Sunday, September 18, 2016

Monkees mark 50th anniversary with musical celebration at the Pantages

Watching the Monkees perform their final show as a trio at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood on Friday, September 16, 2016 was a night marked by a myriad of emotions. This was truly a night to celebrate on the 50th anniversary of the debut airing of "The Monkees" series on NBC-TV on September 16, 1966. But it was also reportedly the final public performance to feature Michael Nesmith performing with Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork as the Monkees. Additionally, the death of Davy Jones on February 29, 2012 continues to make the group's performances bittersweet, with technology that brings select vocal performances featuring the late singer helping both the Monkees and their faithful audience embrace the life of the adored Jones. 

A large projection screen featuring colorful clips from the group's popular '60s television series heightened the connection between the audience and Monkees ( who were backed by a top-tier five-member band including Michael's guitar-playing son Christian Nesmith and several backup singers including Micky's sister Coco Dolenz).
Michael Nesmith performing with the Monkees.
Photo: Robert Kinsler

The two-hour performance at the packed Pantages featured more than 30 winning songs representing a 50-year career spanning from the group's 1966 self-titled debut through their fantastic 2016 studio return Good Times! If this was the 73-year-old Nesmith's final appearance as a Monkee, then those attending already know this was a show that justified the cheers, smiles, sing-alongs and tears that were all abundant during the concert. 
Micky Dolenz, left, and Peter Tork early in the show.
Photo: Robert Kinsler

Before they played a single song, the three group members came to center stage and hugged each other, setting the tone for this special night. And then there were all those great songs. Opening with "Last Train to Clarksville" that featured all three Monkees on guitar, the shining Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart-penned single sounded as fresh as it did with its release five decades ago. It's impossible to think of a single selection that didn't deliver this night; a rollicking version of "She" with Dolenz showcasing his still-amazing lead vocals, the breezy acoustic folk rock of "A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You" and terrific new power-pop song "She Makes Me Laugh" featuring textures of Nesmith's 12-string Gretsch guitar and Tork's banjo were among early standouts. 

In addition to his sterling instrumental work on guitar and banjo, Tork frequently showcased his keyboard playing; his baroque-styled touch on "The Girl I Knew Somewhere" as Dolenz and Nesmith harmonized with their voices on the country-tinged nugget was magical. Among my other favorites of the first half of the show were the Dolenz-Nesmith duet "Me & Magdalena" off Good Times!, as well as the enduring chamber pop masterwork "Shades of Gray" showcasing the Monkees' lush and artful harmonies.
Images of the Monkees as they appeared on their
1960s TV series, as well as animated images
enhanced the show. Photo: Robert Kinsler

Nesmith's long-time love affair with country yielded many offerings for the Monkees and those were revisited in spirited fashion this night; the anthemic "Listen to the Band" and wistful "What Am I Doin' Hangin' 'Round" that ended the first half of the show were especially memorable. 

The second half of the fast-moving concert yielded just as many highlights. A garage rocker-styled "Mary, Mary" with Dolenz shining on vocals and behind the drum kit kicked things off; the driving alt-country rocker "Circle Sky" with Nesmith leading the charge followed before the Monkees turned things around on the alluring art rocker "Porpoise Song." 

Nesmith's appearance was bound to bring a few special moments, the biggest being a solo acoustic performance of "Tapioca Tundra" that included a revealing story about the song's genesis. Then came a performance of "Daydream Believer" affording a chance to celebrate the life of Jones. Utilizing state-of-the-art technology, Jones' sweet tenor and video image started off the song, which quickly brought the band and audience into the fold with a version that included an acapella sing-along with the full crowd.

The encore continued the joyful spirit of the concert, with the band rocking out on the infectious "Pleasant Valley Sunday" and an aptly-titled closing take on Neil Diamond's "I'm a Believer."

Peter Mills forthcoming book "The Monkees, Head, and the 60s" (set for release on October 25, 2016) addresses the obvious question of how a quartet of young men cast to play a struggling rock band on television made the leap from fantasy to reality as they recorded an enduring body of terrific songs while ultimately impacting the worlds of TV, film, music and pop culture long after their formation. Based on the power of the Monkees' homecoming concert on Friday, this is one writer who hopes the world will still be celebrating the group's music and legacy 50 years from now.

Monkees Setlist at the Pantages Theatre on September 16, 2016
1. Last Train to Clarksville
2. Papa Gene's Blues
3. Your Auntie Grizelda
4. Saturday's Child
5. She
6. A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You
7. She Makes Me Laugh
8. The Girl I Knew Somewhere
9. Sometime in the Morning
10. Me & Magdalena
11. Shades of Gray
12. Randy Scouse Git
13. For Pete's Sake
14. You Bring the Summer
15. Listen to the Band
16. What Am I Doin' Hangin' Round?

17. Mary, Mary
18. Circle Sky
19. Porpoise Song (Theme From "Head")
20. Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?
21. Words
22. Sunny Girlfriend
23. (I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone
24. You Just May Be the One
25. You Told Me
26. Birth of an Accidental Hipster
27. Goin' Down
28. D.W. Washburn
29. Tapioca Tundra
30. Daydream Believer

Pleasant Valley Sunday
I'm a Believer

Review by Robert Kinsler

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