|Nesmith, Dolenz, Tork or, as their fans call them, Mike, Mickey, and Peter|
I freely admit it - I've always been a fan of the Monkees. I know. In 1966, when their popular TV show 1st aired, they didn't write their own songs. They didn't play the instruments on their records. They were dismissed by many rock purists as an American fab-ricated four, created for the sole purpose of capitalizing on Beatlemania.
But those facts, while obviously true, didn't represent the whole story. Their TV show clearly demonstrated that there was a chemistry and wit among Davy Jones, Mickey Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, and Peter Tork that was akin to that of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. The Monkees developed an updated, surrealistic, droll humor that was reminiscent of the Marx Brothers. The entertaining musical numbers on the show were an early form of MTV videos. As for their initial songs, they were composed by some of the best writers of the time - Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, Carol King, and Neil Diamond. They became huge hits that are permanently etched in collective AM music memory. Soon, however, the Monkees began playing their own instruments and composing their own songs. Much like the Beatles, they moved from cuddly moptops to experimental psychedelics, rejecting old ways and promoting a lifestyle calling peace, love, drugs, and understanding. And like the Beatles, by the time the 70's came in, they were gone.
Until the other night, however, when I saw my 1st Monkees live show at the Warner Theater, I had forgotten just how much I had once enjoyed the Monkees extensive musical catalog, especially the deep album cuts and songs from their cult movie Head.
Of course, there are only 3 Monkees now. Davy Jones' death in 2012 meant that the entire band would never perform together again. Interestingly, the remaining Monkees never directly addressed Jones' death on stage. They let their handling of his biggest hit "Daydream Believer" do that for them. "We knew we had to do the song, it was such a big hit for us," Dolenz told the sold-out crowd. "We went back and forth. Should I sing it? Should Mike sing it? Should Pete sing it? Finally, Mike came up with the solution. He said it's not our song anymore; it's your song." And with that, as they have been doing at each stop on their A Midsummer's Night with the Monkees tour, Dolenz called a member of the audience up on stage to lead the crowd in a massive sing-along.
The crowd, many members sporting Monkees T-shirts from previous tours, was well warmed up. From the 1st notes of the opener "Last Train from Clarksville," they had been singing along with the songs they remembered - some from the show, some from the radio, some from their turntables. "She," "You Just May Be the One," "Mary, Mary" "Randy Scouse Git," "For Pete's Take," "No Time," "Words," "Goin' Down," and "What Am I Doing Hangin' Round?."
The biggest ovation of the night came from a double-play at the 8th and 9th spots in the 30-song, 2-hour set. Number 8 was introduced this way. "Hey kids," Dolenz said "I want you to know that I sang this way before Shrek." And with that, the keyboardist in the 7-piece backup band broke into the instantly recognizable intro for "I'm a Believer." After the raucous applause, cheers, and whistles faded, the band jumped right into "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone," one of the definitive garage rock classics of all-time.
During almost every number, clips and outtakes from the TV show and Head were shown. Between songs, the 3 Monkees engaged in light banter. Throughout the night, they switched instruments. Sometimes, Dolenz was on the drums; sometimes guitar. Tork played guitar, banjo, bass, and keyboard. Nesmith played mostly guitar, but did play organ on one number, and, after a funny exchange about promise and cost with Dolenz, used his voice for a Moog synthesizer on the trippy, ethereal "Daily Nightly."
The concert concluded with a 2-song encore: Nesmith's "Listen to the Band" and the 1967 hit "Pleasant Valley Sunday." It was time for final bows. The crowd delivered an enthusiastic sendoff. Many had missed and mourned Davy Jones. Others were happy for the return of Nesmith, who hadn't played with Dolenz and Tork in more than 30 years. The guy exiting behind me probably said it best. "Those Monkees, some good times, some good memories." Like most of the crowd, and indeed The Monkees themselves, he walked away, slower and less steady than he would have in the 60's. But, on this night at least, he was still a believer.
Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
So what Monkees' song did I like best? I knew what it would be as soon as we purchased our tickets."(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone." The song not only is way cool (cool enough to have been covered by The Sex Pistols), it includes one of the 1st organ rides I ever learned. Click here to hear to a live version of the song from 2012. And be sure to listen to that 4-note organ part.