Live: Heroes and Villains. The Beach Boys, Royal Albert Hall.

Not since Watch The Throne was playacted out earlier on in the year has an evening in the company of one solitary band of entertainers proven so distinctly divided. It's arguably to be expected, for Mike Love is as divisive a character as one could care to imagine: known as much for that notorious stool-exhibitioning episode as he is for his heinously soppy lyricisms, that following tomorrow night's repeat performance at Wembley Arena founding members Al Jardine and Brian bloody Wilson are to be fired from their own band only serves to reaffirm Love's positioning as – and I put it both bluntly and sincerely – a total shite. And one, seemingly, that the gentle lapping of time is unable to purely flush away. Bad, bad vibrations on an eve that should surely see the surf rock doods dodder out on a high, then.

Ambling out about Belgravia on a grimly dank September night – the sort to make you wish we all really could be California girls – the feel is immediately of limply ghoulish James Whale direction, with limp being the operative word. German busloads pile out and file straight in toward the unfeasibly exorbitant merchandise – £40 a beach towel. An official The Beach Boys beach towel. Forty pounds. Practical exaction to smear off even the smiliest of smiles on an already gloomy soir. And it's not the only cause for people to feel as though they're being somewhat mugged off tonight. Let us begin then, as do they, with the first part of the show; the early bird menu, if you will.

Emerging to a rhythmic battery; a hullabaloo of percussion that's appositely harmonious and thus in keeping with that which is to come, The Beach Boys are introduced one by one, the last standing (and when I say standing, I needless to say mean sitting) Wilson drawing copious amounts of whooping. Yet the band's chief songwriter and, one may argue, only true great is visibly ostracised. Flung far out stage-right, he will spend approximately half of this first segment removed from all visibility altogether as his slab-like features are drenched in shady darkness. The lighting is quite brilliant throughout, as it exposes every idiosyncratic alcove and organ pipe of one of Britain's finest venues. It's something of a shame, therefore, that it should be so significantly less attentive to the band itself. A certain someone, though, hogs the spotlight in every sense. And who's there where Brian once stood stage-centre? Love, of course. In a bedazzling gold blazer. The most talentless, and with it loathsome pantomimic villain of them all recites the inescapable evil of the piece. He is to the show what the red tops are to the written word; what the recession is to this country in tediously reported economic crisis: a nudnik. Evidently our joyous recession hasn't hit their staunch acolytes too hard, however – the Hall is almost at capacity, despite tickets averaging out somewhere around the £95 mark – but for the most part we're here to bask in the unhampered brilliance of Mr. Brian Wilson. Not the showboating, all singing and little dancing ringleader of great torment before us.

As this unremittingly surf-waxed set wears on (and as songs of the same key and chord fluidly crash into one another against visuals of California generica, it can prove rather wearying without the plenteous crap cut) you begin to wonder what the heck Mike Love is to do once he's disposed of they that supposedly inconvenience him so. Their backing band – comprising urbane Ayoade-alike Darian Sahanaja on ever exuberant percussions, animalistic and seemingly Jim Henson-styled drummer John Cowsill, and the unsung, twelve-strung hero of the tour, Jeff Foskett – is Brian Wilson's backing band. Surely if he goes, they go. Moreover, the impish Jardine fishes most of the finest moments out from the general dreariness of these initial ninety minutes. It is most likely for that reason and that reason only that he too has been given the order of Love's build-up boot. Al's quips of their audience no longer "rushing out to the record store" but of heading to "oops – the download store" may grate, although not as much as those of Love infuriate. "This is a song from Surf's Up, an album we released in 1872" a choice quote ahead of the Manilow mawk of Disney Girls, courtesy of the similarly soon-to-become-redundant Bruce Johnston.

But crucially, Love's voice is abysmal and is the one to have aged most drastically. He wails, and whines like the petulant turd he's been shown up as time and time again, and conducts himself as though a geriatric Redcoat. The archetype of one of Butlins' '60s throwback weekenders, were enough of such stalwarts still standing for such an event to even be a possibility. Alternatively, the reptilian cretin could relocate to Las Vegan casino for an interminable residency. With all the arthritic gesturing and shattered vocals he's fully qualified for such a post and, with tonight's show being filmed, the overall feel isn't too far away either. It's a move that feels a little contrived; another commercial ruse to awaken the wallet. A sort of it really happened! And here's conclusive, unedited (by which we mean see get-out small print) proof it happened. It shattered not a solitary preconception, but it darn well happened.

