Monday, November 12, 2012

The Monkees return to the Greek Theatre

My review of the Monkees' Nov. 10 concert was originally posted on The Orange County Register site on Sunday morning, Nov. 11. A special thank you to Kelly A. Swift for the use of her fantastic photographs taken at the Nov. 10 concert.

Michael Nesmith (left) performs in front of a projection screen showing classic footage of the Monkees.

What a difference 16 months can make. In July 2011, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Davy Jones performed a fast-paced summer concert as part of the Monkees’ 45th anniversary tour in front of a capacity crowd at the Greek Theatre. In my review I even noted: “I can’t remember a concert that was as much fun as the Monkees’ nostalgic trip down memory lane.”
With the death of Jones on Feb. 29 it seemed that tour might serve as the final chapter in a series of infrequent reunions that have been staged since the group disbanded in 1971.
But fast-forward to a chilly November night in 2012 and once again the Monkees were performing before a packed house of fans at the same venue. This time Dolenz and Tork were joined by Michael Nesmith, the fourth member of the band. It’s a rarity: Before embarking on this tour last week, Nesmith hadn’t toured with the group since 1997, and that was only on a U.K. trek. His last proper U.S. outing with them was in 1969.
There were plenty of smiles and good vibes this time around as well, capturing the youthful cheerfulness of their groundbreaking ’60s TV show and timeless hits. Yet it was ultimately a more somber and determined Monkees who performed for just under two hours Saturday night.
Almost all of the songs were delivered while cascading footage from the group’s TV show and 1968 filmHead was projected on big screens. But rather than distract from what was happening on stage, the retro images helped connect the audience with the era that gave rise to the trendsetting group and its songs.
When Jones was with the band he brought a lighthearted quality to their live show. Nesmith, always recognized as the most serious member of the troupe, brought sharp wit instead, adding another dimension to the set. (“Hi. Hey. Cold,” he said in greeting the audience after they opened with “Last Train to Clarksville.”)
Nesmith, who turns 70 next month, also brought his well-regarded baritone vocals and country-tinged tunes to the evening in a successful expansion of selections beyond the group’s better-known power-pop hits.
“Sweet Young Thing” and later in the night “You Told Me” featured Nesmith singing while strumming 12-string guitar; on both of those songs Tork impressed with his banjo skills. Indeed, one of the strongest moments came at the end of the main set when Nesmith sang “What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round?” with Dolenz’s sterling harmonies and Tork’s fluid banjo providing an especially lush rendering of that Byrdsian tune.
From left, Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork.
Tork, who turned 70 in February, added well-timed humor with his vocals and exaggerated expressions on “Your Auntie Grizelda.” On “Can You Dig It?” he sang and played fiery lead guitar licks to boot. Dolenz, still the band’s best singer at 67, handled a myriad of material, including “I’m a Believer,” “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” and “Randy Scouse Git.” Perhaps his greatest turn came in a powerful take on the psychedelic “Porpoise Song” (the theme from Head), for which he also played drums artfully as the song drew to a dazzling close.
The memory of Jones was never far from the minds of the group or its audience, it seemed. Early on there was a video montage of Jones as one of his most-loved ballads, “I Wanna Be Free,” was played.
A more impressive tribute came when the Monkees’ outstanding seven-member band (including Dolenz’s sister Coco assisting with backing vocals and Nesmith’s son Christian adding electric guitar) provided musical backdrop for the late Jones, whose voice and visage came alive on the big screen during “Daddy’s Song.”
However, handling his signature hit, John Stewart’s “Daydream Believer,” was an emotional task. Dolenz explained a suggestion from Nesmith, that since all three surviving members of the Monkees had previously sung the song, “We can never sing (it) again, but you (the audience) can.” Dolenz than brought a woman up from the audience to share his mic while leading the crowd in a gigantic singalong of the irresistible favorite.
In the end, the night was a fitting tribute not only to Jones and his band mates but to the unique and enduring phenomenon that is the Monkees.
Set list: The Monkees at the Greek Theatre, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012
Main set: Last Train to Clarksville / Papa Gene’s Blues / Your Auntie Grizelda / She / Sweet Young Thing / I’m a Believer / (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone / I Wanna Be Free (video featuring Davy Jones) / You Told Me / Sunny Girlfriend / You Just May Be the One / Mary, Mary / The Girl I Knew Somewhere / For Pete’s Sake / Early Morning Blues and Greens / Randy Scouse Git / Daily Nightly / Tapioca Tundra / Goin’ Down / Porpoise Song (Theme from Head) / Daddy’s Song / Can You Dig It? / Circle Sky / Do I Have to Do This All Over Again? / Daydream Believer / What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round?
Encore: Listen to the Band / Pleasant Valley Sunday

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