Here let me set down a tale of what I am almost certain will be my last Monkees concert ever. It’s long, but I think in part that’s because, while I’m ready to move on from the intense interest I’ve had in the guys over the past year, part of me still doesn’t want this dreamlike season of my life to end.
To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose under Heaven
A time to build up,a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together.
–Turn! Turn! Turn! The Byrds
You see that pic at the top of the post? That was our view from our seats. It was even better than the Nez show in Ferndale, for all that we were about 20 feet away rather than a yard or two. There was no iPad block, and our seats actually had seats (though we used them for maybe a quarter of the show max). The line of sight thing worked surprisingly well the other way, as you’ll find out in a moment. 😉 One note before we get into the review–given that 90% of the set list is identical to last year, I emphasized new stuff and songs from the 2012 tour that changed substantially due to their performance or my perspective. If I don’t talk about something go check out my Cleveland review—I decided my previous assessment still stands.
I need to go looking for the new video “Overture” on Youtube–Andrew made a genius move as we see The Big Victor flipping channels between the Brady Bunch, Mad Men, Johnny Cash, Breaking Bad and David Letterman, et al. The entrance in darkness was similar to last year, with similar applause ratios (to be expected, since I’m pretty sure this was the first time Nez has toured Oklahoma in any way since the Johnson administration). After I got my very Okie “Oh my Holy God!”s out of the way as the precise awesomeness of our seats sunk in, we bopped along to Last train to Clarksville, and cheered at the intros. Even from the first songs, we could tell that the band had gotten MUCH more solid since last fall–and they weren’t exactly shabby in Cleveland! And then Michael Nesmith opened his mouth. Now, I’d been to Ferndale, so I knew his voice had gotten stronger since last fall. However, in the last 8 months the man had FINALLY committed all the lyrics of his own songs to memory–I think he only goofed one or two all night. Oh yeah–toward the end of Papa Gene’s Blues Micky appeared to smack Peter on the bum, and my insane (in a good way) friends over at Naked Persimmon sensed a Great Disturbance in the Force.
My husband, being possessed of a a few Auntie Grizelda-esque relatives himself, enjoyed himself thoroughly as Peter sashayed his way across the stage as only he can. As I saw Kevin lip syncing with a broad grin, my worries subsided about whether he would enjoy something that was so much “my thing”. I knew he was gonna have a GREAT evening. The Kind of Girl I could Love was a hard-charging new addition to the first set, and as they progressed through She and Sweet Young Thing, I noticed one of the smart changes they made from last fall. I could tell that the band was doing more of the heavy lifting for the guys, adding more layers of sound and leaving them free to focus on highlight stuff like Peter’s tasty banjo solo and the spinning microphone humor in She. The guys even called Wayne Avers down to the front of the stage for a few spotlight moments throughout the show, which was a more than nice touch.
4th wall piercing Number 1:Attentive concertgoers or listeners to the audio (which I will be sending over to the inimitable Iain Lee as soon as i get it split into tracks) will notice that Micky very briefly got the giggles during Stepping Stone. I think that one was the fault of Cin’s husband Steve, who was wearing his traditional Monkees Concert Tee shirt. Micky was over on our side of the stage, Cin gestured over to her husband, he looked, and well… sorry, Micky! (except not 😉 ) In any case, as the first set drew to a close, we all bathed in the utter Monkee Glee that permeated the Brady Theater.