Thus Love causes much of the initial excitement over the reunion to swiftly dissipate, such is the strength of the abhorrence to his megalomaniacal schemes. That this exercising of undue power be backed up by happy-clappy HD imagery of the band recording the entirely inessential sunshine-pop superfluity of latest LP, That's Why God Made The Radio, only heightens the distaste engendered by the odious and self-promulgated leader of the pack. And if you'd not already twigged it, it's a distaste that festers in your ear canals every time he sinks to his knees to caterwaul what sounds as though it may morph into Lulu's godawful Shout. Less Muppets Show and more Sesame Street muppet, Love flatters to deceive only to bring upon himself a whole lotta loathing. That he once plotted a solo album entitled Mike Love, Not War speaks volumes too of his entirely unfounded superiority complex, and also of his sheer stupidity. The patent hatred is thinly veiled here, and he's the one cause of conflict. Even in subtle details: this first segment is a fair sight longer, despite lagging miles behind in every respect. It certainly substantiates the theory that The Beach Boys were nothing but Pet Sounds and SMiLE, plus mongrel-like surf extras. Certainly for whatever reason it was that God made man make Radio, it categorically wasn't to air the atrocities of their latest.

The rabid whooping returns though, as Wilson is proverbially wheeled out for the loveably maudlin Surfer Girl, "a slow dance for all the lovely ladies" Love intones, his words imbued with a creepy leer. Throughout he goes on to wiggle suggestive digits at doting obsessives down the front and you sense that were they not to reciprocate this wholly phoney sense of affection, they too may be on the end of a PR rouse of baseless castigation. Heck, he'd probably have you ejected, or more severe still made redundant at a firm you established in the first place. The gross schmaltz of Wendy ensues (a choice Love lyric the oddly emotionless "I never thought a guy could cry/ 'Til you made it with another guy") and is most probably better suited to the shamelessly Americanised grotesqueness of Wembley Arena. As with all surf ditties, mercifully, it is at least efficiently set in motion and speedily dispatched.

But what of Wilson? Well, astonishingly, it would appear that Brian's been taking life lessons from the fantasies of F. Scott Fitzgerald, as he looks and sounds considerably more vivacious than he did this time last year. More so, even, than the majority of those here. For although his days of surfing may be numbered having hit an age at which he longer has to contemplate the niceties of being older from the lowly vantage point of youth, you can't help but believe his puzzled reaction to his unfair dismissal: "We are out here having so much fun", he proffered just this last week. His songs shall live on though, as do those of his dearly departed siblings (a lamentably non-holographic Carl later croons away to a mildly lacklustre God Only Knows, whilst their tribute to Dennis entails the harrowing lyrical pertinence of Forever) and in assuming a role that's significantly less vocal, it would appear as though he has found a new lease of life. Even though chained up almost way out stage-right and momentarily out of sight too, he may look disinterested when his vocal duties diminish yet he roars to the fore when his time comes. As though spurred on by the conspicuous conflicts within the group, he's a jolty mover with a point to explicitly prove. And by heck does he do so in the second half, for although my granddad left midway through the '66 World Cup Final, to scoot off now would be commensurately ill-advised.

To revert to the first for a further moment though, that most songs sound as they once would've is a great testament to the 'Boys' voices. Some songs brushed up a touch with a shiny gloss, it's new material that truly flops in comparison. They'd best hope they rake in enough dollar on the tour so as not to have to rely on any further sales of a record that somehow sold 61,000 copies in its first week stateside, for Isn't It Time is doo-wop dross at its most execrable. More post-pub baritone yowl than cloudless barbershop harmony, it's something of a low. Unsurprisingly therefore, it inspires little interaction onstage and even less reaction off it. Only a cover of The Crystals' Then I Kissed Her has legs Stena Lifted from seats, before Please Let Me Wonder has us sat back down again – predictable as the sodding tide.

Poignancy is achieved with Kiss Me, Baby as Brian's dulcet drones are backed by striking footage from Operation Smile, a cleft lip correction charity in operation from Venezuela to Vietnam. He of the freakishly squeaky falsetto, Foskett, brings prowess with the absolutely poifect Don't Worry Baby, The Beach Boys becoming their very own backing band – arguably the bestest of all time. Be True To Your School, though, proves thoroughly depressing: Team GB graphics interspersed with monochromatic pics of youthful founding members demonstrate the lasting allure to boys in bands, yes, but that along with the phenomenon of ageing that's as inexorable within existence as Mike Love is to The Beach Boys' enduring legacy. As he goes on to grumble something incomprehensible about fifty years, it's at times like this that it feels as though we've been sat here for somewhere around that period. Though that they play for three hours-plus is an Olympian feat of endurance. That we make it through, too, is something of an achievement. And for all the high five-0s, strategically placed handkerchief posturing, and naff sax solos they bring it all back with Get Around. Tacked onto the end of one of many medleys (of which there are uncountable amounts) they get away with it. All of it. Brian waltzes off without a wave, leaving Love to soak up the fervour. Let's hope he's saturated on the stuff, 'cause it's the last he's a-gettin'.

