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Beach Boys and Ziggy Marley play back-to-back Petco Park shows: ‘Good Vibrations’ meet ‘Rastaman Vibration’

Ziggy Marley onstage at Petco Park on Sunday, May 30, 2021.
Ziggy Marley paid stirring tribute to his legendary father, Bob Marley, at Petco Park on Sunday. He was accompanied by a polished nine-piece band that featured ace Jamaican bassist Paul “Pablo” Stennett.
(Tuff Gong Worldwide)

The two stadium concerts offered a welcome return to live music for thousands of socially distanced fans

Over the past two months, Petco Park has often been a place of celebration as the San Diego Padres have won a majority of their home games on the way to earning the most wins in the National League this season.

Over Memorial Day weekend, Petco Park was the site of two distinctly different kinds of celebrations as it hosted performances by the surf-rocking Beach Boys on Saturday and the reggae-celebrating Ziggy Marley on Sunday. So far as can be determined, these were the first stadium concerts of 2021 to be held in front of live audiences in California, if not the nation, albeit both with social distancing and significantly reduced seating capacities.

The quality of the music varied greatly from night to night — and even from the first set to the second in the case of the Beach Boys’ decidedly uneven performance. But the festive spirit at both shows demonstrated how very eager music fans are to attend concerts again, in person and in real time, as a shared experience. It also reinforced how life-affirming it is to sway, dance, cheer, stand, sit and sing together with friends and strangers, and to feed off the energy of a band whose members in turn feed off the response of the audience.

Make that a greatly scaled-down audience. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, which are scheduled to be largely lifted on June 15, capacity at the 42,445-seat Petco Park for the two weekend concerts was around 7,000 each. Separate sections of the stadium were reserved for those who had been vaccinated or recently tested negative for the coronavirus. Masking was required of all entering, although — depending on what section you were in — not when seated.

Seven of Marley’s 10 band members wore masks onstage Sunday, the exceptions being Marley himself and vocal accompanists Natasha Pierce and Tracy Hazzard. Conversely, none of the 10 Beach Boys members wore masks Saturday, although lead singer Mike Love did perform his recently released song “This Too Shall Pass.” He introduced it by saying: “You ever feel like we’ve been grounded the last year?”

Well-intentioned if clunky, the coronavirus-inspired number — which was built on a vintage Chuck Berry-styled guitar progression — included the lyrics “Shaking hands is a thing of the past, due to social distancing.”

The Beach Boys at Petco Park, May 29, 2021
The Beach Boys performed at Petco Park on Saturday. Shown from left are saxophonist/flutist Randy Leago, singer/keyboardist Bruce Johnston, guest vocalist Mark McGrath, keyboardist Tim Bonhomme, singer Mike Love and guest singer, guitarist and drummer John Stamos.
(Sandy Huffaker for The San Diego Union-Tribune
)

Love, 80, is the only founding member in this iteration of the Beach Boys. Apart from Bruce Johnston — who joined the then-4-year-old band in 1965, left in 1972, and has been back on board since 1978 — the current edition is a group of hired hands. It includes Love’s son, Christian, 52, music director Scott Totten (whose tenure began in 2000), and drummer John Cowsill (who joined the same year).

The first half of Saturday’s concert was delivered in a near-blur as the band rushed through 20 songs in barely 52 minutes, starting with “Do It Again” and concluding with “I Get Around.” Vintage film clips from the 1960s underscored the long-stroll-down-memory-lane feel of the show.

Mike Love’s once-supple voice sounded flat and strained for much of the concert. However, like estranged Beach Boys’ mastermind Brian Wilson — who performs here Aug. 31 at The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park and whose own vocal abilities have also diminished over the years — Love has wisely surrounded himself with far more capable singers to handle the Beach Boys’ trademark harmonies and do much of the heavy lifting on more challenging numbers.

