It was June of 1997, long before meeting the Frodis Femmes and even longer before Gazpacho became one of my favorite soups. Fresh home from my study abroad year in Scotland that coincided with one of the most eventful periods of the Monkees to date, I tried to make up for one of my dumbest life choices (not seeing a Justus show in the UK) by driving down to Dallas to catch Peter in a Two Man Band Show with James Lee Stanley. After the Justus Reunion imploded I knew that there would almost certainly never be another Monkees reunion or tour again (especially since all four of them were in their *gasp* 50s), but at least I’d get a chance to see one Monkee, one time, and say thanks to one of the people who had saved me in the 1980s, and introduced me to new friends in the 1990s, courtesy of the internet.
It was a memorable night. From meeting other Monkees fans in the flesh for the first time in my life, to nearly weeping when Peter opened his solo set with Take a Giant Step, to awkwardly stammering my way through my first meet and greet with any celebrity, I knew I would treasure that evening forever. When I went home, I rummaged through my old foot locker filled with childhood relics. I was specifically looking for my old orange poster, with the vague notion of putting it up in my dorm room when I moved back to college in the fall. It was at the bottom of the truck, dogeared and and creased beyond any hope of looking good on my wall. I pulled out my childhood diary and a few LPs from the trunk, and then closed the lid with a gentle sense of regret. Around the time I left elementary school, I listened to the band, and took a giant step back into the world. The risk turned out to be worth the price, but the price was leaving behind the childhood obsession that saved my sanity but which had eventually become a gilded cage separating me from reality. I didn’t imagine that one day I would find the strength to return to Monkees fandom, if only at what I was certain was the very end of the band’s story.
18 years and 7 concerts later…
As Cindy and I walked into the Schermerhorn Symphony center for my ninth solo or group Monkees show, I quickly scanned the stage to get an idea of the lineup. I saw one drum set with no Monkees logo, implying that Micky would be spending the whole night at the front of the stage. I also didn’t see any wind instruments on stage, suggesting this would also be the first Monkees concert I attended that wouldn’t feature Aviva Maloney. 😦 After exchanging pleasantries with other hard core fans, we settled down to watch the show. I watched the opening video with special attention, having heard rumors that there might be an addition to the Channel Surfing montage. I was rewarded with a few seconds of my recent Zilch! guest Dylan Reitz’ adorable Lego video, and was heartened by the cheers the new bit garnered. 🙂 Check it out, it’s gotten a lot of
hits views. 😉
The set opened with Clarksville, as excellent a set opener as always, followed by a song I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard before live, That was Then, This is Now. Maybe it was just the road trip I’d just made from Tulsa to Nashville, but my mind was immediately sent back to the interminable drives my family made to Virginia every summer, and how I would spend hours in the back seat with my nose stuck in a book, listening to the That was Then, This is Now compilation cassette over and over and over in my Walkman and brooding that I would never, ever, ever be able to go to a Monkees show. 😉
Next of course was Auntie Grizelda, and my jaw hit the ground as that 73 old man with (formerly?) bad knees did everything but a backflip on stage! In addition, Peter Tork looked the happiest he’s looked on stage in a Monkees show that I’ve seen. EVER. And that carefree vibe continued through the night…
Next up was a song that had been neglected during the Gazpacho era; A Little bit Me, A Little bit You. As I watched, I pulled up a foggy memory of the song from my one pre-Gazpacho Monkees concert in 2001. Davy sang it of course, but back in 2015, Micky delivered it with gusto. The band slid directly into She, with no mike stand spinning, but a guy in front of me contributed Nez’s late “Hey!” that had been a gag in some of the recent tours. At first I was sad that Micky wouldn’t be on the drums for Mary Mary. But then I realized that would free him to go a wee bit nuts. He spent the song bouncing around the stage like a maniac, singing to the folks in the seats behind the stage and generally tearing the roof off the joint. And then, the music stopped, and we realized that the band had played through the first half-dozen songs with barely a chance to stop for air.
Peter stops for air (and raises some questions?)
