Sunday, July 17, 2011
The Monkees deliver big fun at The Greek Theatre
Davy Jones waves to the crowd at The Greek Theatre shortly after taking the stage at the Monkees' performance on Saturday, July 16.
This review was first published on the Soundcheck blog on The Orange County Register Web site on Sunday afternoon, July 17, 2011.
It’s been 45 years since Davy Jones, Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz and Michael Nesmith burst on the scene with the release of their first hit single, “Last Train to Clarksville,” and the debut of their weekly NBC series. But watching three of the four Monkees perform Saturday night in front of a capacity crowd at the Greek Theatre, it seemed as if it was 1966 all over again.
Sure, the band (minus Nesmith, who hasn’t participated in any such reunions since the late ’90s) and the majority of fans who filled the venue have seen the decades race by. But I can’t remember a concert that was as much fun as the Monkees’ nostalgic trip down memory lane.
Just in the past couple of months I’ve caught amazing concerts by Steely Dan and U2, but those were mostly serious affairs staged in front of crowds often disengaged from the performances. This appearance was both a concert and a revival complete with the integration of artful footage from the television series, the cult film Head, even old commercials. Based on what was going on around me, the majority of fans seemed to be excited and genuinely interested in the show.
Not so long ago it looked as if there wouldn’t be any more Monkees resurrections when word reached the faithful in early 2009 that Tork had to undergo surgery and treatment for a rare form of head and neck cancer. His successful battle against the disease may not have been front-and-center Saturday, but it certainly added weight to the celebration at the Greek.
The most amazing aspect of Saturday’s 135-minute show, however, was how the Monkees (backed by a sharp seven-member group) delivered strong, poignant performances of their diverse material. There were the rollicking rockers usually sung by Dolenz, such as “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”and “Goin’ Down”; humorous material from Tork, like “Your Auntie Grizelda”; singalong favorites like “Daydream Believer”; and plenty of well-played hits, from “I’m a Believer” to “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”
On the whole, there was truly something for every sort of Monkeemaniac.
This outing also reminded how the Monkees’ brief initial recording run (1966-1971) saw them stretch beyond tuneful radio-ready hits for which they remain best known. A block of songs from Head explored their artistic spirit, with the lush theme from the 1968 film (“Porpoise Song”) drawing sonic comparisons to Radiohead or Pink Floyd. “Shades of Gray” had all three singing in distinctive harmony, while Dolenz led a rousing version of “Randy Scouse Git,” belting out the song while banging on a large drum positioned at the front of the stage.
All three Monkees displayed the same chemistry and wit that made their popular show such a hit decades ago and during subsequent reruns (it currently airs on Antenna TV at noon on Saturdays and Sundays). “I’m Davy’s dad,” said Jones in the early moments of the concert. “Davy will be out in a minute.”
At one point, Tork — impressive on guitar, keyboards and five-string banjo — talked at length about how the Monkees had to fight to play their own songs in the beginning. To be certain, all three played various instruments throughout the lengthy show; Dolenz’s drumming was particularly effective on “Can You Dig It.”
Still, if this rewarding tour proves to be a finale for the group, that would be too bad. It would be great if Nesmith would team up with the other guys and celebrate just one more time. He might find it as fun for himself as for the thousands of fans who would welcome him back with open arms.
Setlist: The Monkees at the Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, July 16, 2011
Main set: Overture and Monkees Theme / I’m a Believer / Mary, Mary / Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow) / The Girl I Knew Somewhere / Love Comes Knockin’ / Randy Scouse Git / Valleri / Papa Gene’s Blues / Saturday’s Child / I Wanna Be Free / That Was Then / I Don’t Think You Know / All of Your Toys / Hard to Believe / What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round? / She / She Hangs Out / Sometime in the Morning / Someday Man / Circle Sky / Can You Dig It / As We Go Along / Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again? / Porpoise Song (Theme from “Head”) / Daddy’s Song / For Pete’s Sake / Cuddly Toy / Words / Shades of Gray / Goin’ Down / It’s Nice to Be With You / Your Auntie Grizelda / Last Train to Clarksville / A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You / (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone / Daydream Believer
Encore: Pleasant Valley Sunday / I’m a Believer / Exit music (the band played the Monkees’ theme while clowning around on stage and thanking the audience)