The Monkees are celebrating their 50th anniversary (!) this year. Zowie.
We’re rolling into the summer of 2016 as of this writing, and I’m currently 45 years old, which is depressing enough, but never mind all that. Obviously I wasn’t around during the first wave of “Monkeemania”, and remained blissfully unaware of the group until around 1983, when the local South Florida UHF station began playing Monkees reruns from 4 to 5 PM, every weekday afternoon. I became an instant fan. It was safe, goofy fun, and I loved the anarchic freewheeling Technicolor spirit that Mike, Micky, Peter, and Davy brought to the screen.
Plus I liked the music. Especially the hits. In fact, I loved the hits. And all I ever knew about their music were the hits. Well that, and the fact that people derided them for “not being a real band” and that “they didn’t even play their own instruments”.
Well here’s another clue for you all: do you know who didn’t even play their own instruments? Almost all of The Beach Boys. On mothereffing Pet Sounds. So suck it, arrogant paunchy Jann Wenner-worshipping elitists with Hawaiian shirts and laughably appalling skullets.
Anyway, it wasn’t until I met Boots in 2005 that I ever bothered to delve deeper into the catalog and, given that she was a raving Monkeemaniac, she introduced me to their records, the under-played album cuts, their 1968 cult classic movie Head, and so on, and I realized that what made The Monkees ,”THE MONKEES!!”, wasn’t just Mike, Micky, Peter, and Davy, but rather the amazing collection of songwriters that helped craft their songbook. We’re talking Neil Diamond, Harry Nilsson, Carole King, Gerry Coffin, Tommy Boyce, Bobby Hart, and yes, Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Davy Jones. The Monkees were indeed a corporate construct, but as a creative entity (that went beyond the four actor/musicians who “fronted” the band) they also created some of the most memorable, enduring, and enjoyable slices of 60s pop music that still resonates with fans five decades later.
So to reel it back in: here we are in 2016, and The Monkees are celebrating their 50th anniversary with a new album (Good Times is due for release May 27, 2016) and a new tour, but how truly “Monkeesque” is this tour? The only original members of the band on the tour are Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork. Davy Jones passed away in 2012, and Mike Nesmith could not participate in the tour due to other commitments (although he is set to make guest appearances here and there). The tour kicked off in Ft. Myers, Florida on May 18, 2016, and Boots and I made the two-hour trek from Ft. Lauderdale with great excitement. We were going to celebrate our love of the music in a live setting with Micky, Peter, and backing band.
The Barbara Mann Performing Arts Hall had a pretty sizable crowd that made me feel young in comparison. I made the comment that only at a Monkees concert could the line for the men’s room after the show be longer than the line for the ladies’ room. Then again, I made that comment while I was in line at the men’s room after the show, so then there’s that. Yeesh.
Before the show we had to hit the merch table:
Yes, you too can own a Randy Scouse Git replica poncho for $75…
Boots picked up two concert shirts and the tour program. The program was created by legendary producer Andrew Sandoval, who wrote the seminal book The Monkees: The Day-by-Day Story of the 60s TV Pop Sensation. The program had a ton of nifty photographs and a complete timeline of the band, including tour dates from the 60s through the 2010s, album release dates, original television broadcast dates, and more. Pretty cool for obsessive fans like Boots and myself.
Anyway we got to our seats (about 12th row center) and took notice of the huge video monitor that hung over the band. It ended up showcasing tons of photos, videos, scenes from the show, old commercials, and much more. It made it that much more of an awesome multimedia event. Some would say that it almost seemed a little overpowering and distracting, but I enjoyed it immensely.
Anyway the show started promptly around 7:30. Let’s take a look at the set-list:
Listen To The Band
Last Train To Clarksville
That Was Then, This Is Now
She Makes Me Laugh
A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You
The Girl I Knew Somewhere
Shades Of Gray
Randy Scouse Git
For Pete’s Sake
Don’t Do It
Higher And Higher
Let’s Dance On
Long Title: Do I have To Do This All Over Again
(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone
Heart and Soul
Papa Gene’s Blues
What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round
Pleasant Valley Sunday
I’m A Believer
This show represented the fourth time I’ve seen The Monkees in one form or another, and I think it represented a fine balance of classic hits, amazing album cuts, deep tracks that have never been performed before, covers, and solo songs. Although for my money nothing can touch the set list from the 45th Anniversary Tour (which was such a love letter to deep fans, it hardly abides the telling, except that it TOTALLY does), the material showcased this night was pretty fantastic.
Micky and Peter are seasoned pros and entertaining front men. They didn’t just stand up there and dutifully played their songs, half-heartedly thanked the crowd, and skidaddled. Nope, the duo were engaging and funny, interacting with the crowd and making it a fun celebration rather than an acceptable if uninspired nostalgia trip. This was a fun night, and if there were more than a few opening night slips (there was a noticeable missed cue during the “Listen To The Band” opener), it hardly mattered one whit. Everything was played with verve and enthusiasm.
Speaking of enthusiasm, I enjoyed the inclusion of two songs from the new album: Peter’s “Little Girl” and the album’s first single “She Makes Me Laugh”, penned by Rivers Cuomo and sung engagingly by Micky. I especially loved the inclusion of the song’s video during the performance, featuring panels from a vintage Monkees comic strip:
Now as far as the big hits, we certainly had our fill of them: “Last Train To Clarksville”, “She”, “Mary Mary”, “I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone”, “Words”, “Pleasant Valley Sunday”, and “I’m A Believer” were crowd favorites, but I’m sure there wasn’t a dry eye or a muted vocal in the house as the band performed “Daydream Believer” with Davy’s vocals on a guide track. Always a magical moment, especially since Davy’s passing, and this was a wonderful shared moment between fans and the band to celebrate the diminutive song-and-dance entertainer.
I also was impressed by the three young women in the front row who participated in Goin’ Down, but that sounds a LOT more suggestive than what has come to be expected from such a family-friendly blog as this one. There go my lucrative sponsorship prospects.
Moving on we had some deep cuts for the fans, like three songs from Head, the first-time-ever-played-live “Steam Engine” from the lesser- (perhaps least-) known Monkees album Changes, Micky’s solo track “Don’t Do It”, the 80s single “Heart and Soul” (with accompanying circa-1987 video), the amazing shuffle of “D.W. Washburn”, the uptempo pop energy of “Let’s Dance On”, and the lush, beautiful “Shades Of Gray”, which also included a Davy vocal track with co-lead vocals from Peter. And speaking of Peter, his banjo-in-hand cover of Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher” brought the house down.
Overall we had a great time. If it felt like less of a “Monkees” show and more of a “Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork Celebrate The Music of The Monkees” show — and it did — it still didn’t detract from the evening’s enjoyment. Definitely catch this tour if you’re a fan, and even if you’re not, go anyhow. It’s a fun time and you might end up as a Monkees fan. Which is a good thing. More Monkees fans make the world a groovier place, man.