than that, I could have been a 13-year-old sitting in my bedroom in Oakland, California, listening to a 45 on the record player I got for Christmas.
Much in spite of myself, I cried my way through “Surfer Girl”, one of my favourite Beach Boys songs. I sang along to “Help Me, Rhonda”, “California Girls”, “Catch a Wave”, and “I Get Around”.
And this is what sets a class act apart from the pack. Well into the show, one of the performers played a trick on the audience.
He matter-of-factly explained that the show would be divided into two parts, with a 25 minute intermission in between.
“But before we break for intermission, we want to perform one last song for you.” They played “Sloop John B”, and it electrified the audience.
And then, when the audience stood up to applaud before heading for the refreshment stands, the Beach Boys launched into “Little Deuce Coup” – one of the best numbers in a night full of great numbers.
Suddenly everyone was dancing.
I’m not sure what happened during intermission – did the violinists remember to tune their violins? It was like a different orchestra.
As disappointing as the overture was, the Philharmonic’s rendition of “In My Room” was stellar. A haunting, lilting melody, it was the perfect juxtaposition for what was to follow.
The Beach Boys’ first song was “California Dreaming” by the Mommas and the Pappas. I’ve always loved that song, but I must admit, the Beach Boys rendition was better than the original.
Next up was “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, but no tricks were needed to get the audience to stand up this time.
Everyone just sort of stood up like Pavlov’s dog and started dancing. Me (and one of my friends) included. And we didn’t sit back down.
Hit After Hit
“Barbara Ann”, “Don’t Worry, Baby”, “Surfin’ USA” – it was hit after hit … and a few songs I had never heard before such as “Disney Girls” and “Pisces Brothers”, both of which I totally enjoyed.
My personal favourite Beach Boys song next to “Surfer Girl” has always been “Be True to Your School” because it always conjures up memories of a key event that took place when I was in high school.
It was my senior year, we were playing a basketball game against our arch rivals, both teams were undefeated, first place was at stake, and our song girls and cheerleaders performed a joint routine to this song at half time (it only happened that once).
We were given mimeographed copies of the lyrics so we could sing along. And for the record, we won the game (but we didn’t win the championship).
God Only Knows
While some songs could have stood on their own, others really profited from the orchestral backup. “God Only Knows” was a good example.
The Hong Kong Philharmonic totally did it justice, adding depth, volume, and nuance. The Beach Boys and the Philharmonic seemed to have coalesced.
The result was pure magic. Maybe they should perform together more often.
I mentally checked off each song as it was performed, trying to figure out how much more concert was left.
When the concert was “over”, the non-Americans in the crowd started heading for the exits (one of my two friends included).
“But it’s not over yet,” I whispered to the one of my two friends still seated. “Keep clapping! Keep cheering. They haven’t done ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ yet. They always save the best song for the encore!”
We did … and they did …
And everything was right with the world …