Peter than began reciting a bit of the early history of the band, by way of setting up The Girl that I knew Somewhere. Towards the end, he uttered the following sentence which I have transcribed verbatim.
“This song was written by our former—“
*something that appeared to be a Meaningful Glance from Micky but that I might have misinterpreted*
“–sometimes partner, Mr. Michael Nesmith…”
And then with that little bit of commentary, the band started playing again. I glanced up to the video wall, which I have somewhat ignored in recent shows, and observed that it included pretty much every girl featured in the show, from April Conquest to Valerie in One Man Shy. Cute, Andrew…Cute. 😉
Sidebar: Peter has made comments to this effect on Facebook, in multiple interviews, and now in stage banter as well. In a recent Zilch episode, famed Convention organizer Jodi Ritzen reported Nez saying pretty much the exact opposite about his 2016 plans to her at Chiller. Micky has unsurprisingly kept mum, as have the other key players. My hypothesis, having lived through Justus AND Gazpacho: Everyone, quite possibly Nez included, really has no bloody clue who is going to be on stage in 2016 yet. Time will tell.
Back to the concert…
Next was another song I’m 99% sure I’ve never heard before live, I’ll be Back Upon my Feet! A great number, delivered well. It was followed by For Pete’s Sake, and I was once again struck by how bouncy and relaxed Peter was, compared to a sedate (by his standards) Micky Dolenz. This is the first show I’ve ever seen where all of the Monkees on stage really came off as co-front men, well balanced and neither really subordinate to the other. This could be because of the particular dynamic between those two men, or simply because there was one less personality on stage. Whatever it was, it brought a loose, buddy comedy vibe to the proceedings which was new to me and a treat to watch. Peter’s antics even continued into Randy Scouse Git, where Peter, instead of robing Micky in the Ceremonial Tablecloth, donned the Sacred Poncho himself. Kudos to Sherri Hansen for getting such an awesome shot of this. One other side note: Peter claims to remember more of the infamous party at the Speakeasy than Micky does. 😉
Next, and last before the intermission, was No Time. Now, no offense to absent friends, but last Saturday’s rendition was better than Tulsa—at least until Micky (?) flubbed a verse, the first of a few missed cues during the evening. For the record none of his goofs were really much more serious than some of what we saw from Nez in his first few shows back in 2012, and he had an iPad in front of him! I hesitate to even mention this aspect of the evening, but I try to keep these reviews honest so folks go in with realistic expectations. Please remember that these guys are in their 70s, and are still willing and able to get out there and put on one hell of a show. May I be half that vibrant when I get to that age. 😉
And with that, Micky or Peter (I forget who) said something inaudible into the microphone, and the house lights came up as everyone abruptly left the stage. We were all confused for a moment, until the video screen resumed, roadies set out stools for the acoustic set, and we realized it was a planned intermission, not some sort of strange technical issue (I later got a peek at the set list and was able to confirm this). It may have just been that blown verse that led to the weirdness, but the intermission just felt like it hit at a weird spot in the set, with all the energy from No Time slowly draining away like the air from a deflating balloon. Most of the footage in the intermission was familiar, but I would SWEAR that copy of Oh My My looked much better than the fuzzy VHS transfer I vaguely remember from 2012. Did Andrew find a better print, or get it restored or something? Whichever, it was lovely. Then the house lights dimmed, and the second act montage started up, concluding with the little snippet from Tear the top off my Head from Hitting the High Seas, which Peter finished on stage.
After a few now-obligatory old age jokes, the acoustic set proper kicked off with a song I was delighted to hear again, Take a Giant Step. Immediately I was transported back to that smoky pub in Dallas where I heard that song live for the first (and I assumed last) time. This version sounded very similar to the arrangement in Stranger Things have Happened, a slightly neglected solo album from Peter in the early 90s that I heartily recommend (if nothing else, Listen to “Milkshake”. I’m serious here. Listen. To. MILKSHAKE.). This was followed with a few verses of Peter’s blues take on Clarksville, a one-off that I think first appeared in Orillia but which seems to have joined the setlist. The Monkees’ band cooked on this almost as much as the time I saw Shoe Suede Blues do it, and Wayne was particularly excellent, as always.