If that at times made Love seem largely like a bystander when his son, Johnston, Cowsill, guitarist Brian Eichenberger and guests John Stamos and Sugar Ray front man Mark McGrath handled lead vocals, well, so be it. Thankfully, the pacing of Saturday’s second set was more focused and less frenetic. The tender versions of “In My Room,” “God Only Knows” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” nearly compensated for the seven-minute rendition of Sugar Ray’s crowd-pleasing 1997 hit “Fly,” the longest selection of the night.

One of the stranger moments of the night came in the form of “Rockaway Beach,” a 1977 song by punk-rock pioneers the Ramones with a Beach Boys-inspired surf-rock chorus. Hearing the Beach Boys perform it — replete with a shouted “One-two-three-four!” mid-song exhortation — was strangely endearing, even though (or, perhaps, because) it was a near-total misfire.

“Rockaway Beach” was preceded by “It’s OK,” a 1976 song co-written by Mike Love and Beach Boys’ mastermind Brian Wilson. The two are reportedly considering reuniting later this year to mark the 60th anniversary of this long-fractious band, which last saw Wilson and Love reteam for the Beach Boys’ 50th anniversary tour.

Whether or not that will be a sound idea remains to be determined, especially given how Love — who owns the legal rights to the Beach Boys’ name — abruptly pulled the plug on a proposed extension of that reunion tour a decade ago. The title of the band’s groundbreaking 1966 chart-topper, “Good Vibrations,” has grown increasingly ill-suited to describe the relationship between Love and Wilson, who are cousins, although Saturday’s performance of it was a highpoint.

In any decade, the Beach Boys’ best songs — nearly all written or co-written by the brilliant but troubled Wilson in the 1960s — are classics of their time. Many of them are custom-made for a nostalgic trek back to a bygone era when striped shirts, hot rods and “two girls for every boy” were the order of the day.

As such, they stood in marked contrast to the 16 classics Ziggy Marley and his band performed Sunday — nearly all from the 1970s — which still sound so fresh and vital that they have handily transcended their time.

 Ziggy Marley sang with consistent passion Sunday at Petco Park
A charismatic performer, Ziggy Marley sang with consistent passion Sunday at Petco Park, where he and his band paid tribute to the rich legacy of Ziggy’s father, Bob Marley.
(Tuff Gong Worldwide/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

But that’s no surprise.

All 16 songs were written or co-written by his late father, reggae icon Bob Marley, and the concert was an impassioned tribute to him by his oldest son. Moreover, this wasn’t simply a “greatest hits” exercise, since Ziggy Marley opted to feature the same set list that his father had at the elder Marley’s highly regarded Tokyo concert with his band, The Wailers, in April,1979.

That, incidentally, was the same year Ziggy Marley, who turned 52 last October, began his musical career at the age of 11. His decision to now perform concerts honoring his father’s rich musical legacy might — in the hands of a less gifted artist — seem like a crass attempt at cashing in. (Bob Marley was just 37 when he died 40 years ago this month.)

But these songs are in his blood and are the foundation of his family’s artistic legacy. From his opening number Sunday, the percolating “Rastaman Vibration,” to the show-closing “Jamming” 90 minutes later, Marley performed with consistent vigor and commitment, giving every note he sang his all.

And when he essayed such gems from the first half of the 1970s as “Get Up, Stand Up” and “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry),” their messages of the quest for universal compassion and equality sounded as timely as ever. Their musical durability, which was enhanced by a well-balanced sound mix, is a testament to their melodic and rhythmic appeal, and to just how well-constructed they remain.

The charismatic Marley, whose dreadlocks extend past his waist, didn’t say much about his father to the audience. But he didn’t need to because the songs said it all. Time and again, Marley elevated his father’s songs and made them his own. His full-bodied singing on “Concrete Jungle,” “The Heathen,” “Exodus” “Is This Love?” and other favorites reveled in the sheer joy of making music.

That spirit was intensified by the crisp, uncluttered sound of his band, who played with verve and pinpoint dynamic precision throughout. Standouts included guitarist Takeshi Akimoto, whose solos were by turns delicate and biting, and bassist Paul “Pablo” Stennett, whose playing was so propulsive and imaginative he could almost have carried the instrumentation singlehandedly.


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