Monday, June 10
I’m a believer (ha!) that you have to do the research – you have to know what to expect. Anyone thinking they were getting anything close to the actual Monkees would be defeated purely by numbers; part-time players in their later years Mike Nesmith and Micky Dolenz (now all that’s left) were never going to be able to put on a magnificent pop show. Add Nesmith’s complete lack of interest in reuniting previously, the token mention only of Peter Tork (who died as recently as February of this year) and not a single direct reference to Davy Jones and you had to know that this was a take-what-you-can-get version of a reunion show. Nostalgia would be served. But you had to bring your share to really make it work.
I’m a second-generation Monkees fan. Which is to say that the TV show ruled during my childhood thanks to some random TVNZ initiative to celebrate the quarter-century of television in this country by re-running shows like Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the boy-band madness and mirth of The Monkees. My folks filled in the blanks, explaining that they’d grown up with the big hits, my dad had even played some of them in his band…
From there I was digging out the movie Head when I had my first video-store job, ordering reissues of the classic albums like Headquarters, the Head soundtrack and the first two hit-packed records when I had my first music-store job…
So, “The Mike and Mikey Show” was the one chance I had to tick off seeing a version of The Monkees. And I’m glad I got to see it.
Whilst it wasn’t quite the mess that seeing Paul Williams was – it was, at times, not far off. Same deal. You’re bowing down to the songwiting work. You’re there to hear and see and feel the connection as much as you are to hear the actual songs. You know you are not going to hear them as you once did. But still your fingers are crossed.
And as Mikey Dolenz did most of the talking – and singing – while Nesmith seemed to wander off stage (for weed?) far too regulary it started off on very shaky ground. The band was competent, particularly the drummer, lead guitarist and bassist. They gave hope to the music. Nesmith’s son was on one of the guitars, Dolenz’ sister was one of the backing singers. The keyboards and steel player were good enough.
Good Clean Fun. That was the first song. And probably the overall aim of the evening. And if you had the right attitude and approach you would – eventually – be rewarded. A dreadful vocal mix meant words were lost and voices couldn’t be heard, but I was close enough to the action to confirm that voices were shot and maybe the dodgy mix was part of the ploy of covering for the lost ground of the last quarter-century or more.
Still, there were some shining moments. Particularly Nesmith’s songs. Here’s a guy who had to endure the slings and arrows of idiots calling him a made-for-TV star when he was – and is – one of the finest songwriters of his generation. A man who composed great songs either side of his Monkees career as well as during it. I wonder if he self-medicates to calm the rage that could exist for having achieved far more than the drongos telling him he was a right-place/right-time kid.
The power is in the knowledge.
Just as well, because the power is no longer in his voice.
But still it was great to hear Mary Mary, to hear Auntie’s Municipal Court, Rio and a bunch of Nesmith’s great songs. Many of them sung originally by Dolenz.
There was a couple of tunes included from 2016’s triumphant Good Times! album too. Birth of An Accidental Hipster (by Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller) was a highlight of the first set; showcase for the band as much as anything. And later on, Me & Magdalena (written by Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard) showed just how much the guest-writers of the new Monkees album had been influenced by the band’s original run of hits.
Dolenz was struggling with his voice – and his rudimentary guitar playing. And, look, many in the audience might well have been embarrassed. And fair enough. But when he got to Porpoise Song (from the mindfuck-headtrip that is the movie Head) something seemed to click. He didn’t just sing the song. He performed it. He got inside it. He delivered it. His acting chops an olfactory sense. The song seems – still – to exist in its own space, walking a line between shoegaze and Britpop; a part-template for both.
And as if to prove that The Monkees were lucky to have songs from writers as fine as Gerry Goffin and Carole King it was fairly swiftly followed by Pleasant Valley Sunday, another Head song (Nesmith’s Circle Sky) bridging them.
I’m not sure anyone was super confident as the band went to interval. Neither the musicians on stage nor the fans – fairweather and hardcore seemingly in equal numbers…
But something happened in the second set. Well, a few things. The sound improved. The opening acoustic set was helpful for determining lyrics and for actually hearing voices. And we heard some cool between-song stories too, meetings with The Beatles and other 60s throwback revelry and reveries.
Great songs too.
Papa Gene’s Blues. Randy Scouse Git. Tapioca Tundra.
We knew, by this point, the big, big songs were still to come. But for anyone other than the most casual of fans these tunes are all a crucial part of the story.
And then Goin’ Down. Sweet Young Thing. Also Take A Giant Step.
Deceptively simple pop songs. Rarified gems even.
(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone seemed to play a delayed game of tag with the first set’s Last Train to Clarksville and then it was to the singalong favourites. They have to be ticked off. Daydream Believer. And I’m A Believer. And yet they were kinda glorious really. Particularly if you brought some effort to them yourself, or some story-of-connection as you heard them let loose – maybe very loose – from the stage.
So it was shambolic. But that was somewhat endearing and strangely wonderful. There were some fluffed gags, some bad moments within songs and perhaps it was – for some – a bit of an oddsetlist all up.
But I saw the two remaining Monkees. My two favourites. Dolenz, the heart and soul of the band for me. Nesmith the mind and musical magic, the legitimate talent, the authentic writer.
And I saw them fumble and stumble and almost struggle. As would any part-time player in their 70s.
But I heard them sound as real as they could on the night.
And though it would be a valid response to walk away mildly frustrated, a little disappointed, possibly even embarrassed on their behalf, I just enjoyed what I saw and heard. And was glad to be there. Glad to be right up the front. Some of those songs sound more Beatles-y than The Beatles.
You can support Off The Tracks via PressPatron