We’re one Minute (or application to Real Life) short:
I had myself a lovely little emotionally potent frame story for the interludes, but it turned out that Saturday night was about something else entirely. You see, between my experience last fall and the (slightly lazy) invocation of “nostalgia” by many reviewers, I expected this tour, like the last, to be about a form of catharsis and remembrance that would echo that part of my life. Instead, even in the lighthearted pre-Headquarters content and the clips from mostly first-season post show interviews, I could already tell that it was an evening that, for all the hijinks, seemed geared more toward introspection and, as sorry I was to feel it, a sense of goodbye. Intellectually I’d known this was likely the last time I would see the guys together as a group and probably even solo, but throughout the first set my gut began to suggest to me that they were so loose and playful and willing to let the band play more because they knew this era was drawing to a close. Nez, Micky, Peter, Andrew, Wayne, et al wanted nothing more than for The Monkees to go out with one hell of a bang. I’d put in a joke here about wishing they’d worked in a round of “Killer”, but I’d have hated it if Micky had thrown out his back or something in a death scene…
Act 2: Headquarters
Now, I want to make one thing clear. The guys still seemed to be “playing lead” in this set. However, they were getting far more assistance from the band than they did last fall, and I honestly think it made the guys’ performances better. They were more free to focus on the drastically improved vocals, some added bits of adlibbing and humor (particularly from Nez), and the more intricate spotlight bits of instrumental work (particularly from Peter, who shone on every instrument he touched in this set). I found it a good middle ground between the heavier backing assistance Threekees 1.0 used when I saw them in 2001, and the “three guys on stage” approach of last year. If that honest assessment makes me some sort of anti-purist Monkee Heretic, then so be it. 🙂
You Told Me and Sunny Girlfriend unfolded in a similar vein to Cleveland (save that the Blonde behaved herself). It was lovely to nestle next to Kevin during You Just May be the One–he certainly was and is mine, and I hope I was for him. It’s been 15 years and I’ve yet to run him off, so that’s a good sign. Then came Mary Mary, followed by The Girl that I knew Somewhere--another song that ran in my head often in the early days of our relationship, as we learned to trust each other after some ill-advised previous entanglements (Fortunately we had a happier ending). Next in this transition-less streak of rapid fire songs was Early Morning Blues and Greens–this summer just Peter on a stool. I got my wish from the last concert, and this one was on the newest Shoe Suede Blues Album Step by Step! Go forth and buy, kids. No offense to Davy, but Peter OWNS this song now.
And then came what was possibly the biggest surprise of the night (well, aside from the smack that gave a certain chunk of the fandom the vapors). Once Micky was garbed in his vestments there was no long winded story already known by 99% of the audience of “The Other Royal Family” and “The Colors!” and “I’m told I had a great time…” We just got a little snark from Nez, a knowing look and grin from El Poncho, and he dove straight into Randy Scouse Git! For Pete’s Sake unfolded well (the audience was nice enough not to yell out his “It goes exactly like this” punch line as
we some unknown smart alecks did in Cleveland), and the backing vocals from the full band definitely made the song stronger. Then the set wrapped up with No Time. While it’s no Daily Nightly (what is?) the guys sell it admirably well with their opening banter. For the record, Nez’s verse on Saturday went something along the lines of
Bargle gargle snargle fargle rhubarb rhubarb Ford,
bricka bracka fricka fracka zigga zagga Zord!”
I’ll break out Mighty Morphing Power Rangers and the Collected works of Jacques Derrida later when I have a few hours to devote to deep textual analysis. I’ve no doubt these are yet more of the intricately evocative metaphorical lyrics we have come to expect from the man–or maybe it’s just that he’s a Chevy guy?
Interlude: The Colors, The Colors!
What quickly proved itself to be the “Frodis interlude” (Both clips from the caper of that name and memorable second season moments where one or more Monkees were most clearly under the influence of said herb) went over a treat with the audience. At this point I started paying more attention to the editing of the clips–what they chose to leave in and what they cut out. There’s enough video in the can of these guys that one can re-edit it to tell a wide variety of stories about this band. This interlude was all about the genuine camaraderie that shone through the
hackneyed classic plots and purple haze, and we lapped it up with a great deal of knowing laughter. * All that said, Where was Princess Gwen?!
And then the band kicked back in with the intro I’d been keeping my finders crossed about since Houston. I slammed my iphone over into video mode (the resultant 1-2 second skip in my audio on either side of the song from my later splicing was worth it), centered Nez in the frame, and then I ignored my screen for the next 3 minutes as I stared directly at him. The rest of the universe evaporated, as a song that subconsciously informed many of my 20-something struggles of self-definition played out.
Act 3: The Later Albums
Even before The Year of our WTF brought me back to the fandom, The Door into Summer was one of a handful that remained in my playlists through the 2000s as I set the fandom and Camille aside, broke free of the golden handcuffs of corporate life, grew up a bit, and generally tried to figure out who I was and how I could achieve all the things I thought I needed to achieve in order to be “good enough”. Watching Nez sing, I resonated deeply with his delivery–it was straightforward and almost blunt in an odd sort of way. The lyrics still might have been in the third person, but unlike in Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, and Jones, he no longer sounded a bit like one of the sophomoric children who left king Midas there, smug in the certainty that the young generation would lead much more fulfilling lives than their forebears. Great though the song is on its own merits, Nez’s deliberately vulnerable position and awkward body language takes it to a completely different level. Long story short (because I could probably do a thousand words on this song and the old and new renditions of it), I think this is Michael Nesmith’s Early Morning Blues and Greens. That said, I’ll let you watch my video and be the judge.
