The Monkees at the State Theatre, 11/15/12
Photo By Steve Cohen
State Theatre, Minneapolis
November 15, 2012
The Monkees were determined to make their sold-out performance at the State Theatre on Thursday night a sunny, psychedelic affair, despite the palpable absence of Davy Jones, who died earlier this year. And it was thrilling to see Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Michael Nesmith (making his first U.S. appearance with the Monkees since 1969) on stage together again, as the band gave the audience a playful audio/visual guided tour of a simpler, more innocent time during their uplifting but uneven 110-minute performance.
The show was certainly steeped in nostalgia, and while images of the young members played during the show's exuberant introduction (and continued throughout the show), Dolenz, Tork, and Nesmith obviously have aged, even though to most fans they will always be the fresh-faced teen idols that they were on-screen in the '60s and '70s. After the seven-piece backing band (featuring Micky's little sister Coco on backing vocals and Mike's son Christian on guitar) served up a medley of familiar melodies as the crowd filed in, the stage darkened as the three Monkees took to the stage to a loud, lasting ovation, as the aging audience slowly rose to their feet.
The show started with a rollicking version of the Monkees' first single, "Last Train to Clarksville," with clips from the corresponding episode playing out behind the group. Micky's voice was in fine form straight from the start, and his outsized personality would carry much of the show. "That's the one that started it all," Dolenz exclaimed after the song drew to a festive close. "Welcome to the evening, an evening with the Monkees." And indeed, most of the crowd were there to recapture those moments of bliss that came from watching the TV show, while singing along to these songs that soundtracked their youth.
Nesmith assumed lead vocals on "Papa Gene's Blues," giving the song a dusty vibrancy that rang throughout the hall. And while Mike's vocals didn't hold up throughout the performance, many fans in the audience were getting a glimpse of the talented songwriter on stage for the very first time at this show, and his added presence certainly went a long way to the venue being sold-out. Tork took over on a perky "Your Auntie Grizelda," and Peter certainly played the role of Ringo throughout the show, adding moments of comedy and an occasional innocuous song, but mostly staying out of the way while trying to fit in with the groove.
Photos By Steve Cohen
The show hit its highpoint early on, as the band added a psychedelic twist to "She" as Dolenz elegantly carried the song, while "Sweet Young Thing" was given a folksy, Americana thump as colorful old pictures of the band were projected behind them. Dolenz then took to the microphone to humorously introduce the next number, "We've got one for you from that great songwriter, Neil Diamond. And I just want all the kids in the crowd to know -- I see one right there, unless you're a midget (as Nesmith chimed in, "Don't you scare that child"). We did this song a long time before Shrek." And, as a montage of magazine covers featuring the band were projected behind them, the group delivered a buoyant rendition of "I'm A Believer" which got most of the crowd dancing and singing along.
Micky danced around the stage during a rocking version of "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone," which proved to be one of the night's highlights, as Dolenz poured so much of himself into the song that he was visibly out of breath as it came to a close. The stage darkened again for the first of three video tributes to Davy during the set, as "I Wanna Be Free" played over the speakers as wistful images of Jones strolling along the beach and playing in the ocean were projected on the screen. These glimpses of the charismatic singer only accentuated his absence, as everyone in the crowd missed him in their own way.
Photos By Steve Cohen
With the crowd seated now, Micky took to the drum kit while Peter played the banjo on the "Dr. Robert"-echoing "You Told Me." "Sunny Girlfriend" and "You Just May Be the One" both drifted by pleasantly, with the latter tune featuring a cool image of the back cover of the album Headquarters, with a changing array of pictures of the band fading in and out of the image. The group tried to maintain their playful, boyish interaction throughout the performance, but some of it seemed forced and didn't draw the laughs they were expecting from the crowd. But for the most part, the music was on point throughout the set, as a spirited take on "Mary, Mary," led by Dolenz on vocals and drums, got the audience clapping and singing along.
Tork took a moment to thank the appreciative crowd, "We're very grateful that you're here tonight, otherwise we'd be playing to an empty hall, which would be more of a rehearsal than a performance. So, because you're here, you're making us perform. Thank you for that." And he launched the band into the familiar, "For Pete's Sake," which served as the closing theme for their television show during the second season, which blended fluidly into the smoothed out stoner vibes of "Early Morning Blues And Greens."