Next up was Sometime in the Morning, another song like Take a Giant Step that hits me in the feels, albeit for different reasons. While very meaningful to hear it live, especially sitting next to one of my fellow Frodis Femmes, I’m just not sure I liked this take on it. A little too mannered, a little too Broadway/Melodramatic? I’m still trying to figure out what bugged me about it, but something about the arrangement just didn’t do it for me—or Cin. Oh well, Onward and upward…
Next up was a return to the Nez catalog with the tried and true Papa Gene’s Blues. The stools precluded any Tulsa-esque ass slaps, but there were some adorable shared glances that will no doubt set the hearts of some in the Tumblr set aflutter. I loved seeing a vibe that felt remarkably like brotherly affection flow through this song. Throughout the evening, over and over again I felt as though I was watching the growth of an old-yet-new partnership, and a new incarnation of a band that’s existed in almost every mathematically possible permutation over the years. It’s hard to put the dynamic into words, but the vibe between Micky and Peter on Friday night was truly lovely to see, whether it was authentic or just damn good acting. I try never to question or speculate on a Monkee’s life choices, because every longtime fan knows that way lies madness. I also want to reassure you that as a true-blue Nezhead I am a little sad he decided to sit these dates out, though I think I understand why he did. However, in this moment, I realized I didn’t miss him on stage nearly as much as I had expected to.
Peter took lead on the next song, I’ll Spend my Life with You, after telling a lovely (and I think new to me) story about another departed friend, Tommy Boyce, and his inspiration in crafting the song. During this last song in the acoustic sequence I was struck by how much Peter’s vocals have improved (even over 2013), and how brightly his subtle, witty stage presence shines in this intimate two-man lineup. His interpretation also elevated a song I’d always found a bit “meh”, so there’s that too. 🙂
And speaking of Peter’s more prominent role, He and Coco very nearly stole DW Washburn out from under Micky! You can’t totally see it from this angle, but between Peter’s air Trombone to his miming being drunk, poor Micky had to kick it up a notch and utterly belt out the lyrics to get the attention back on him. 😉
Next up was another split lead, with Words. Like No Time, This was another moment where the loose vibe of the evening got a little too loose. Micky (?) seemed to flip around some lyrics or something, but the band rolled with it, and he and Peter finally just laughed over the whole thing and finished it out. The audience didn’t care, we were just laughing and singing along. 😉
At that point Micky slipped off stage, and Peter introduced Long Title with its full title and punctuation, and then he and the band knocked out of the park as per usual. Then Micky returned to do Goin’ Down. Believe it or not, I don’t actually listen to much Monkees music or watch many episodes these days when not preparing something for Zilch–burnout is an occupational hazard of podcasting. I actually had a sudden moment of panic in the first set that Cin and I might get the Microphone treatment because of our close seats (3rd row!) and my wacky sparkly fedora (A planned gift for a mutual friend of mine and Micky’s that I’d vaguely hoped to have a chance to get autographed but couldn’t. I’m not naming said friend because it’s gonna be a surprise. ;-)). I spent most of the intermission mentally reciting the second verse over and over, making sure I still remembered it. Which of course meant that Micky, though teasing our side of the stage at the crucial moment, didn’t actually go for any audience participation. 😉
Yes, ladies, I said it.