Words was great, but anything was going to be a bit anticlimactic after the previous number. As for Tapioca Tundra–after a year of writing these essays/reflections/musings/whatever the hell they are, I think I get what Nez was saying a little better now. In some ways the story told in Fandom Lenses isn’t just a part of me anymore, after hearing from so many people who have resonated with it. That said, the process of sharing all of the stories and thoughts seen here wasn’t simply one of subtraction, as I gained something wonderful in in return in the form of your appreciation and even a few new friendships. By sharing my thoughts, and hearing yours in return, we all gain something–in much the same way that Nez said the other day that our joy makes him happier and younger. All this has me thinking of other things, probably non-blog things, in which I can employ this intriguing form of alchemy where the whole equals more than the sum of its parts.
And then Micky whacked some poor lady in the face with his microphone while going down to find a soloist for Goin’ Down. I can always trust these guys to bring me back to earth after my more ethereal flights of rampant pseudointellectual overanalysis. Thank goodness for that. 😉
Act 4: Head
The Head intro was condensed substantially–just a commercial, “Ditty Diego”, and then a very carefully executed hard cut onto one of the largest suspended arch bridges in the world. The Head content almost read like a solo set of sorts, as with the exception of Circle Sky, each Monkee was on stage alone for their spotlight songs–Not only did it make for a nice breather, it also echoed Davy’s solo turn on the stage (well, the video screen) in a very lovely way.
The picture doesn’t do justice to the staging of the beginning of the Head set, as Micky came out alone on the dark stage about the time his younger self leapt off the bridge. in silhouette he watched his plummet unfold, then started into Porpoise Song, well-executed as always. I didn’t know this was about to happen in Cleveland, but yet another layer of recursive meaning had accrued on this song since November. Back in 1997 I was playing this track on my Discman (remember those?) as the train pulled out from Dundee station and slowly crossed the Tay Rail Bridge at the end of my year abroad, as a goodbye to a city where I’d found an old beloved band and new inner strength. I pulled the same stunt again on my iPhone this March, as I nodded to the recursion and cued up the 2012 live version as the train swept me away at the end of a long-promised day in Dundee with my husband. A bit of me could feel the chill in the wind from that day as I listened and realized that in that moment, I had begun to say goodbye to another pivotal era in my life. The farewell tour had led me through Manchester, Ferndale, and then culminated as I sat between my husband and my best fandom friend in the 4th row of the Brady. “When you see the end in sight the beginning may arrive!”–indeed.
Can You Dig It and Circle Sky were as awesome as they were in Cleveland–Nez might have even added an extra edge to his vocal delivery if such a thing were possible. Then the smoke machine kicked on and the band began the intro riff to As we Go Along. We were still standing during Circle Sky, as were the people behind us. We were go for launch. Kevin reached for me and I held him right back, swaying back and forth as Micky emerged from the billowing cloud. Suddenly I remembered how, at the reception I’d instructed Anissa (twice!) to make sure my brother had the version of this song loaded that had Micky’s lyrics higher in the mix. So much has been said about this song and how well he’s performing it on this tour that I think I’ll spare you my gushing and aim straight for
4th wall piercing Number 2:
I couldn’t tell you the precise moment Cin took this pic, but somewhere around the second chorus, I guess we caught Micky’s eye (or maybe Anissa prodded him in our direction? I wouldn’t put it past her). For the next few moments the rest of the theater vanished, and at least it seemed like he was singing right at us. To be serenaded with your first dance as husband and wife by the man who sung it–I’d call it once in a lifetime, except in different ways I’ve been lucky enough to have three moments of concert connection in the past year. After something like that, who needs backstage passes or to lurk by the buses to try to get a grip-and-grin photo or some autographed doodad? 🙂
Oh yeah–then we had Long Title and Daddy’s Song. Both lovely as always, but Kevin and I were still on Planet Gleeb for a bit there. I did note that they went with recorded audio instead of the live band on the latter–smart call. I read on one discussion board that the band considered that the hardest song of the night in 2012 simply due to video synchronization issues.
