The Monkees 12-date tour this past fall was a bittersweet affair. No doubt many were delighted to see the return of Mike Nesmith to the group. It was his first with them since their UK tour in 1997 and also his first Monkees tour in the U.S. since 1969. Unfortunately, it was again only three of Pre-Fab Four performing together, just as it had been on the previous tours through the past few decades, including last year's 45th anniversary celebration. However, this time fans weren't trying to parse press releases and interviews to learn the reason why because Davy Jones died of a heart attack on February 29th. "We started talking about doing some sort of memorial show," Mickey Dolenz told Rolling Stone. "It just sort of escalated from there."
On a very cold November night at Los Angeles' open-air Greek Theater, the concert began with the seven-piece backing band, which included Mickey's sister as a back-up singer and Mike's son on guitar, playing an instrumental medley of Monkees music while video clips of the Monkees played on the screen at the back of the stage, as they would throughout the show. The Monkees joined them and they played the song that introduced the band to the world, "Last Train to Clarksville." A bit of feedback could be heard but was soon corrected. Mike then stepped up to sing lead on "Papa Gene's Blues." Revealing what a balanced attack they were going to take, Peter Tork sang his wacky "Auntie Grizelda." Mike sang a slowed-down version of "Sweet Young Thing" with Peter playing banjo and Mickey smacking some kind of box he sat on.
Mickey then introduced "I'm a Believer" with a thank you to Neil Diamond, who just three months ago praised the Monkees version during his 40th anniversary stand at the venue. Mickey then pointed out with some annoyance, not that this crowd needed to be told, that he sang the song before it appeared in Shrek.
The entire band cleared the stage and the lights were brought down as a clip of Davy wandering the beach singing "I Wanna Be Free." When the lights came back up, the middle portion of the show found the band playing music they were more responsible for creating with a heavy focus on songs from Headquarters. Mickey sat behind a drumkit and Mike sang a trio of songs: "You Told Me," "Sunny Girlfriend," and "You Just May Be the One." On the latter, the bass and drums were too loud in the mix. Pete went from banjo on the first, bass on the next two, moved to keyboards for "The Girl I Knew Somewhere." He then sang lead on the second season closing credits song "For Pete's Sake," which he co-wrote and was recorded by Mickey. They segued into "Early Morning Blues and Greens" with Pete handling Davy's lead.
A kettledrum was rolled out and Mickey donned a tablecloth-looking top for a raucous "Randy Scouse Git." Having never played it until this tour, Mickey needed to read the lyrics to "Daily Nightly." He claimed it was the first time they were performing it, but Mike pointed out they had already played it the first two nights of the tour as he learned on Facebook. Pete left, and Mike hysterically provided the Moog sound effects with his mouth.
A lengthy trailer from their movie Head was shown and then they played all six songs from it with the accompanying scenes. On what would be their last album together until 1997's Justus, the band expanded their sound further than before. Mickey was alone with the backing band for his psychedelic spin on "The Porpoise Song." Davy was featured again as they ran Harry Nilsson's music hall number "Daddy's Song" on the video screen, though the vocals sounded as if they were sped up slightly. Peter's "Can You Dig It?" revealed Middle Eastern influences and the band never rocked harder than Mike's "Circle Sky."
The last tribute of the night to Davy found Mickey explaining how during the planning of the tour they tried to decide who should sing "Daydream Believer" and finally Mike suggested none of them should as the song now belonged to the audience. Setting aside that the same thing could be said for any of the band's songs, it was a sweet moment Mickey pulled a woman named Andrea out of the crowd. He, of course, helped her out, and the audience sang the chorus with great joy.
Revealing their sly sense of humor, the main set concluded with "What Am I Doing Hanging 'Round," which might have been thought by a few people not dressed warmly enough. A two-song encore concluded the night with "Listen to the Band" and "Pleasant Valley Sunday."
Though the cold temperatures sent a few people home early from my section, it was nice to reunite with old friends Mickey, Mike, and Peter one more time even though the sound mix was rough in a couple places as was their performances. Over 40-plus years later, their voices don't have the same quality they used to, and no one should have that expectation. Also, there's a reason they have supporting musicians. Yet ultimately, the concert was a good deal of fun. The fellas seemed to be enjoying themselves, as was the audience who cheered and sang along to beloved songs from years gone by.
Last Train to Clarksville
Papa Gene's Blues
Your Auntie Grizelda
Sweet Young Thing
I'm a Believer
(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone
I Wanna Be Free
You Told Me
You Just May Be the One
The Girl I Knew Somewhere
For Pete's Sake
Early Morning Blues and Greens
Randy Scouse Git
The Porpoise Song
As We Go Along
Can You Dig It?
Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?
What Am I Doing Hangin' Round?
Listen to the Band
Pleasant Valley Sunday
Photos by Todd Karella