I thought I would have to use my hat to fan off Cindy. But shock of shocks, I almost needed it myself. In recent years I’ve not had the same emotional connection to Micky as I did to Peter and Nez, and I felt slightly guilty about that. However, events in the past year that have hit close to some of my own pubescent issues (*cough* Zak *cough*) have resolved (ok, obliterated) that issue. On a less emo note, Micky is one hot septuagenarian, especially when he says “Turbinado” in that oh-so-special way…
Then Micky traded spaces with Peter, who kicked off his solo spot with the utterly adorable Alvin! And then a tone shift to Saved by the Blues. This is a song that is near and dear to my literal and metaphorical heart even aside from the fact that I first heard it live in Bay City, during what still holds the record as the most surreal 24 hours of my life. Being the increasingly proud owner of a backwards-plumbed circulatory system that was “corrected” with the best kludge science had to offer in the 1970s, I bring a dramatically different meaning to the line “there’s colors you can change and some you cannot switch” than the author intended. However, it’s a tune I bring literally or metaphorically to every workout and routine MRI. Plus it’s got a good beat for a warmup song. 😉
After the two solo moments, the stage lights dimmed for another Film interlude, this one concluding with the music video for Valleri. The pair emerged toward the song, watching Davy play onscreen before the opening of Daydream Believer. The intense grief of 2012 and the mournful undertones of 2013 had mellowed into a sweet poignancy, in this moment for Davy that I suspect will remain in every show from now on in which two or more Monkees are gathered. I clutched my owl pendant and belted out that final chorus one more time for Davy and Anissa.
Next up was Listen to the Band. I have to say that Nez does it better than Micky, but you know, this was damn good too. Threekees, Nez Threekees, Micky and Peter, I refuse to pick a favorite. it’s like deciding which flavor of ice cream is the “best”. Radically different though each lineup is, they were good and made–make–us happy. The fact that Micky and Peter can pull off that trick at 70 and 73 years of age is its own miracle and I refuse to question it.
The second set ended with Stepping Stone, done with Micky’s usual excellent proto-punk vamping. The place erupted in cheers as we waiting the obligatory 60 seconds or so for the encore. When the gang emerged, The show concluded with two perfect crowd pleasers, Pleasant Valley Sunday and I’m a Believer. Peter took the intro riff on the former and performed it with at least as much panache as Nez’s recent outings, and Micky rattled the chandeliers in that lovely symphony hall with another excellent rendition of the latter. One note though– Micky didn’t deliver the Shrek Line!
Peter did. 😉
And after a long, delightful exit where each kept slipping away from the other on their walk off stage to get the last cheer, that was it, save waiting for our friend Sherri to finish with her photography duties and get a group shot of all her friends who had come out. Another show was in the books. All that was left was a long walk back to the hotel for Cindy and I. Due to highway closures and 4 simultaneous concerts downtown Nashville was a traffic jam for miles in every direction, so a cab was pointless. I shudder to think how long it probably took the band to get back to their hotel, which may or may not have been next door to ours in a amusingly cosmic coincidence. Any band members who did hang out at the hotel bar after the show were made of stronger stuff than us, as tentative plans to stroll over for a post-show cocktail and people watching session were abandoned in favor of, y’know, SLEEP. We Frodis Femmes are getting old too, I guess. 😉
Two mornings after the show, it was time for us to leave Nashville. Cin opened her car, and even though I knew it was coming, my breath caught a little when I saw Anissa’s orange poster. A few months before the show, Anissa’s mom, who was preparing to move closer to her family in another state, sent us a list of the Monkees Memorabilia she didn’t want to save for herself. I called dibs on her bobble heads, a vintage fan club pin, and, of course, her orange poster. Anissa’s copy of the poster I once kissed good night, and that watched over my while I wrestled with my father’s health problems and the trials of puberty, now hangs in the office where I type these words. Yet another strange loop in a life that continues to twist in the most unlikely directions.
My Memorabilia wall can’t compete with hardcore collectors like Stephen Coleman (who hosted a gaggle of us for a cookout before the show), but I do have a bookshelf filled with ticket stubs, pictures, and other gewgaws from a variety of beloved people and accomplishments in my life. Anissa’s poster now hangs on the wall over that shelf, providing a memory that because life is finite, we all have an obligation to live it to the fullest. Like the epilepsy that killed Anissa far too young, there are colors in my life that I cannot switch. However, I can slap on a sparkly Fedora, make new friends, and take risks that help me live a fuller, healthier life both inside and outside this fandom, for however long it lasts. And the Monkees, in whatever configuration we are blessed to have with us, will probably always be part of the soundtrack of that life. 🙂