Last year I had the pleasure of seeing The Monkees at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. It was their 45th anniversary tour (2011).
Mickey, Davy and Peter (sans Michael Nesmith). The concert was just about perfect. It was a beautiful warm August evening, clear skies and the guys were in top form. The show followed a format consisting of a few hits up front then a middle section of B-sides and tunes from the movie Head. Finally they closed with more hits and a show-stopping encore. In the background a multi-media screen played clips of their TV show throughout.
It was magical, and The Monkees absolutely brought the house down. By the end of the concert, the audience was on their feet, clapping and singing and utterly dazzled. Since Michael Nesmith had made a surprise appearance at the Greek during the Monkees tour in the 80’s (for the encore) there was hope that he might show this time. Alas, Pappa Nez was not to be seen. But somehow the show worked. In fact, it kicked serious butt and received rave reviews.
Then the unthinkable happened. A few months later Davy Jones died. To say everyone was saddened and stunned was an understatement. The entire world responded with shock and disbelief. But no one was more stunned than the remaining members of The Monkees. Each put out statements regarding the loss of Davy. Mickey appeared on Piers Morgan and Peter stopped by Rachel Maddow. Mike wrote an eloquent and philosophical piece on Davy’s passing and his contribution to the band. The outpouring of sadness and sympathy from the fans was explosive. And of course there were a few tribute concerts. But in the end the feeling was that it was over. As far as touring or public appearances go, The Monkees as we knew them were gone. But in true Hollywood fashion a twist was about to occur. It was announced that a short 12-city tour would commence in 2012. The Monkees were back… WITH Michael Nesmith! It was astounding news. Especially considering the reclusive Nesmith over the years seemed to have definitively distanced himself from The Monkees and moved on to other ventures. The remaining three had held a private memorial service for Davy. Speculation is that some healing took place between the guys. Or perhaps the passing of Davy made them see that time, as we understand it on earth, is short. Whatever the reason Mickey, Mike and Peter decided to reunite and get back on the road.
Fast forward to November 10, 2012. The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. Things were a little different than last year. First being the weather. The audience looked like it was at an east coast football game in the dead of winter. (Yes, it can actually get cold in Los Angeles.) We had it all. Hats, gloves, blankets and thermal underwear… the whole nine yards. After a fun retro intro on the large multi-media screen and a medley of classic Monkees songs, Mike, Mickey and Peter took the stage. The show followed the same format as last year with some obvious differences. They drew much from their album “Headquarters” and room was made for Nesmith to shine and sing his signature songs like “You Just May Be The One”, “Papa Gene’s Blues”, “Listen To The Band” and “What am I Doing Hangin’ Round” among many others. Age hasn’t affected him too much. He played wonderfully and still has solid chops. His guitar riff at the beginning of “Pleasant Valley Sunday” was crisp and spot on.
Mickey and Peter were also in great voice and as always displayed exquisite stagecraft with complete command of their multiple instruments.
The absence of Davy was handled with class and dignity. For a few Davy songs the lights would go down, everyone would leave the stage and his recording would play along with the corresponding video from the TV show. In a touching moment, a tribute to Davy played on the screen while “I Wanna Be Free” filled the theatre. There was absolute reverence and silence in the audience. And I’m certain more than one tear was shed. It was bittersweet. Several songs were noticeably absent. Among them “Valleri”, “Shades Of Gray” and “A Little Bit Me, A little Bit You”. They decided, however, to handle “Daydream Believer” in a special way. Neither Mike, Mickey or Peter wanted to sing it. At Nesmith’s suggestion the song no longer belonged to The Monkees. Instead, he said it belonged to the audience. Mickey pulled a girl on stage and had her start the song. With help from The Monkees she sang and the entire audience joined in… loudly. I’m sure it could be heard for miles and it was marvelous. Somewhere Davy was smiling.
I spoke to several people who all expressed the same sentiment. They were absolutely thrilled beyond words to finally see Michael Nesmith return to play with Mickey and Peter. And the audience let him know it. Welcome back, old friend. All three were having fun cracking jokes and their banter seemed genuinely spontaneous. (Although some of the jokes seemed to be a bit inside). There was also a nice moment when the backup band was introduced, and included in the lineup was Mike’s son, Christian Nesmith, on electric guitar and Mickey’s sister, Coco, on backing vocals.
I would, however, be lying if I said that it was all perfect. As wonderful as it was, something was just a bit off. Perhaps it was the cold weather. (Only a few people stood up sporadically… even during the “hits”). Or maybe, because this was only their third outing together the guys haven’t hit their stride yet or completely warmed up (figuratively and literally). The Monkees hit all the right notes but at times there was some elusive energy that was missing. The magic of last year wasn’t quite there. Naturally the most obvious reason could simply have been Davy’s absence. Last year he was the front man and “host” if you will… The tour guide, the Cruise Director. Davy not only laughed, danced and sang, but also charmed the audience and they fell in love with him. This year it felt like no one was really fronting the band. The ultimate dream of course would have been to see all four Monkees on stage one last time together. In a sense, some of us are lucky as we can stitch together in our minds last year’s tour with this year’s tour and have the best of both worlds. The Monkees did things that no other band in history had done and may never do again. They are truly one of a kind. Time will tell if Mike, Mickey and Peter will ever perform together beyond this short tour. While they may continue with individual bands and projects, it does feel that as The Monkees, they are riding off on the last train to Clarksville and we don’t know if they’ll ever come back home. But rest assured they will always be welcome.