Come and Watch Us Sing and Play
The Monkees at the Fabulous Fox Theater, June 5th, 2014
St. Louis, Missouri
This was my sister’s fourth Monkees concert – two with Davy and now two with Mike. This was my first. I was a Monkees fan before I was even a Beatles fan – the pre-Fab Four’s TV show reruns on Saturday mornings helped their songs to be as familiar to me as the theme songs to HR Pufinstuf or Scooby-Doo.
With some exceptions I have retired from concert-going since 1992. Shows were expensive even back then and my poor ears were suffering from enough tinnitus I didn’t need to aggravate it. I wore earplugs to my last shows – even Bob Dylan. During one, ZZ Top, I pulled out an earplug just to see how bad it was. I winced. Not at the music – they were in good form and supporting a great album – but at the volume.
I’ve come out of retirement twice not counting this show – Ringo Starr playing free at the VP Fair in St. Louis (a Beatle for free? Yes, I will come out of retirement to see a Beatle for free) and Rik Emmett playing a solo show in San Antonio (do I want to see the founder of Triumph for ten bucks? Oh yes…). I’ve not attended any other concerts. Rock concerts … the Wiggles and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra notwithstanding…
The Monkees concert was a gift from my sister in exchange for purchasing some DVDs for her at Comic Con. She took her ten-year-old son and asked if I wanted to go.
They’ve toured extensively over the past eleven years; but I had to ask myself: “when am I ever going to get to see the Monkees again?”
Their story is familiar: NBC wanted a TV show to cash in on the success of the Beatles and capture the fun of their movies “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help”. The execs thought about getting an actual group – legend says the Loving Spoonful was considered – but decided to cobble together a group from actor/musicians. Stephen Stills tried out and convinced his friend Peter Tork to do likewise. Mike Nesmith was another budding musician. Davy Jones appeared on the famous Ed Sullivan show featuring the Beatles’ first appearance along with his fellow cast-members of “Oliver”. Mickey Dolenz was also child actor.
The plots of the show dealt with an up-and-coming band playing gigs and getting into various zany antics – spies, monsters, gangsters, and mistaken identities – the gamut of 1960’s sitcom fare.
But the music set it apart. During this show the band showed their admiration for the many wonderful song-writers they used and named them – Goffin/King, Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka, Harry Nilsson, etc. And rightly so…
At the time the songs and the Monkees – although very successful on the music charts – were written off as bubblegum music. Well, that term came a few years later, but the criticism was the same.
The Monkees were mocked for not playing their own instruments on their songs and albums. The band members complained about this too, and were allowed to do so beginning with their Headquarters album.
Eventually the show was cancelled, their movie and TV special each bombed and their albums and singles failed to chart. One by one they left the group to do their own thing.
Their popularity grew as new fans discovered their show’s reruns on Saturday Morning (me) and in the 1980s on MTV (my sister). Their detractors were silenced over time as their music aged well. Very well.
They would reunite throughout the decades, usually Mike being the hold-out as his career was moving along and his participation was not necessary.
I am a big fan of Nesmith’s solo music and a subscriber to his video ranch productions. Check it out: http://www.videoranch.com/
Nesmith appeared on stage with the other three on occasion and helped with the album and TV special for their last album “Justus” in 1996. But otherwise, when the members were not doing solo shows or participating in “Teen Idol” festivals, the Monkees toured as Davy, Mickey and Peter.
Davy Jones died in 2012. Mike agreed to tour with Peter and Mickey in 2012 and again this year. Among the excellent band members were Mike’s son Christian on guitar and Mickey’s sister as one of the back-up singers. The other back-up singer, Circe Link and Christian are in a band called “Circle Jerks” and the bass player is their manager – so there was a lot of family up on the stage.
The musicians were wonderful. They rocked even during the more poppy numbers. Throughout the show I was amazed at how well these songs have aged.
And the Monkees themselves have also aged well. Mickey can still hit the high notes – particularly on “Words” and “Randy Scouse Git” and only rarely being unable to hit the higher ranges – most notably on “She”. Mike still sang with a caramel smoothness. Peter suffered the most from comparison, but then, he was never known for his strong vocals.
Recommendation: the Monkees should think about making a studio album of their live set to show off their musicians and the new, wonderful arrangements of their classic songs. Their version of “Daydream Believer” will likely make the charts, or at least be a popular download.
A video screen above the band showed constant clips of the TV show, their movie and TV special. At times I found it distracting. I’m there to watch the show, not clips from “The Monkees’ Paw”. But it helped give the band a break during sets and keep the audience cheering.
Next: Part 2 – the set list!
Copyright 2014 Michael Curry