The great charm of the Monkees rock band is that they have never taken themselves too seriously.
They first hit America’s music scene back in 1966, as a goofy, wise-cracking group of musicians who were put together by Hollywood producers for one reason – to portray a group of goofy, wise-cracking musicians on a weekly TV comedy show.
The show was a runaway hit for a couple of years, and the Monkees – with help from songwriters like Carole King and Neil Diamond – actually made some really good pop music while they were at it.
Forty-six years later, there they were Sunday night, the three surviving Monkees – looking and sounding much, much older, but still having a good time.
Mickey Dolenz, 67; Mike Nesmith, 69; and Peter Tork, 70, played a breezy, enjoyable show of an hour and 50 minutes, proving that they can still rock, still have fun doing it and actually can play their own instruments.
The only thing missing was their old buddy, British singer Davy Jones, who died of a heart attack in February at age 66. But Jones was hardly forgotten. The band paid tribute to him several times during their set.
An especially nice moment came toward the end of the show, when Dolenz invited a woman named Kristen from the audience to come up and take lead vocals on “Daydream Believer,” the hit song that Jones was probably best known for.
“We talked about it, and decided that none of us could ever sing lead on this song,” Dolenz said.
“But you [the audience] can sing it.” Kristen did a very nice job, leading the audience in a big singalong that Jones, no doubt, would have enjoyed.
It was one of many feel-good moments in a show that featured some rollicking hits, some very unusual and obscure songs, and surprisingly good musical chops by the three surviving Monkees. The big audience, which included a surprising number of kids and young adults, seemed to love it.
Hey, hey, they’re the Monkees – still popular for a TV show that ended well over four decades ago. They drew a big standing ovation before they played even one note of their opening song, “Last Train To Clarksville.”
Laughing and joking like old pals, the Monkees played about 25 songs. They did most of their major hits, but left some very good ones off the set list.
They performed a few too many B-sides for my taste, but it was delightful to hear psychedelic numbers like “Daily Nightly,” “Can You Dig It” and “Porpoise Song.”
While they played, the slapstick humor of the old TV show was shown on a big video screen behind the band.
Despite the absence of Jones, this tour is pretty special for the Monkees, mainly because of the presence of Nesmith.
Formed in 1966, the band began to fall apart after their TV show was canceled in 1968. They broke up in 1971, and in the late 1980s, Tork, Dolenz and Jones began to do occasional, quite popular reunion tours. But Nesmith, a successful business entrepreneur and solo act, rarely participated.
The current tour marks the first time Nesmith has appeared with his former co-stars since 1997. Although he barely has a hair on his head, he wore the same bemused expression on his face that he used to wear when Dolenz and the other Monkees were acting silly back in their TV days.
Dolenz, who wore a black fedora hat, sunglasses and black suit Sunday night, is still the band’s showman. Animated, jumpy and clearly having fun, he took the lead on most of the songs that really had the audience rocking – “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “Not Your Stepping Stone” and “I’m A Believer,” to name a few.
“I just want the kids [in the audience] to know, we did this song LONG before Shrek did it!” Dolenz said before the band did “I’m A Believer.”
Nesmith took the lead on quite a few songs, including “Mary, Mary,” “Listen To The Band” and “What Am I Doing Hangin’ Around.”
The Monkees were ably backed by a seven-piece band that included Dolenz’s sister, Coco, on percussion, and Nesmith’s son, Christian, on guitar.
Jones was fondly remembered. His wonderful ballad “I Want To Be Free” was played as the audience watched a poignant video montage of the British singer.