Time stood still Friday night in Alto, as the Spencer Theater for the Performing Arts was transformed into Surf City, and the packed house all took a thrilling ride in a ’34 Woody, grabbed their boards, donned their baggies and bikinis and took that one last ride on that oh-so elusive absolutely perfect wave.
A rare slice of rock and roll history was laid before the appreciative audience who literally rocked the house and danced in the aisles to the classic rock sounds of Dean Torrence and the Surf City All-Stars.
The show, of course, was billed as The Jan and Dean Show, but Jan Berry, the creative force behind the duo’s many chart-topping successes, passed on in 2004, the last 40 years of his life living with effects of severe brain damage caused from a 1966 automobile accident.
Left behind was Torrence, who for decades continued to take the stage – often at great personal cost – to bring Jan and Dean’s music to legions of fans, many of whom never had the chance to see a pre-aphasia Jan Berry sing his intricately constructed ballads of surf, sun, fast cars and beautiful girls in his always youthful vigor, but instead were treated to a wrenching show of a man succumbing to countless physical ailments that ultimately left him seated on stage, yet still adored, for the duo’s last performances.
“The fans loved him,” Torrence said Friday of his late partner and friend. “No matter what … even if he was just sitting there … they loved him and would give him ovation after ovation.”
Well, no one was seated for long Friday at the Spencer, as a Torrence, still looking remarkably young, promised to take the audience on an unforgettable, waxed-up long-board ride of their lives.
Backed by The Surf City All-Stars – Gary Griffin on keyboards, Don Raymond on guitar, “Kowalski” on drums, Chris Farmer on bass and an astounding Philip Bardowell on guitar – Torrence opened the show with one of J&D’s biggest hits, “Ride the Wild Surf,” with it’s alluring premise that was at the core of so many of the duo’s most common theme – a great time of smiles, laughs, and riding that last perfect wave into the shore for yet another party to begin.
After a fast quarter-mile dash to “Drag City,” in which Torrence needlessly alerted the audience that this was a “sing-along” show – at times it seemed everybody in the audience knew every word as well as the man who recorded them – it was more fast cars with “Little Deuce Coupe,” “409,”“Shut Down,” and “I Get Around” -- all ported-and-relieved classics made famous primarily by fellow Southern California rockers The Beach Boys, but several of which also made it on to J&D records of the early 60’s.
The surfari then returned back to the beach with several Beach Boys numbers – performed with a certain gusto attainable only because of Torrence’s great respect for the band, as well as several of the All-Stars, at various points, being members of the Beach Boys – such as “Surfer Girl,” “In My Room,” and the truly beautiful Brian Wilson composition, “Don’t Worry Baby,” featuring Farmer on lead vocals.
Unlike the early J&D days, when Torrence provided the distinctive falsetto vocals so unique to Jan and Dean – and in later shows was forced to carry the lead given Berry’s faltering memory and shaky ability to remember his own songs – on Friday Torrence seemed happy to allow his band mates to carry most of the lead vocal burden, pitching in when necessary, but seemingly completely happy as a rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist.
Never really a strong lead singer, Torrence was wise to allow Bardowell – who spent several years touring with the Beach Boys – handle the bulk of the lead vocal work in a stunning fashion that led audience members to shed their seats to dance in the Spencer aisles.
It wasn’t all sun and surf; a number of songs touched on other big 60’s and 70’s rock and roll hits, “I Can See Clearly Now,” “Let’s Dance,” “Gimme Some Lovin’,” “Margaritaville” and “Runaround Sue,” and more Beach Boy classics like “Do You Want to Dance,” “Dance, Dance, Dance,” “Let’s Do it Again,” and the timeless “Kokomo.”
Torrence himself delivered the lead vocals to the landmark J&D classics “Little Old Lady From Pasadena,” and the haunting life imitates art anthem, “Dead Man’s Curve,” which predated Berry’s near fatal collision by several years, but literally forecast, almost exactly, the spot of the songwriter’s near demise, and the tongue-and-cheek “Sidewalk Surfin.”
Perhaps feeding on the love flowing from the audience, The All-Stars continued to add more songs to their already burgeoning set, going heavy on the Beach Boys’ “California Girls, “I Can Hear Music,” “God Only Knows,” and the ever-popular “Help Me Rhonda,” which again brought the audience to their feet, hands in the air, the aisles filled with dancing.
From that point on, the Spencer seats were vacant as Torrence again sang a fantastic lead on “Surf City,” with its promise of ‘two girls for every boy,” and the Beach Boys’ wildly popular “Surfin’ USA,” and “Barbara Ann,” which Torrence himself provided vocals on the original recording.
Fittingly, the amazing show ended with “Fun, Fun, Fun,” which perfectly summed up the response from an exhausted, but delighted audience, many of whom expressed it was one of the better shows they had ever attended at the Spencer.
But clearly, the man who had the most fun during the night was Torrence, who looked remarkably at ease and genuinely comfortable as he greeted a long line of admirers after the show.
Freed from the responsibility of tending after Berry before, during and after shows, Torrence performed like a man who finally, in an act of joyful bliss, had actually found that perfect wave, and was determined to let “that one last ride” never end.