BY ELLIOT STEPHEN COHEN
The Monkees certainly have one of the most passionate followings of any 1960's rock group. Of course, having their own weekly television show created an intimate bond with fans, even if it was all fantasy.
At Friday night’s concert, many in attendance were undoubtedly wondering how the show would unfold without the band’s resident sex symbol and frontman Davy Jones (the Justin Bieber of his day), who suffered a fatal heart attack two years ago.
Jones had also sung lead on some of their biggest hits, “Valerie,” “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You,” and his signature song, “Daydream Believer.” The first two would not be performed, but fellow Monkees Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork lead the crowd through a very emotional “Believer,” accompanied by an onscreen video of young, boyishly handsome 20-year-old Jones.
What made this different from most other Monkees reunion shows over the past two decades was the addition of original member Michael Nesmith who left the band in 1969, and has only made sporadic appearances with them since then.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, the 71-year-old Nesmith doesn’t have a financial need to perform, having inherited over 25 million dollars in 1980 from his mother who invented a once very popular product for typewriter users: Liquid Paper (also known as “white-out”).
At a show I attended three years ago, Jones charmed the fans, and did amongst other things, an impressive soft-shoe dance, as well as telling many jokes. Friday night, there was less emphasis on comedy, replaced with a more serious musical approach.
While casual Monkees fans are mostly familiar with such Dolenz-sung hits as “Last Train to Clarksville”, “I’m a Believer” and popular album tracks like “She,” “Mary, Mary” and (“I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” (the later covered by iconic punk rockers, The Sex Pistols !), the show was heavy on obscurities. The band performed six numbers from its 1968 psychedelic feature film, ‘Head' - “Porpoise Song,” “Can You Dig It? ” “Circle Sky,” “As We Go Along,” “Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?," and "Daddy's Song."
They also performed songs from their landmark “Headquarters” album on which the group members were allowed to play their own instruments for the first time.
If there had ever been any doubt from some critics, this concert showed more than anything that The Monkees are, in fact, a “real” band, that definitely belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Tork, who still looks a little frail from a 2009 cancer scare, is generally considered the group’s best all-around musician. He was excellent on banjo, further displaying his versatility on guitar, bass and keyboards as well as cracking up the audience with his facial contortions while singing “Your Auntie Grizelda.” Nesmith, who performed his originals, “Papa Gene’s Blues,” “You Just May Be The One,” and “Listen To The Band,” was fine on his patented 12-string electric guitar. Dolenz – no Ginger Baker – really does play the drums.
While The Monkees today are dismissed by many as just another 60's teeny-bopper band, one of their TV series later episodes actually included an appearance by famed L.S.D. advocate Dr. Timothy Leary; another memorable one entitled “The Monkees Blow Their Minds" (!!), featured avant-garde rock musician Frank Zappa.
The band encored with the 1968 hit, “Pleasant Valley Sunday," their poignant attack on conformity.
After all these years, The Monkees really are a lot hipper than many people noticed the first time around.