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February 20, 2019

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The Beach Boys showcase their many, many, many hits at Cannery

The Beach Boys

Owen Sweeney / Invision / AP

Bruce Johnston and Mike Love of The Beach Boys perform at American Music Theater on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, in Lancaster, Pa.

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Brian Wilson, with guests Rodriguez and Al Jardine, at the Chelsea on Friday, July 10, 2015, in the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

With their rapid-fire, no-break delivery and massive back catalog of two-minute pop gems, The Beach Boys operate the concert equivalent of a hurry-up offense.

On Saturday night at the Cannery, the tight seven-piece band fronted by smiling mainstays Mike Love and Bruce Johnston rocketed through a tight setlist low on experimentation and high on HPM: hits per minute.

It’s an approach Love has famously embraced since his mid-1960s admonishment of bandleader Brian Wilson not to “(blank) with the formula” of songs about surfing, girls and sunshine that the band had ridden to huge success.

Band members took the stage under cover of darkness to open with 1962’s “Surfin’.” Audience members — many of whom appeared to be septuagenarian Love’s and Johnston’s contemporaries and might have recalled when the song became the band’s first hit — erupted in applause as light filled the stage and music filled the packed half-indoor, half-outdoor casino venue.

“Catch a Wave,” “Little Honda,” “Do It Again,” “Goin’ to the Beach” and “Surfin' Safari” followed in rapid succession, all featuring solid lead vocals by Love. Indeed, Love, who has been wearing baseball caps in concert since the 1970s, has changed the least of any of the surviving original Beach Boys when appearance and vocal quality are taken into account.

During the band’s first short break, Love thanked audience members for coming and joked that as a result, “If we watch our expenditures, we don’t have to worry about getting a real job for a while.”

Johnston’s voice hasn’t survived the twin challenges of passing decades and constant touring as well as Love’s, as evidenced first on his soft singing on the bridge of “Surfer Girl.” Jeffrey Foskett — long associated with Wilson’s touring and recording bands — switched recently to Love and Johnston’s group and shone on each of his leads, the first of which was a buoyant-sounding “Farmer’s Daughter.”

Johnston then offered another far-too-quiet take, this time on “You’re So Good to Me,” a song much better suited to fellow original Beach Boy Al Jardine’s brassy vocal style.

And therein lies an inescapable truth about the modern-day Beach Boys and Wilson’s band, which currently features Jardine and played in Las Vegas in July: Without all surviving members present, it’s clear something is missing.

Love’s vocal absence was palpable as Wilson’s band played “Little Deuce Coupe” and “Good Vibrations” at the Chelsea in the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, and Jardine’s absence left a void as Love’s band tackled “And Then I Kissed Her” and “Help Me, Rhonda.”

The aura of rich band history is similarly diluted by the split of the two musical entities, who functioned as one under the name “The Beach Boys” for a 50th anniversary tour in 2012.

But the nostalgia is intact, as evidenced by the crowd’s enthusiasm for the music, reaction to the vintage footage of the band displayed on video screens flanking the stage and fondness for Hawaiian shirts.

Foskett provided the concert’s high point with his soaring take on “Don’t Worry Baby,” which gave way to Love’s faithful renditions of “409,” “Shut Down” and “I Get Around” before Foskett handled the all-important high-register parts on two other highlights, “In My Room” and “Darlin’.”

In between those tunes, the band followed “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” with an un-ironic rendition of “When I Grow Up (to be a Man),” Wilson’s mid-’60s paean to then-recent adolescence.

The band paid tribute to Carl Wilson — who died in 1998, around the time Jardine left — by musically accompanying video of him singing “Pet Sounds” standout “God Only Knows” on the video screens.

George Harrison, who died three years later, received similar tribute treatment in Love’s non-album track “Pisces Brothers,” penned about his time with Harrison while on a spiritual trip to India in 1968. Given the song’s nostalgia mission, Love can be forgiven for rhyming “Krishna” with “missed ya.”

The hit parade resumed its faithful, fast march in the form of “Good Vibrations,” “Sloop John B” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” from the band’s most creative period, then “And Then I Kissed Her,” “California Girls,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “Surfin U.S.A.” and “Barbara Ann,” the latter of which featured two young girls donning “California Girl” T-shirts who capably handled some of the vocals.

Amid those songs came the third and final tribute of the night, to original drummer Dennis Wilson, who drowned in 1983. He was shown onscreen singing “Do You Wanna Dance,” not one of his many excellent self-penned songs, but the band’s first hit to feature him on lead vocals.

No more than 90 minutes had passed when Johnston announced the penultimate song, but the sheer quantity of hits made the show feel much longer. Johnston’s mention of “Kokomo” drew the night’s loudest cheer, and the band’s run through its final No. 1 hit — featured in the Tom Cruise movie “Cocktail,” itself a milepost on the nostalgia highway — had many audience members swaying and singing along.

The band closed with “Fun, Fun, Fun,” and the fact that it was a hit a full quarter-decade before “Kokomo” served as a subtle reminder of the band’s remarkable longevity. Audience members filed out smiling and happy, proof that Love’s embrace-the-hits formula retains its potency.

Brian Sandford is a copy editor at the Las Vegas Sun.

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