13 year old Misha killed it on Daydream Believer after a few jitters on the first line or two. I’d had the opportunity to experience this in Cleveland, and while I don’t think this could ever match last fall, it was still a spectacular experience. Then, about the third repetition of the chorus, I felt some odd vibrations coming from my left. I looked over and down, and saw one of the strangest sights of an evening that featured a spanking AND a serenade from Micky Dolenz:
I looked up at his face, as he beamed and sang and danced with all his might. I grinned, shrugged, and joined in with my own somewhat shaky boogaloo. 😉 The Monkees is magical indeed. Then, Nez launched into the closing number of the main show, What am I Doing Hangin’ Round? His vocals were much stronger than in Cleveland as we all just kept on singing along right through the end of the show, and their bows.
After just enough of a pause to build tension (I clocked this one at a little over a minute), the gang returned for the encore. Listen to the Band made the rafters of that old cowboy art deco theater shake, and once again the introductions were done beautifully. Last but not least came Pleasant Valley Sunday, when I snapped my best picture of the night (at the top of this post–all other concert pics are courtesy of Cin). As there were no luminaries like Jessica in sight, we stumbled out the door, wandered back to the car, and went for pancakes. 🙂
Disclaimer (11/18): An interview has been brought to my attention that calls my interpretation into question. That said, while my conclusion may turn out to be wrong in fact, I know what I sensed. I still stand by the general themes of what I wrote even if they’re still touring in another decade. Consider everything that’s transpired. Whether your best laid plans included zero, one, or a dozen more joint projects, if you were in their shoes wouldn’t YOU approach every show as if it might be the last?
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
–A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act V, scene 2
You see, until I went, I just assumed that the title of this summer’s tour was simply a nod to the season. However, after the show as I thought more about the past 45 years, not to mention the last 18 months, I wondered if the title was possibly a somewhat more deliberate shoutout to shakespeare’s play-within-a-fairy tale. Whatever connections they might or might not have been trying to make between the pre-fab four and the faerie folk, Nez, Micky, and Peter truly looked far more playful and joyous and, well, puckish than they had any right to be given everything they have survived and triumphed over. Their apparent happiness made me happy for them, and for myself. And at least according to Nez, our joy brings them joy.
I keep trying to figure a way that this night might not be my goodbye to the Monkees–I was wrong in Cleveland after all. However, this tour feels like a last lingering encore–like the more carefree tour all four guys would and could and should have enjoyed last year had the events of February 2012 not occurred. I could sense the tone of farewell in Peter’s wistful delivery of Early Morning Blues and Greens, in Nez’s shattering rendition of The Door into Summer, and in Micky’s closing, haunting refrain at the end of Porpoise Song.
Two nights after the concert, I do feel as if I’m finally waking from a strange, bittersweet, fabuloofy phantasmagoria of a dream that began almost exactly a year ago with a seemingly innocuous status update about soup. At least for now, I wonder if I’ve learned all the lessons I can take from this band and their stories. Rather than dwelling in the past or obsessing about whether my achievements will one day be judged to be “good enough”, it’s time for me to live in the now, make neat friends, do good and needed work, and keep a weather eye out for my next adventure. I’m taking the reins back from Camille, but when I need her again, I know she won’t be far–same as my manufactured images of Davy, Peter, Mike/Michael/Nez, and Micky. They’re all just over my shoulder, if you will. 😉
Guys, if you read this, I want you to know it’s been an honor and a privilege to be your fan, and I will remain a fan for the rest of my life. I hope each of you will reach the end of this time together (plus hopefully a UK tour and maybe even an album if you’re so moved!), part as friends, and then go do whatever the hell you want to do. As for me, I think I’ll be doing the other stuff described in my about page. I suspect my own future will involve far less time in Monkeedom, but it will also involve a lot more joy and silliness than it did before 2012. I wish you the same for your retirements, whether they play out on your back porch or in a
RV tour bus. Let’s all go forth, make friends, and be happy in our own ways.
Next time: Maybe something on the awesomeness of Mayim Bialik in honor of her Emmy nod, but I’m not sure. I’m taking a break first. Note: If any of you readers ever want to drop a line with a suggestion (or just to say hey) you can leave a comment here, message me on Facebook or Tumblr, or just zap an email to oklibrarian at gmail dot com. I swear I don’t bite, and I like making new friends. 🙂 For now, watch this video of Monkees hits in a minor key. Nez wants you to. 😉
* Yes, I am quite aware of all the bickering and dissension and headbutting that was also starting to take root in 68 and which by some reports ran clear through to 2012. However, A: as Christmas Eve puts it in Avenue Q, the more you love someone the more you want to kill them, and B: I think they’ve more than earned the right to tell this damn story the way they want to tell it.