Dolenz moved a timpani out to the middle of the stage and donned his flowery '60s poncho as he told a story of the band's trip to England in their early days. "We got to meet the royal family, and by that I mean the Beatles. And they threw a party for us, and I'm told I had a very good time. I wrote a song about my time over there called "Randy Scouse Git," but the record company said I had to change the title. Loosely translated it means 'Horny Liverpudlian Putz." And with that the band dove into their loudest song of the night, with Micky leading the way with his animated vocals. The crowd loved it, and gave the group a loud ovation, to which Dolenz responded as he took off the poncho, "My tablecloth thanks you."
Micky and Mike then went into a long conversation leading into the next number, with Dolenz saying the Nesmith-penned track "Daily Nightly" was one of the first pop songs to use a Moog synthesizer, and how Mike promised he would get one for the show, but instead just brought a picture of one. Nesmith explained, "They're as big as a Buick, and the first Moogs were quite complex but they wouldn't actually do a lot" -- "Like the government," chimed in Dolenz. Micky then eased the group into the acid-tinged psych-pop number as Nesmith playfully provided twisted Moog-like sound effects during the track.
Photos By Steve Cohen
Mike truly struggled on vocals during "Tapioca Tundra," as he read his lyrics from an iPad affixed to his mic stand. But a swinging version of "Goin' Down" picked things back up, with Dolenz mentioning how the track was used in "a cool show called Breaking Bad." Colorful Warhol-like images of Micky singing and dancing were projected behind the band, giving the song an added abstract '60s spirit.
A long montage of clips from the Monkees' psychedelic feature-film, Head, then played on the screen (including a clip of Frank Zappa's zany guest appearance in the movie), before Dolenz emerged alone, leading the band through a trippy take on "The Porpoise Song," which drew to a close with him settling back in behind the drum kit. The stage again darkened as the band played along to a video of a tuxedo-clad Davy singing "Daddy's Song," as he danced along to the beat, reminding all of us how much his boundless, effervescent personality would have added to the show.
A Middle Eastern-tinged "Can You Dig It" featured clips of belly-dancers as Peter took over vocals, before a pensive, melancholy version of "As We Go Along" showcased Dolenz' best vocal take of the evening. The crowd finally rose back to their feet for a raucous rendition of "Circle Sky," with Michael working through his vocal issues to deliver a fine version. A Kinks-like rendition of "Do I Have To Do This All Over Again" kept the energy going, before a lengthy tribute video to Davy (where he admits to wanting to be a juggler) put everyone back in their seats.
When the band returned, Dolenz mentioned how the three of them discussed who would sing the next song, mentioning how Nesmith came up with the idea to let us sing it. "We don't own this song anymore, you do." And with that, Nesmith picked a young girl and a woman (with a prominent Monkees tattoo) out of the front row to sing lead vocals "In honor of our dearly departed friend" on "Daydream Believer," which was a nice touch, considering Davy's absence. "What Am I Doing Hangin' Round" closed out the main set rather tepidly, with Dolenz even nonchalantly checking his watch as the track drew to a close.
A halfhearted version of "Listen to the Band" started the encore and never quite found a spark, before the night closed with an audience-wide singalong on "Pleasant Valley Sunday," which sent everyone off smiling. And while Dolenz, Nesmith, and Tork did mostly everything they could to make up for the palpable absence of their lost friend, Jones' exuberance and stage presence was dearly missed during the show, and would have given the performance a much needed jolt that would have transformed a good experience into a truly great one. But at least the Monkees made all of us feel a little bit younger, if only just for the night.
Personal Bias: I remember my sisters watching the Monkees TV show pretty religiously growing up, but once I found out about the Beatles, I didn't give them much of a chance. But I've learned to appreciate their songs over the years.
The Crowd: Certainly skewed a bit towards the older side, obviously, but there were plenty of young people in the audience as well, with everyone there to have a good time.
Overheard In The Crowd: Lots of individual "I love you" calls out to each of the Monkees, and a girl who screamed loudly every time clips of belly dancers were projected on the screen.
Random Notebook Dump: Am I the only one upset/surprised that they didn't play the theme song to the Monkees? That song is a real jam.
Last Train To Clarksville
Papa Gene's Blues
Your Auntie Grizelda
Sweet Young Thing
I'm A Believer
(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone
I Wanna Be Free (Davy on video)
You Told Me
You Just May Be The One
The Girl I Knew Somewhere
For Pete's Sake
Early Morning Blues And Greens
Randy Scouse Git
The Porpoise Song (Theme From "Head")
Daddy's Song (Davy on video)
Can You Dig It
As We Go Along
Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again
What Am I Doing Hangin' Round
Listen To The Band (Encore)
Pleasant Valley Sunday (Encore)
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