If the Dallas Cowboys are America's team, then the Beach Boys — who are marking 50 years of fun, fun, fun with a new album and a tour that brought them to the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden on Saturday — are America's band. Granted, they have been more or less a movable oldies jukebox for the last 30 years, at least, but that does not diminish the deathlessness of their songbook or erase the fact that they have provided the aspirational soundtrack for American life, the grand illusion of an eternal summer of sun, surf, hot rods, bikinis, and burger joints.
Though the surviving members — Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and prodigal charter member David Marks — are now septuagenarians, or close to it, they still have a lot of gas in the tank as a live band. Abetted by a nine-piece band, the Beach Boys are still able to re-create the sun-kissed magic of those recordings, if not all the high octaves, and their majestic harmonies sound none the worse for wear after five turbulent decades.
Saturday's show was divided by an intermission into two hour-long sets. The first largely comprised early hits, the songs of innocence — a revved-up "Little Honda", a clam-diggity "Surfin' Safari", a heartstring-tugging "Surfer Girl." Between songs, Love cracked wise about getting old ("This next song is from our Surf's Up album, which came out in 1872") and, never one to put pleasure before business, gave the new album, That's Why God Made the Radio, the hard sell.
The second set focused on songs of experience, the glorious psychedelic barbershop of the Pet Sounds/Smile era — when the band traded the surf-and-turf teen idylls for deeply introspective orchestral maneuvers — and kicked off with a brilliantly rendered trifecta of "Heroes and Villains," "Sloop John B," and "Wouldn't It Be Nice."
Wilson, always a wild card, was in good voice and seemed largely present. The only disappointment, beyond the cheesy burger-joint deco of the stage set and the uninspired stock footage montages of surfers and bikini babes projected behind the band, was "Good Vibrations," arguably not only the greatest song in the Beach Boys songbook but the artistic high-water mark of the '60s. Sadly, neither Wilson nor Love seems capable of pulling it off vocally anymore. Still, even without the cherry on top, it was a pretty epic sundae.