Summer means new love: White Oak’s opening is beachy keen

by Ryan Snyder

Mike Love of the Beach Boys can still rock the island wear. (photo by Ryan Snyder)

Rain might have loomed in the forecast all day Sunday before the inaugural performance at the White Oak Amphitheatre, but Greensboro’s newest live music venue was rockin’ and a-rollin’ thanks to an afternoon of almost poetic weather. More than 4,000 were in attendance to experience two hours of the Beach Boys, as the Mike Love- and Bruce Johnston-led band put on a set that included more than 35 of the band’s biggest hits, some surprises, a few dry-as-sand age jokes by the 70-year-old Love and beach balls. Lots of beach balls

Being the city’s first permanent outdoor concert facility, the venue itself still sort of has the feel of a pre-fab music festival. Impermanent lavatory facilities dot the periphery and the strips of and half-moon swaths of graded turf peer down over the preferred seating area. It’s not overly loud, but also doesn’t need to be. It’s cozy without being cramped, and you feel like you’re right on top of the performer from almost any spot in the venue, unlike Verizon Amphitheatre or Time Warner Pavilion, or even Koka Booth Amphitheatre, where venue sprawl detracts from the experience.

On the other hand, with the state’s other larger, native music amphitheaters maintaining fairly liberal policies towards outside comfort items (Verizon, Time Warner and Koka Booth both allow bottled water and small lawn chairs), it was a bit of a surprise to see people with something as small as folding bleacher seats being turned away. The “no chairs” policy seemed a little draconian, especially for the disproportionately older contingent in attendance who might not have the necessary limberness to enjoy the fluffy turf like some Still Cruisin’-era Beach Boys fans. The White Oak is a new thing, however, and policies tend to adapt to patron needs over time. Those who were able to, however, could stretch out in the thick carpet of pristine mock bent grass that, if you were trying to advance a golf ball down the fairway, would require no less than a gap wedge.

With Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts all around, the Beach Boys might have been the perfect band on the perfect day to open the Greensboro Coliseum’s newly cultivated oasis in a parking lot; a guaranteed draw for an older, affluent crowd and a band in the midst of their 50 th anniversary themselves. The first half of their set played something like a jukebox in a Pismo Beach boardwalk bar in the ’70s, focusing mainly on the band’s sunny, sugary odes to cars, beaches and beauties. The band opened with “Surfin’”, their first hit from 1961, and nearly every song until a stirring rendition of “God Only Knows” sounded lifted straight from an old 45.

As much as Love’s placeholder version of the Beach Boys feel like a tribute act, they were genuine in comparison to the utter cheesiness of openers Sleeping Booty. Their endless medley of gimmicky, mom-approved soft rock and oldies covers masked the ephemerality of the majority of the Beach Boys set in contrast.

There was no surer signifier of the brevity of the band’s catalog than by distractions created by the pop-up storm of beach balls that fell from the sky in place of raindrops. With just a few bouncing around, it was cute and good for ambiance. As they spread like the herpes of concert favors, each outbreak worse than the last, it got to be bothersome and distracting from the show. You could catch one wafting toward you from the corner of your eye, observe its descent with a return volley primed and miss a good portion of the sub-two minute “Little Deuce Coupe.”

Around the same time the squall of inflated plastic was quelled, the set list made sharp turn toward familiarity. Love shared a mic with his son Christian for vocals on a cover of Frankie Valli’s “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?” with Johnston and bandleader Scott Totten joining harmonies for “When I Grow Up” and “Don’t Worry Baby.” Love introduced “Summer In Paradise,” oddly enough, with a joke about trysts with John Stamos’ mother, amidst a plethora of riffs on aging and napping backstage.

More attention was paid to the Beach Boys’ crisp musical qualities as the show progressed, with Johnston leading with the keys on “In My Room” and “Sloop John B,” though none of the band’s instrumentals were included in the set. A climatic feeling permeated an exhilarating run of “Good Vibrations,” “Help Me Rhonda” and the roar-inspiring “Kokomo,” and they could have very well brought the show to a finish there. A few misplaced covers that included an encore cover of “Back In the USSR” with a gigantic American flag in the background, however, zapped the crowd’s waning energy as they ended much in the same way they began, with a hurried “Fun, Fun, Fun.”

The hope that Love would adopt a more adventurous spirit in his 50 th year of playing these songs might have been a misplaced one, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that the band without Jardine or Wilson is just a shell without an oyster, but there’s an undeniable charm to hearing so many of the tunes that helped shape contemporary pop. That it was a brand-new, shared experience was like sand between your toes.