CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Touring under the Beach Boys moniker since last year, original member Mike Love, Brian Johnston -- who joined the band in 1965 -- and a backup band visited the Clay Center Sunday night. As part of the Clay Center Presents Series, the group played to an almost sold-out crowd.Surprisingly, Love's voice sounded much as I remembered it from the cassette tapes in my parents' car, clear and high, with a sweet, nasally falsetto.Acting as not just a lead singer but as an emcee of sorts, Love narrated the concert with little witty quips and jokes about getting older, patriotism and the true love of a good vehicle.The audiences couldn't have seemed more pleased as the band worked through favorites like "Surf City," "Surfin' Safari," "Be True to Your School," "Sloop John B," "Barbara Ann" and "Help Me, Rhonda."The Beach Boys also covered many hits of other artists from the decades spanned by their career. Songs like "Do You Want to Dance," "Rock 'n' Roll Music" and their version of The Crystals' "Then He Kissed Me" had the crowd on its feet with little persuasion.Joining his father's band, Christian Love -- Mike Love's son from his second marriage -- played guitar and sang lead on some of the later songs, like "Getcha Back," and on classic Beach Boys' tunes, like "Good Vibrations."
While the band played, a big screen behind them ran old photos, beach scenes, pictures of surfer girls and psychedelic graphics. The screen also lent to what was possibly the weirdest, and yet most poignant, moment of the whole show.After a brief intro from Johnston, the band launched into a heartfelt version of "God Only Knows," replete with lead vocals from the late Carl Wilson. While touching, it bordered a little on the morbid side for my tastes, and brought back instant thoughts of the Coachella reincarnation of Tupac last year.On the big screen, what appeared to be late '70's/early '80's concert footage was spliced in with still shots of Wilson through the years. The vocals were seamlessly dubbed and the video tasteful, but it was still just a tad bit odd.The screen also seemed to contain an overabundance of pictures of young women carrying surfboards and wearing scanty bikinis throughout the show. In fact, most of those young women appeared actually to be of an age to be some of the band members' granddaughters.Love and Johnston were highly complimentary of the acoustics of the Clay Center, saying multiple times how nice it was to perform in a venue with such superior sound quality. Because of the acoustics, they treated the audience to a few songs they do not sing under normal circumstances, including an acapella version of "Their Hearts Were Full of Spring."Overall, the performance was fun and extremely well received. You have to hand it to a band that's five-decade career can still pack auditoriums full of people -- people who want to spend hours listening to songs about girls, cars and surfing. For many, it seemed to be a trip back in time to a life remembered as carefree and wistful.Reach Autumn D.F. Hopkins at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1249.