The Monkees: 2011 Concert Tour
The Monkees: 2011 Concert Tour
One of my guilty pleasures in life is being a fan of The Monkees. In much the same way that the puppet Pinocchio became a real boy in the classic fairytale, The Monkees somehow went from being four youths cast in a television show about a struggling band to being an actual musical group. All discussions of artistic merit and talent aside, I have always enjoyed the humor of the television series, which premiered in 1966, and thought their music was downright catchy.
As a second generation Monkees fan raised on the Saturday morning rebroadcasts and then the national syndication of the series in the 70’s, I didn’t have much of an opportunity to see them live. They had already disbanded before I was old enough to realize they were a musical group and even though I was a fan in 1976, I somehow missed the unofficial tenth anniversary tour when original members Mickey Dolenz and Davy Jones combined forces with the show’s musical producers Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. I would not get my first chance to see them live until the twentieth anniversary tour when Dolenz and Jones were joined by Peter Tork. For this tour, the trio of Monkees had several other oldies acts opening for them and while they were afforded the lion’s share of the stage time it was still a short performance with handful of hits and a couple of recent numbers. When I saw them live for a second time in 2001, they had evolved their act into more of a stage show with stories and routines that included a solo spot for each member and a tribute segment for the missing member, Michael Nesmith. They also had a forgettable boy band opening for them but they turned up late the night I saw them so they moved them to the middle of the show and ground it to a screeching halt while most of the audience took extended bathroom breaks.
It’s hard to believe The Monkees (sans the financially fortified Michael Nesmith) are still at it all these years later but when I heard a 45th anniversary tour had been announced I knew I had to be there. I purchased tickets for both the June 4 show in Clearwater and the June 6 performance back home in Jacksonville just in case this does turn out to be the “farewell tour” some of the concert promotional material has dubbed it. I was already pretty excited about getting to see one of my favorite groups perform live again but when I scored a couple of backstage passes for the Jacksonville show, I knew that was going to be a night to remember!
The Clearwater show was at the Ruth Eckerd Hall, a venue I had not visited since 1985 when I saw the legendary Frank Sinatra perform there (another evening I will never forget). My wife Cindy and I headed down Saturday morning and killed a little time in the surrounding areas before we met fellow Monkee fan Lonnie Dohlen for dinner around 5:30. The show did not start until 8PM but we wanted to eat nearby and avoid the crowd and we succeeded admirably at both. The doors did not open until 7PM but they had a patio area set up out back with a couple of lounge singers and drinks for sale so it was a pleasurable way to pass the time until we could proceed indoors.
I had forgotten what a nice venue the Ruth Eckerd Hall was until I saw it again. The circular seating gave just about everyone inside the large auditorium a good view of the stage. After purchasing a few obligatory souvenirs, we found our seats and got settled in for the show. Lonnie had purchased his ticket after Cindy and I did so even though he was only a couple of rows behind us, he was on the opposite side of the hall. In the first of what would be many impressive touches over the evening, a mix of rare Monkees’ tunes that included unreleased songs, pre and post Monkees solo numbers and even a couple of Boyce and Hart tracks was played before the performance to get the audience in the right frame of mind.
The crowd was sufficiently riled up when the intro music signaled the beginning of the concert and the curtain rose. The dark stage was suddenly lit from a giant screen in the background that played a brief montage of scenes documenting the creation of The Monkees. This screen would remain alive with still and moving images for the remainder of the concert as it provided a Greek chorus in lights and sounds that chronicled the life story of the pre-Fab Four! This multimedia presentation was the backbone of this particular tour which celebrates Monkeemania and everything associated with it. Unlike the 1986 tour which seemed to be trying to write Michael Nesmith out of Monkee history or the 2001 where he seemed to be paid begrudging lip service, this new one pulls no punches on the Nez’s contributions to the group which makes his absence regrettable but honest.
Following the introduction video, the terrific trio of Mickey, Davy and Peter stormed the stage and launched into a barrage of Monkee tunes that were only interrupted at brief intervals for them to do a quick setup or comedy shtick. This show was about the music though and it had less talking than any I can recall from recent memory. The track selection for the first half contained many of the expected hits but was also peppered with some obscure and posthumously released songs. At one point, prior to crooning It’s Nice to Be With You, an almost forgotten B-Side to the group’s first non-hit single D.W. Washburn, Davy explained that they held an Internet poll to have fans tell them which songs they would most like to hear. The Monkees must have listened because the lengthy show was filled with more music than a casual fan could ask for and my only minor complaint was that it could have used a few more of the hard edged tracks from their later albums.
