The Monkees last played the Pacific Northwest on their 45th anniversary tour in 2011, when they performed at the Pantages Theater in Tacoma. But they hadn’t played Seattle since 1969. Which meant there were a lot of eager fans (both old and young, though skewing toward the older end of the spectrum) who packed Benaroya Hall in Seattle on August 17 to experience what was billed as “A Midsummer’s Night with The Monkees.”
There were originally four Monkees. But in spite of the unexpected death of Davy Jones of a heart attack in 2012, the remaining members of the group — Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork — have elected to carry on, and are clearly still dedicated to keeping the spirit of the group alive. The two-hour show was packed with hits and fan favorites. It was no laid-back nostalgia fest; on the heavier numbers like “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” (a favorite cover of ‘70s punk bands), the band rocked hard like they still had something to prove.
It’s easy to win the crowd over when you have catchy hits like “Last Train to Clarksville,” “I’m a Believer,” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” But the band reached deep into their catalogue as well. Michael Nesmith never sang lead on a Monkees hit single, but his country-rock tunes gave him a distinct voice in the group, as he showed in performing great renditions of “Papa Gene’s Blues,” “Listen to the Band,” and a rollicking “Sweet Young Thing.”
Because Micky Dolenz was the lead vocalist on so many Monkees pop songs, it’s often overlooked that he was also the band’s most versatile vocalist, with a decided R&B slant on numbers like “Words” and “Goin’ Down.” Peter Tork exhibited the liveliest persona on stage, pulling faces, doing little dance steps, and playing off Dolenz’s antics. He took the lead one of the band’s zanier numbers, “Your Auntie Grizelda,” but played it straight at other times.
The biggest surprise was that the band did all the songs from their 1968 film “Head.” Though the film flopped on release, it’s gone on to become a cult classic (with a DVD release as part of the prestigious Criterion Collection). From the dreamy “Porpoise Song,” to the pop psychedelia of “Can You Dig It,” the bracing rock of “Circle Sky,” and the frantic drive of “Long Song: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again,” the songs all proved to be crowd pleasers.
Emphasizing the band’s roots as a TV phenomenon, as the stars of the 1960s TV series "The Monkees," about the wacky exploits of a fictional rock band, a steady steam of film clips was projected onto a screen at the back of the stage: scenes from the show, bloopers, montages of fan magazines, TV commercials. It was fun, but at times a little distracting.
No mention was made of Jones’ death, though his solo spot in “Head,” the number “Daddy’s Song,” was shown at a point when the group left the stage. And Dolenz pulled up two members of the audience to sing lead on “Daydream Believer,” which Jones had been lead vocalist on, saying the song no longer belonged to the Monkees, “but to you.” The number naturally led into a mass audience sing along.
The group was backed by a seven-piece band (including Dolenz’s sister Coco on percussion and vocals and Nesmith’s son Christian on guitar). But each Monkee played an instrument as well, Nesmith on guitar, and Tork on guitar, banjo, and keyboards; Dolenz primarily sang without an instrument other than maracas, but did get behind the drum kit on a few occasions.
Overall, the Monkees 2013 were confident, in good voice, and appeared to be enjoying themselves as much as the audience did. So though they haven’t released any new Monkees material since the 1996 album “Justus,” and they all continue to perform as solo artists (Nesmith and Tork performed in Seattle earlier this year and Dolenz returns to Snoqualmie Casino at the end of August), to their fans, Mike, Micky and Peter will always be the Monkees.
Setlist: “Last Train to Clarksville,” “Papa Gene’s Blues,” “Auntie Grizelda,” “The Kind of Girl I Could Love,” “She,” “Sweet Young Thing,” “I’m a Believer,” “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” “You Told Me,” “Sunny Girlfriend,” “You Just May Be the One,” “Mary, Mary,” “The Girl I Knew Somewhere,” “Early Morning Blues and Greens,” “Randy Scouse Git,” “”For Pete’s Sake,” “No Time,” “The Door Into Summer,” “Words,” “Tapioca Tundra,” “Goin’ Down,” “Porpoise Song,” “Can You Dig It,” “Circle Sky,” “As We Go Along,” “Long Song: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again,” “Daddy’s Song,” “Daydream Believer,” “What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round,”
Encore: “Listen to the Band,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday”