Fair warning, this baby’s about 3000 words. If you want something more succinct and less subjective, I heartily recommend Dave Swanson’s review for Ultimate Classic Rock, which utterly nails the vibe of the evening. If you’re up for a longer, stranger trip, click onward. That said, I think I need to back up a bit first for my bias disclaimer. Not much though, just 15 years. 😉
Overture: Dundee, Scotland, October 1996
I was fresh off the plane for my sophomore year abroad in Scotland. Feeling a bit angsty/ homesick, I went to the record store to score Jagged Little Pill. Flipping through the Ms on my way to that disc, my fingers stopped cold at a familiar yet new cover. I picked up the CD, realizing my fingers were trembling with emotions I’d suppressed for seven years. I counted the heads on the cover twice.
I kept getting Four.
I bought both CDs.
When I got home, I shoved Justus in the boom box with barely a glance at poor angst-ridden Alanis. And when the first chords of the new Circle Sky shot out of my speakers and slammed into my eardrums, I nearly wept with glee as the upside of my tween obsession flooded back to me. My second wave of Monkee fandom had begun.
Act 1: Cleveland, Ohio
After fighting our way though the (abominably organized) merchandise line, Cin, her husband Steve, Lauren (AKA “Mich”) and I settled into our shockingly close seats. Off to the far reaches of stage left we couldn’t really see half the screen or the side where Coco and Christian would be playing, but we had almost perfect line of sight for the guys, and were probably less than 30 feet away from where Peter would appear in a half hour. We giggled and laughed through the commercials (many of which we’d seen, though there were some new things to us). Then, just before the house lights lowered, the three of us spied a very familiar fedora-ed silhouette in the wings off to stage right.
The overture was tight and rocking, and played against a backdrop of more video. The house went totally dark, and then…they were there. I screamed like a banshee. Clarksville was tight and wonderful, and worked as well as it always has as an opener. Hearing it for the first time live in far too long, I was reminded once again how incredible Micky’s voice really is. Then came the intros, and the house went nuts, insane, and totally bloody Bananas as Peter, Micky, and Nez introduced each other. Then we headed straight into Papa Gene’s Blues. It was played in sort of a hybrid between old school Monkees and the way Nez does it solo. Rocking, but somehow picking up some new nuances as the song has “matured”. Reality hit me about 30 seconds in, and I could almost hear the item “See Michael Nesmith Play Live” checked off my bucket list. Next was Auntie Grizelda, a song I was little sad to see on the set list. However, For the FIRST time ever in my experiences as a concertgoer, Peter actually seemed to be totally, unironically ENJOYING that damn song, and milked it for everything it was worth with both voice and unforgettable dance moves.
She, which came up next, was played well and played for laughs, complete with Nez coming in late with the “hey!”s and Peter’s antics nearly making Micky dissolve in hysterics at several points. Then came the highlight of the first set for me–Sweet Young Thing. Somebody hollered out “I love you, Papa Nez!” as he launched into the lyrics which will always be tied to the happier paradigm shifts of 2012. This new
roots tribal Nezzish version, which must be heard and seen to be believed, is my new definitive take on the song. Everyone was hitting their stride–from Micky on the cajon box, Peter’s tasty acid-bluegrass banjo solo, and of course Nez’s voice, which just keeps getting better as the tour rolls on.
After Micky caught his breath, we got some songwriter name dropping and Shrek Schtick before the set-ending crowd pleasers I’m a Believer and Stepping Stone. Both were done in the usual vein, though the former seemed to have picked up a few subtle hints of Micky’s Remember version. Then came Darkness, and silence, and I Wanna be Free on video. We sang along, arms over each others’ shoulders, Mich’s right arm over the strangely empty seat to her right.
First interlude: Dundee, April 1997
The morning after buying Justus, made a beeline for the computer lab. I found alt.music.monkees, the original Monkees listserv, and Videoranch, where I promptly read the first 6 chapters of the in-progress Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora. By the time I’d read through to Nez’s, er, bumpy arrival in Welach, I was a Nezhead for life. The solo tapes and CDs I bought locally and scored from my new Monkee friends merely sealed the deal. Interestingly, my friendships online made me more confident in my RL social acceptability, and I soon had a passel of fellow philosophy geeks to hang out with. I even had a ticket to see all four Monkees in Glasgow! But I didn’t go. Instead, I went home for spring break to see my boyfriend. Confident in Nez’s promise of US tour dates and acting in the spirit of my long-ago resolution to “Take a Giant Step” into reality, I flew home, only to discover both my boyfriend and I had changed too much for the relationship to survive. And then I logged into the Monkees mailing list, and learned that Nez had quit. It’s darkly amusing now that for 15 years, I considered that decision the second biggest regret of my life.
Act 2: Headquarters
The reality of seeing Michael Nesmith on stage singing Monkee tunes joyously and of his own free will had just about sunk in as the garage band power trio laid into You Told Me. Mike’s vocals were a little wobbly, but I was mostly fixated on Micky as he authoritatively pounded out the licks I’d played along with hundreds of times as a kid.* Sunny Girlfriend was great aside from some tuning issues. Mike eventually had to swap 12-strings while the Blonde Gretsch “took a break backstage” as Peter put it. Cool reproduction, but she definitely seems to be a temperamental lady…
Next came You Just may be the One, my favorite track of my favorite album (this week, anyway). Nez’s voice was back on its game, and he may have sounded the most like Monkee Mike on this number as anything all night, with the possible exceptions of Circle Sky and Listen to the Band. Then we took a detour into Mary Mary, the only song about stalking I could ever love. Only Micky’s sweet vocal keeps this one from ambling into creepy Sting Territory, in the 60s or now. (Sorry Nez, sad but true…) Then The Girl that I Knew Somewhere, where Peter boggled me once again with his musicianship by playing the bass line and the harpsichord simultaneously on the keys. Based on this concert and the Shoe Suede Blues show in Bay City, I think he might well be the second best keyboardist I’ve ever seen perform live. (Sorry Peter, my brother is always and forever first…)
Speaking of Peter, he launched into his “eponymous” tune, with Nez backing ably on the mighty Hammond B3. (Sorry Mick, but these days I much prefer Peter’s vocals on this tune, particularly on the hysterically psychedelic Cambria Hotel version.) And then we got a delightful dissolve into Early Morning Blues and Greens, also sung by Peter. Not only did Peter take this song to emotional levels that Davy didn’t (and probably couldn’t at that age), I would LOVE to hear Shoe Suede Blues remake this one in some form a la For Pete’s Sake and Clarksville. As Peter wound down the tune, a Tympani emerged from the wings, to squeals of glee. In this crowd of uberfans, EVERYONE knew exactly what that meant. Peter vested Micky in the ceremonial tablecloth, and Micky rocked out Randy Scouse Git as he has so many times before (and hopefully will many times again, fandom gods willing.**).
Next, we got Daily Nightly. We got the Full Moog Treatment, plus scrabble. As always, there are no words for this solemn and tasteful performance, so here’s a video. Actually, there were going to be two, but Mich’s won’t embed for some reason. Grr. This closer angle captures some banter related to the Blonde Gretsch’s meltdown that wasn’t as clear in her video or my audio, not to mention the intricate, delicate nuances of a sensitive rendition of what might be the most metaphorically profound compositions of Nez’s 60s oeuvre.
After the playful and all-too rare ribbing of Nez from Peter captured above, it was time for Tapioca Tundra, the first minute or so of which is also included above. This was always a good-not-great song for me, that only occasionally popped up in the back of my head. However, when reinterpreted by our favorite Mature Loon, this song is taken to a completely different level as it was in the 60s. Perhaps it truly can’t be part of him anymore because it’s part of us *** , but everyone in the audience tried to return what Nez has given us as best we could.
And now that Mich and I had gotten our Nezhead moments, Cin got some Dolenzkateer satisfaction with Goin’ Down. Complete with the now-obligatory Breaking Bad namedrop, the performance was tight and the front row victim acquitted herself well on the lyrics. And then the house lights went down again as sirens wailed, foghorns blew and the most famous sound test in the fandom rang from the speakers.
Second Interlude: 1997-2012
I wouldn’t say I was ever mad at Nez, really, except maybe for those horrid 15 seconds on August 8 when Abba’s Dancing Queen came up on my iPhone at the perfectly wrong moment. But looking back on that moment now, I realize I was really mad at an unjust universe, not someone coping with a situation that was likely more complex than I’ll ever know. In any case I spread the blame for ’97 evenly. Having read I’m a Believer some years before, I was under few delusions regarding the Monkees’ personal and interpersonal quirks. As it happens, my regret at missing what was indeed my first and last chance to see all four Monkees on stage simultaneously was tempered a few years later.
When I visited the rest of the Femmes in 2001, Cin broke out a bootleg VHS from the 1997 UK tour. Davy, Micky, and Peter seemed to be bopping around in their usual way at center stage. WAAAY off to the left, almost offstage, was Nez. Forget all the grinning and goofing we’ve seen the last two weeks, the man seriously looked like was fighting the urge to bolt offstage at the first opportunity. In a way, I guess he did. I don’t know or pretend to know what happened between any or all of them on that UK tour, not that it’s any of my business. I also might have been projecting. But I do know that if I’d seen that sight live, the ’97 implosion might well have put me off the fandom for good. And if I’d left the fandom in 1997, I wouldn’t have my sisters.
I hesitate to say “it worked out for the best” (that often seems a lazy answer from people who are afraid of facing life’s darker sides), and hindsight doesn’t make that choice any less miserable. Maybe, to paraphrase Morpheus, what happened, happened, and couldn’t have happened any other way. I certainly wouldn’t have been chanting along to the video of Ditty Diego with my sisters in the darkness of the Lakewood Civic Auditorium. But then again, why should anyone listen to me, since I know nothing?
Act 3: HEAD
I’ll admit it– I nearly lost it on Porpoise Song. Normally this song evokes the journey of personal and intellectual discovery I lived that year in Dundee. But this is 2012, not 1997. I stayed right there in that moment, burning a new level of meaning into my internal music video for that song. While as a Nezhead I kind of wish we’d gotten Nez singing Daddy’s Song, I get why they didn’t go there. It’s sort of the same reason they didn’t break out Shades of Grey on this Headquarters-centric tour and used Davy’s album (NOT MOVIE) vocals on Daddy’s Song. But Peter sang his Can You Dig it? BETTER than the alternate version from ’68 by several orders of magnitude. I was pudding by the absolutely stunning instrumental break.
Then came my favorite track from Head. As We Go Along was our first dance at Kevin’s and my wedding in 2001. Our relationship is sort of a weird cross between Shrek & Fiona and Sheldon & Amy, and we have absolutely made up our story as we’ve gone along. As poignant as the moment was, we were happy to assist when Peter cheekily encouraged us all to clap out the time signature to help Micky out.
Speaking quasi-objectively, Circle Sky was the highlight of the Head playthrough. Nez and company knocked this one out of the park and waved giddily as it sailed off into the stratosphere. I felt like I might actually have gotten a taste of what it was like in that auditorium in Salt Lake City in ’68. Not to be outdone, Peter proceeded to blast out Long Title with a verve that made all three of us squeal. This one’s got another Wedding/Anissa connection–she deejayed Cin’s wedding to Steve, and in a very Anissa-esque moment of puckishness, dedicated this number to Steve in a hat-tip to his previously rocky marital history. 🙂 And then the house lights went down again and the final video interlude started.
“What number is this, Chip?” (corrected 12/6, see below)
Third Interlude: Daydream Believers
There are always and forever four Frodis Femmes, just as there are always and forever four Monkees. In some ways key traits of each of our personalities map to theirs, due to coincidences of personality and upbringings. While I’m certainly an insecure, temperamental, and snarky redneck geek who has a fraught relationship with her inner child, I’m rather more optimistic than Nez (and definitely less creative). Mich in her way has both Micky’s zaniness and a sardonic Peter/Nez edge to her humor. As for Cin and Anissa…there’s one moment I’ll never forget from that awful week in May that highlights all this, a moment that sprang to mind as we uneasily shifted in our seats through the final Davy tribute video, anticidreading what we knew came next. It was the day before the funeral. After an hour or so Cin and I had exhausted the topics of her pets, my pets, breaking news, our various job travails and the weather. Then Cin, who somehow combines Micky’s interpersonal insights and diplomatic skills with Peter’s compassion, said the words that we both knew, that had been sitting in the pit of my stomach for the five days since we lost our short, puckish, quick-witted Drama Teacher sister.
“She was our Davy.”
And I, the guilt-ridden Nez of our foursome, dissolved into tears on her shoulder as we both cried. In that moment my young adulthood ended, and I think Fandom Lenses might have been born. Life and fandom are not two oppositional forces battling to throw the other into the Black Box of my subconscious, but two metaphorical and theoretical lenses, always changing inside (as my favorite Monkee Peter would say), and always already informing each other (as my favorite philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer would say). But then the lights came up and ended my reverie. Micky stepped to the microphone, visibly emotional. My analytic self gracefully handed the reins off to my trembling inner Frodis Femme. Only Camille was strong enough to get me through the next few songs.
Finale and Encore
Somehow I had BARELY stayed dry-eyed through the tribute. However, when Micky nearly lost it when he told us they couldn’t sing Daydream Believer anymore, I went sailing over the edge. The lady they plucked from the audience to lead the singalong nailed the song, and her spot-on Davydancing obliterated any lingering tension. We were all suddenly kids, singing into our hairbrushes as we danced in front of the closet mirror in 1967, or 1987, or 1997, or 2012. It was a tribute that will warm the cockles of any Davybaby’s heart and is second only to Bay City for my Most Poignant Concert Moment Ever.
After Peter’s request schtick, we got What am I doing Hangin’ Round? as the “finale”. Like Tapioca Tundra, this lyric’s picked up new connotations, and was done with verve as Nez once again sounded particularly “Monkee Mike”-esque, a changed lyric or two aside.
After 45 seconds or so of the least suspenseful call for encore I’ve witnessed in my years of concertgoing, came Listen to the Band. I’ve no words for this either, except to say that this tune probably sent me as high as Daydream Believer did, if on a slightly different trajectory. Last night as I drove home from the airport at midnight soundchecking my audio, I had this up so high in the car my windows trembled. Most recordings can’t catch the totality of a live concert experience, but that recording of Listen to the Band almost did. I felt like I had one foot in 1969 and the other in 2012 as we heard the most appropriate encore tune imaginable for a Monkees concert. The introductions of the backing band were very well done, with huge cheers for all (especially Coco and Christian). Then, one last hit for the more casual fans in the audience (Were there any casual fans in that audience?), the always-rocking mainstay of my workout playlists, Pleasant Valley Sunday. Peter popped his head back onstage to try to say something, but his mike was already off. I guess we’ll never know. And that was it.****
As I said on Tumblr, Saturday was easily the best night of my life not involving my husband. I’m a little sad he couldn’t attend, but I hope to assuage some of that sadness tonight, I’m going to clear some space in the bedroom, dock my iPhone, and crank As we Go Along so we can dance like I imagined on Saturday. Finally, on the very, very off chance one of you took leave of your wits and read this, I love you all, and thank you. None of us will ever forget this night. By any rights this tour should go down in the books as one of the best farewell concerts in all of pop history.
side question: just how many female percussionists is Micky Dolenz responsible for creating, anyway? There’s me and my friend Enola, and maybe Anissa too (I’ll always wish I’d asked her!)
…hint hint hint consider playing Texas or Oklahoma if you decide you’re up for an encore swing through the South next spring hint hint hint…
not totally sure I buy the either/or binary opposition in that lyric, by the way, but that’s my positionality as an optimistic and grateful Nezhead talking.
As the show wound down we spotted Jessica Nesmith standing about 6 feet away from us by a side door, recording the finale on her iPhone like the rest of us. :-). After the show the group of us exchanged a few words with her before Cin, Steve, Anissa’s mom Margie and I headed to the car. I understand Mich and our friends Mattie and Enola talked with her a bit longer. Based on those three minutes or so, she appears to have inherited all the best traits of both her parents. A very warm, classy lady who is simultaneously very protective of her dad.
Correction: for 25 years I have wondered who the hell “Jim” was in the intro to Daydream believer. Today (12/6) Iain Lee mentions in passing on twitter that Davy actually said “What number is this, CHIP?” Which makes a hell of a lot more sense. It’s not just my slightly hearing impaired Okie ears, though, our London Boy only found out last month. 🙂