After a solid tune packed hour, the guys announced an intermission and shuffled off the stage to the music of We’ll Be Back in a Minute which was specifically recorded for the bumpers on the Saturday morning rebroadcasts of their show. Any member of the audience who fled to the restroom too hastily though missed a compilation of Monkees’ commercials for products like Kellogg’s cereals, Yardley aftershave and Kool-Aid products. We were only half way through the performance and I already felt like I seen a very respectable full concert!
The second half of the show began with a tribute to the band’s one and only feature film, Head. While neither the movie nor its soundtrack set the world on fire back in 1968, both have aged well and garnered some appreciation over time. All five tracks from the film were performed including Nesmith’s rocker Circle Sky which Davy did a surprisingly good lead vocal on. Jones stepped off stage during the next numbers only to return in a white tux for a spirited rendition of his dance number Daddy’s Song which he did in an impressive duet with his projected image from the film. The wrap up for the set was the theme from the movie, Porpoise Song, which sounded excellent live.
The remainder of the show was a similar mix to the first portion with a slightly greater emphasis on the more well known songs. Stand out performances included all three Monkees harmonizing on Shades of Gray, a song which seems even more relevant now than it did in the 60’s, and a rocking version of an album track featured heavily in the television series, She. By the time the trio had wrapped up and then done an encore of several more songs including the hits Pleasant Valley Sunday and I’m a Believer, the show had clocked in at a little over two hours not counting the intermission. Not a bad night’s work for group of guys who all qualify for senior citizens discounts!
Lonnie caught up with us on the way out and said that he thought this was the best of the four performances he has seen the group give. I had to agree with him on that although I noted that the vocals seemed strained on a couple of the songs and the volume seemed to fluctuate a few times. Since this was only the second stop on their tour it was possible it was the facilities fault or it could have been their equipment or it may have just been that the notes are getting harder to hit. Regardless, I certainly felt like I had gotten plenty of Monkee for my dollar by the time the show was over. I told Cindy on the way out though that I was already looking forward to seeing them again in just two days.
The Monday Monkees show in Jacksonville was at the Florida Theater, the same venue Cindy and I had seen them at in 2001. We were joined that evening by friends Steve Nickels and Amy Pope for dinner across the river prior to the concert. Steve is a seasoned Monkees fan from their days in prime time but Amy is a very recent convert and neither had ever seen the group live before. Our dinner ended up taking longer than expected when we lost ourselves in good conversation and we ended up at the theater and scrambling for out seats just as the show started.
I have often referred to the Florida Theater as a less than ideal venue for a lot of shows due to its layout and sometimes over complicated policies regarding things like photography. They surprised me this time though because the acoustics were vastly superior to the Ruth Eckerd Hall and practically ever number sounded great. Whatever problems had been encountered on Saturday night, they were not present now so I can honestly say I enjoyed the show better the second time and some close up seats didn’t hurt in the least.
After the concert, Cindy and Amy headed home while Steve and I went back stage to spend a little time with our idols. It was after 11PM on a work night for both of us and The Monkees looked pretty tired themselves. I can only imagine how drained they must have been after the energetic and lengthy performance they had just given but they still managed to spend a few minutes speaking with the fans and posing for pictures. I made the mistake of holding up a poster for their 1967 concert in Jacksonville (one of only a handful of dates where The Jimi Hendrix Experience opened for the group before they were dropped from the tour) when my photo was taken and it threw glare from the flash everywhere but I still got my picture. Steve snuck a box of Snuggle fabric softener into his picture and even got Mickey to confirm that he does the voice for the product’s bear mascot! We left Peter, Davy, and Mickey with a few remaining fans and probably longing for bed themselves as we departed for home while still marveling at what a fun time we had just had.
It amazes me that a group of performers could still have so much enthusiasm for revisiting a period of their lives that took up such a relatively short amount of time. While the demands of this stage show must have been considerable on them at their age and they did appear a little strained at times, they never seemed anything less than enthusiastic the entire evening. I noticed that the humorous interplay between the trio was different at each performance indicating that it really may be spontaneous. The group certainly seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves but this is also the very early stages of this tour. The song selection was generous and interesting, the performances were all top notch with The Monkees each playing a variety of instruments throughout the show, the backing band was excellent, and the multimedia presentation made this a truly unique experience. It may have taken forty five years but it seems The Monkees have finally embraced their manufactured image and the mania it generated and are better performers for it. I have a strong suspicion that as long as they are physically able their will be a 50th anniversary tour and I look forward to seeing it!