It’s all my wife’s fault.
No but really, I always liked The Monkees. I first discovered them in the early 80s the same way most people in my generation did: afternoon syndicated TV in the summer on a local UHF channel. Does anyone under the age of 25 even know what UHF was? No? Moving on… I think I was 12 at the time when I came across Micky, Peter, Mike and Davy, their goofy Technicolor adventures and breezy cheerful pop tunes, and a feel and sound that always reminded me of summertime barbecues around the pool and long lazy days and the limitless promise of carefree innocence. I loved the TV show. I even liked the music as well.
But they weren’t a real band, right? That’s what we repeatedly were told… they were four actors thrown together by the network for entertainment purposes. Why, they didn’t even play their own instruments or write their own songs! Isn’t that right? Being a Monkees fan was pretty much a cat’s whisker away from being an Archies fan. Or a Milli Vanilli fan. Jan Wenner seems to agree with that sentiment, and isn’t he the be-all end-all of everything pop music? I think I just threw up in my mouth a bit…
Regardless, I still liked them. So what if they didn’t play their own instruments or write their own tunes? This wasn’t exactly uncommon in the 1960s. How many members of the fershluggin Beach Boys actually wrote/played on Pet Sounds? Or most of their albums, for that matter? The end result is whether or not the music connects with you, no matter who’s playing the zither during the outro or who rewrote the lyrics to the middle-eight. And I liked the music. Well, the hits anyhow, because that’s all I knew.
Then I met Boots, and everything changed. The Monkees are her second favorite band, and her love of the music, the show, and the albums is pretty much unparalleled by anyone I know or have ever known. She introduced me to their albums, the deeper cuts, their classic cult-movie Head (which I’m going to review here eventually, because it’s absolutely brilliant. Dated, but brilliant), and yes, re-introduced me to the TV show (which I hadn’t seen for years until semi-recently).
And most importantly, I learned that by their third album they were actually and actively writing, arranging, and performing their own material. Wow. Who’da thunk it? Jan freakin’ Wenner? Please…
We had the pleasure of seeing Davy Jones twice before his recent untimely passing: once at a local screening of Head to benefit a Miami Shores community center, and once at a British pantomime production of Aladdin at the Broward Center. We’ve seen Micky Dolenz twice in concert at Walt Disney World as part of Epcot’s Flower & Garden festival, and met him once at Florida Mega-Con.
And finally, we’ve seen The Monkees perform three times together; the first was on the 45th Anniversary tour in Pompano Beach in 2011 (with Micky, Peter, and Davy). The next time, we flew up to Long Island for one night to see them perform in Huntingon at the Paramount Theater on 12/01/2012 (with Mike, Micky, and Peter).
Our third time was last Saturday night at the Mizner Amphitheater in Boca Raton, at an event titled “A Midsummer’s Night With The Monkees”, and as far as I was concerned, it was another joyous, successful musical endeavor from Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and the rest of their extended 10-piece band. While the show wasn’t sold out, there were plenty of excited fans filling out the venue. Extended video clips from the TV shows entertained the crowd before the concert, alongside interview clips with the band, pop culture Monkees references (including the recent showcasing of “The Porpoise Song” during the current season of Mad Men), and vintage commercials for Kool-Aid and Kellogg’s featuring the band. It was kitschy, it was retro, and it was all awesome fun.
Finally the video ceased, the lights dimmed, and the band hit the stage. Mike, Micky, and Peter arrived amid almost ceaseless cheering from the crowd. Boots and I were in the second row, just off center to the left, right in front of Mike. And then the unmistakable opening riff to Last Train To Clarksville started off the concert with familiarity and verve.
Here was the evening’s set-list:
- Last Train to Clarksville
- Papa Gene’s Blues
- Your Auntie Grizelda
- The Kind of Girl I Could Love
- Sweet Young Thing
- I’m a Believer
- (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone
- You Told Me
- Sunny Girlfriend
- You Just May Be the One
- Mary, Mary
- The Girl I Knew Somewhere
- Early Morning Blues and Greens
- Randy Scouse Git
- For Pete’s Sake
- No Time
- Daily Nightly
- Tapioca Tundra
- Goin’ Down
- Porpoise Song
- Can You Dig It?
