The Monkees Deliver Rock ‘n’ Roll, Nostalgia and Plenty of Smiles in Cleveland – Concert Review
At their triumphant show at the Lakewood Civic Auditorium on Nov. 17, the Monkees were indeed ‘too busy singing to put anybody down’ as their nearly 30-song set proved. Nostalgia is a crazy creature. It taunts and teases as it pulls a tear, and tries its best to give you that warm all over glow. It can be both good and bad. Thankfully in the hands of the Monkees, it was all good. This was a show custom made for the diehard fans, nothing less and certainly a lot more.
The two big parts of the story circa 2012 are, obviously, the death of Davy Jones earlier in the year and, even more significantly, the reappearance of the long lost Mike Nesmith, who has only sporadically taken part in any Monkee activity over the years and hasn’t toured with the band since 1969. When Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork took turns introducing each other to the crowd, each got a huge response, but when Dolenz gave Nesmith his introduction, the theater erupted in near deafening applause. With absolutely no disrespect to Tork or Dolenz, it was definitely Nesmith’s night.
The evening opened with a first class video montage of clips from the television show before the band kicked into the familiar riff of their 1966 debut single ‘Last Train To Clarksville.’ Though perhaps a bit less sprightly than it was 46 years ago, its charm has lost nothing over the years. One of Nesmith’s earliest gems, ‘Papa Gene’s Blues,’ followed and signaled this was going to be a special evening.
The hits were rolled out one after another, from killer versions of ‘She’ and ‘I’m a Believer’ (of which Dolenz sarcastically said, “We sang this before Shrek”) to a stomping ‘I’m Not Your Stepping Stone,’ and the crowd ate up every note. As Nesmith started playing the riff from ‘You Told Me,’ the image of the band’s 1967 self created masterpiece ‘Headquarters‘ appeared on the screen. They played seven songs from the album with Dolenz behind the drum kit and Nesmith alternating between six and twelve string guitar, while Tork switched effortlessly from banjo to electric guitar to bass to keyboards throughout the evening. Yes, non believers, they did play their own instruments! The other musicians, including Nesmith’s son Christian and Dolenz’ sister Coco, were a perfect fit, never over-playing or trying to ‘modernize’ things.
Other highlights included the pure mid-’60s folk rock of ‘The Girl I Knew Somewhere'; ‘Sweet Young Thing,’ which took on a cool tribal, droning quality that was vastly different from the original recording, and ‘Tapioca Tundra,’ another Nesmith classic. There were tributes to the late Davy Jones via video montage that were both tasteful and heartfelt.
For some of us, the pinnacle of the show was the ‘Head‘ segment. Images and scenes from the 1968 film flashed on screen before the band launched into ‘The Porpoise Song,’ which remains one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded. Age hasn’t quite caught up to Dolenz’ vocal cords just yet, as he was still able to hit those high notes. The man is a truly underrated singer and consummate entertainer. All six songs from the film were performed, including a wall-rattling rendition of ‘Circle Sky.’
The band decided in order to do justice to the mega hit ‘Daydream Believer,’ they would simply let the audience sing it. This might sound a tad cheesy, but it was actually the perfect way to handle Davy Jones’ signature song as the crowd basked in pure jubilation. Encores of ‘Listen to the Band’ and ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ were the final icing on an already sweet cake. It was certainly smiles all around, band members included, as the creature known as nostalgia was out in full force. A Monkees tour like this will probably never happen again, and for those who were there, it will certainly never be forgotten.