Monday, November 19, 2012

11.15.2012: "An Evening with The Monkees", State Theatre, Minneapolis MN

I don't usually wait so long before posting my thoughts following a concert. I'm not sure why I've waited four days to get this one started - it could be all of the other things I've got going on at the moment - but, here goes...
photo by Tina Curtis
Last Thursday was my first Monkees concert experience that included Mike Nesmith. It was very exciting to see Nez, Micky Dolenz, and Peter Tork play together on stage, since the three of them were basically the instrumental nucleus of The Monkees from the time they began playing live concerts in 1967. They were also the core of the band's sound on their iconic third album, Headquarters, which celebrated its 45th anniversary this year, and was a focal point of this year's 12-date tour.

From the opening notes of "You Told Me" (played by Nesmith on a replica of the 12-string Gretch he played in the 60's), that Monkees garage folk-rock sound was immediate and unmistakable. This was the Monkees, old-school style: Nesmith on guitar, Tork on banjo, and Dolenz on drums. Throughout the Headquarters portion of the show Peter switched between banjo, bass, keyboards, and guitar. On "For Pete's Sake" Mike played organ, just as he did on the record. For me the highlight of seeing the band playing these songs was that they often faced each other, as I imagine they would during rehearsal. It was an intimate glimpse into how the trio worked together as a unit, and it was exciting to watch.
Mike, Micky, and Peter: The Monkees (photo via City Pages)
I resist using the word "bittersweet" in reference to this show, because it's been used in almost every write-up I've seen, but it seems to be the most appropriate word to describe the thrill of seeing Mike with the sadness of the obvious absence of Davy Jones, who died unexpectedly last February of a heart attack. This is where I have the most trouble putting my thoughts about Thursday's experience into words. It's not as if I missed the songs Davy typically sang in concert: "Valleri", "A Little Bit Me...", "I Wanna Be Free",  "Girl" (which was always preceded by a Brady Bunch story), and even "Daydream Believer" were all songs I'd seen him perform so many times that they'd become opportunities in the show for me to go to the restroom or the merchandise table. Davy was the heartthrob of the group, and his songs (at least in concert) tended to cater to that role.

What Davy contributed most, I think, to The Monkees' live performances was his enthusiasm and spirit. No matter who was at center stage, Davy's energy kept the show electric. He was in many respects the glue that held everything together, whether he was simply playing acoustic guitar or banging the tambourine, he had an intuitive gift for knowing how to pace the show. I also noticed the absence of his harmonies. Even with this tour's addition of Micky's wonderfully talented sister Coco on vocals and percussion, I noticed spots on songs where Davy's back-up vocals, often sang in close harmony with Peter, were clearly absent. Peter's voice rang clear as a bell, but it simply sounded different without Davy in the mix. I found myself at times singing Davy's parts just so it would sound right in my head.

To give Davy's band mates proper credit, they did honor him more than once in the show via the video content, as well as through a singalong of "Daydream Believer", before which Micky explained that the song no longer belongs to The Monkees; it now belongs to the fans. The audience took the lead on Davy's biggest Monkees hit, and there was barely a dry eye in the joint.  Yet, as sad as it was, it felt very much like a celebration of Jones' life and legacy, and I'm sure for some folks in the State Theatre it was an opportunity for some much needed healing. It was an unexpectedly powerful moment in the show.

The artistic triumph of the night, in my opinion, was not the Headquarters performances, but rather a segment dedicated to all of the songs from the band's 1968 film HEAD.  For me, this was the first time I got to see Mike sing "Circle Sky" in concert, in addition to "As We Go Along", which Micky sang beautifully.  Micky also performed "Porpoise Song" with more heart than I'd ever seen at previous shows. He even stepped behind the drums for the song's climactic ending, which I've never seen them do before. The absolute best performance of the night, I thought, was a scorching version of Peter's "Long Title: Do I Have To do This All Over Again?".  The band just kicked into high gear for that song, and even Mike (who could occasionally be seen expressionless on his side of the stage) seemed to be enjoying himself.
The 2012 merchandise table (photo via City Pages)
The show concluded with "Listen to the Band" (during which Micky introduced the members of the band, which currently includes Michael's son Christian Nesmith), followed by the always awesome "Pleasant Valley Sunday". Overall, an incredible night filled with a great mixture of tunes (roughly two-thirds of which were written by the band themselves). At least a half-dozen songs, including "Daily Nightly" and "Tapioca Tundra", were ones I'd never seen in concert before, and it was worth the $80 price tag if only to hear those songs. Here's the night's complete setlist, along with songwriting credits to show just how many Monkee originals were performed:
  • Last Train to Clarksville (Boyce/Hart)
  • Papa Gene's Blues (Nesmith)
  • Your Auntie Grizelda (Boyce/Hart)
  • She (Boyce/Hart)
  • Sweet Young Thing (Nesmith/Goffin/King)
  • I'm a Believer (Diamond)
  • (I'm not your) Steppin' Stone (Boyce/Hart)
  • I Wanna Be Free (video tribute to Davy)
  • You Told Me (Nesmith)
  • Sunny Girlfriend (Nesmith)
  • You Just May Be the One (Nesmith)
  • Mary, Mary (Nesmith)
  • The Girl I Knew Somewhere (Nesmith)
  • For Pete's Sake (Tork/Richards)
  • Early Morning Blues and Greens (sung by Peter) (Hildebrand)
  • Randy Scouse Git (Dolenz)
  • Daily Nightly (Nesmith)
  • Tapioca Tundra (Nesmith)
  • Goin' Down (Hildebrand/Dolenz/Jones/Nesmith/Tork)
  • HEAD set:
    • Porpoise Song (Goffin/King)
    • Daddy's Song (Nilsson) (video performance from the film, with Davy's vocal plus instrumental backing from the live band) 
    • Can You Dig It? (Tork)
    • As We Go Along (Goffin/King)
    • Circle Sky (Nesmith)
    • Long Title: Do I Have To do This All Over Again? (Tork)
  • Video montage/tribute to Davy, followed by "Daydream Believer"(Stewart)
  • What Am I Doing Hangin' Round? (Martin-Murphy)
  • Listen to the Band (Nesmith)
  • Pleasant Valley Sunday (Goffin/King)
...reminding you as always to Save the Texas Prairie Chicken!
What comes next for The Monkees is anybody's guess. Personally I would love to see them write and record a follow-up to 1996's Justus (which was released on vinyl for the first time just last month). Musically they all have their chops fully intact. Peter's voice is as good as ever, and Micky's has actually gotten better with age. Mike Nesmith remains a tremendous talent, and you could tell at the show that the others still take cues from him, despite his fifteen year absence. Ultimately, only The Monkees themselves can decide whether this tour serves as a farewell or the beginning of a new chapter in their uniquely interesting history.

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