- Circle Sky
- As We Go Along
- Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?
- Daydream Believer
- What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round?
- Listen to the Band
- Pleasant Valley Sunday
That’s a really strong set-list, with enough hits for the casual fans and some deep favorites for the hardcore. Each song was performed in front of a large video screen, with classic TV, movie, photographs, and performance footage that often synched perfectly with the music being performed… and the music! If I had to nitpick, I would say that the band’s energy seemed a little “off” at first. They didn’t feel all together until about the third song or so, and then they were off like bandits.
Having the opportunity to see Michael Nesmith perform is a real treat. He’s been largely absent from all things Monkee-related for the past four decades, while the other three have been keeping the torch lit since the mid-1980s. Mike brought country and folk influences to the band, in both his arrangements, lyrics, and vocals. He sang lead on many of the band’s classic tracks like Listen To The Band, What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round? , You Just May Be The One, Circle Sky, and The Girl I Knew From Somewhere, which were highlights of the evening.. Plus watching him play a blonde Gretsch 12-string is about as iconic an image as anything that emerged out of the 1960s.
Over at center stage stood Micky Dolenz, the band’s primary vocalist, erstwhile drummer, and consummate entertainer. His smooth vocals and range give classics like I’m A Believer (which, he reminded us YET AGAIN, he sang long before Shrek… although Shrek never actually sang it!), Pleasant Valley Sunday, The Porpoise Song, Randy Scouse Git (complete with kettle drum and table-cloth-patterned poncho), She, Goin’ Down, and so many more tunes much of their timeless appeal. But in the three times I’ve seen him live with The Monkees, the show-stopper has always been the beautifully evocative As We Go Along from the movie Head. It’s a near perfect song, and he nails it every time.
And finally to Micky’s left was Peter Tork, the “clown” of the band and yet easily their most proficient instrumentalist. Throughout the evening he took his turn on guitar, banjo, and keyboards. Back in 2011 he even played the French Horn during Shades of Gray! Peter is clearly a seasoned entertainer: clowning around, bringing the joyful antics and playfulness when needed, but when he hit the mic for his songs he was all pro. I particularly liked his take on Early Morning Blues and Greens, which was originally sung by Davy from Headquarters (an album which got a LOT of coverage last night). Peter did it beautifully. Other highlights included his signature tune Your Auntie Grizelda, during which he practically commanded the stage with his slick patented dance moves, Can You Dig it and Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again? from Head, and the classic television show closing-theme For Pete’s Sake.
The crowd at Mizner was pretty responsive, even during the band’s lesser-known tracks. As has been tradition since Davy’s death, they plucked members of the audience from the crowd and brought them onstage to sing Daydream Believer, which always turns into a huge audience sing-along. Let’s face it, this is one of the great pop songs of all time, and it’s hard not to get caught up in the emotion of it all: the greatness of the tune, the sadness of Davy being gone, but the communal enjoyment of sharing a slice of beauty and happiness together. A little maudlin, maybe, but honest.
I always enjoy the Head songs the most. Perhaps because I’m such a fan of the movie (Boots & I watched the Blu-Ray when we got home that night), but because the five songs from that album are each so damn strong. Davy’s rendition of Harry Nilsson’s unforgettably catchy Daddy’s Song was also put on display via video and audio from the movie. His song-and-dance number (with an assist from Toni Basil) is so unbelievably great, you can’t have a Monkees performance without it, in my opinion.
Overall it was a fun show. Was it my favorite Monkees concert to date? Probably not, only because the first time I saw them was also the last time I got to see Davy perform, and it had a bit of a deeper setlist (mostly Davy songs like Shades of Gray, She Hangs Out, Here Comes Tomorrow, etc.) And then the second time I saw them, we flew up to New York in December and made a bit of a trip out of it. Plus The Paramount theater in Huntington was a pretty cool venue. Nonetheless, we walked away from the show happy and extremely entertained. Mike, Mickey, and Peter still can deliver the goods live. So are they still “not a real band”? Pshaw. See them live and judge for yourself.
And finally, I’ll leave you with Davy’s Daddy’s Song, because why not?