David Marks, Love's only associate once he surely unsuccessfully disbands the band this weekend, maintains the crystalline surf vibe with a bluesy solo during a necessarily long interval, ensuring the arthritis staves off. Elsewhere onstage, pedalboards are frantically dried down. The lights then dim, and arise upon a glorious shift in emphasis. Huddled about Wilson's grand piano, this is, as they say, where the magic happens. Love may be draped over the thing as though the honcho of the Hefner estate, but his time has been and gone both within the context of his career and with regard to the evening as a whole. This becomes the Brian Wilson show, and it's baroque pop re-sculpted by the shaking hands of its maker. A hi-fi shift, it sees The Beach Boys graduate from insouciant surfers to mature seafarers as they rock the rolling undulations of Sail On, Sailor. Brian's still beached out wide right, although his role is unmistakably central. As are those of their fringe players: Foskett, although most notably the pivotal Scott Totten who scrupulously conducts the luscious harmonies of a celestial Our Prayer. It sets the tone. SMiLE tracklisting is adhered to as its a cappella charms segue into the frisky whistles and skiffle bop of Heroes and Villains.

Revelatory family photos back our newfound protagonist – the sort usually reserved for Bacchic wedding receptions as he finds footing, only to slip into the psychedelic lulling of I Just Wasn't Made For These Times. "I keep looking for a place to fit in/ Where I can speak my mind", it begins and, sadly, even in this grand 61-song finale, it's too true. It prompts an impromptu standing ovation in Wilson's honour, as for every notch the sound is now loosened he buckles up and carries us gently on through. When Love dips back in on California Saga, the mood dips with it. Similarly, their all Papas take on California Dreamin' proves something of a snooze. Although these serve their purpose in again elucidating the disparity between the richness of Wilson's compositional skills and the drab saccharine with which Love seasons the surf, and In My Room justifies every second of those three years spent lost in the snug warmth of his bed.

Although the detestation simmering beneath the surface continues to bubble at the back of the mind. It almost makes you respect Oasis for allowing their brotherly hostilities to prevent the production of further material, a feeling Brian doesn't exactly hold against his dear brothers. That aforesaid brace of God Only Knows and Forever serves as a flinch of a nod to the fragility of life, with the latter in particular drawing attention to the uncertainties of our very sentience. "So I'm goin' away/ Mm but not forever/ Na na na na/ I gotta love you any old way/ Forever", soothes Denny via the medium of VHS and right here; right now it seems a glaring lesson Mike Love really ought to have learnt by this point in time. Chills ascend the spine, and a solitary tear trickles down the cheek. It's more beautiful than you could ever envisage, as the infrangible Wilson unity again seems concentratedly central to the successes of The Beach Boys. As such, again, God Only Knows what Mike Love will be without his ousted cousin.

Sloop John B becomes Wouldn't It Be Nice in one of the loveliest transitions I've yet to experience, before the Good Vibrations begin to resound about the 'Hall's annular balconies. Wilson now in a flaxen, faux sunlight it plays upon his meticulously coiffed hair as he feels "somehow closer now", even from our lofty loge. Its various breakdowns and uplifting middle eight revelatory all over again, we ride a wave of great elation right on into a majestic California Girls. We're up, and by God the surf moves are out. We're living a glorified '60s, and it's a vertiginous high life up here – one now accompanied by the customary stills of retro, bikini-clad totty. Be still Brian's quivering fingers.

The good times continue to roll with Help Me, Rhonda, during which not even another saxophone solo – this time somehow redolent of woeful glam stalwarts Slade – can dampen the glee. Covers of Chuck Berry's Rock and Roll Music and of Bobby Freeman's Do You Wanna Dance? bring some rockabilly commotion, although it's Surfin' USA that reigns supreme within this quintessentially British institution. Star-spangled banners aflutter, it's almost enough to stir a sense of patriotism to a country to which one may never otherwise long to belong. Love has long since been swept out into irrelevance by this point in proceedings, as they sign off with Fun, Fun, Fun. Were you to take one word and multiply it by three in the hope of epitomising the lasting effect of The Beach Boys then this'd surely be it. It's the presiding memory of this second set, and one that can't even be bedewed by the sumptuous autumnal humidities of a Summer's Gone played live for the very first time. A sombre and aptly seasonal final farewell gesticulation, the lyric: "Old friends have gone/ They've gone their separate ways/ Our dreams hold on/ For those who still have more to say" sticks out like a sunny day lodged deep down amid the bleakest of midwinters.

This may well be the last we see of The Beach Boys, although you sense it's far from curtains for Brian Wilson. And, on a night of two halves, a tale of two men appeared to draw to a quite finite close. We have our Hero, and we indubitably have our, alas, indomitable Villain. I know who I'll be siding with forever more, however, and in one final twist, it's this time Love who scarpers without a word. The band's congenial genius already triumphed.