Mich, Mattie, Cindy and I were driving to the cemetery to bury our Best Frodis Femme Friend Forever, Anissa. Aside from a brief moment of tears the afternoon I arrived in Ohio, I had kept it together. After all, I was the one who drifted away into a looser friendship for a decade, the one who felt the need to throw myself into accomplishments to keep my demons at bay. The only thing I had figured out in the past few days since I learned of Anissa’s death was that I had screwed up colossally. I wasn’t sure how it happened, but the very actions I had taken to keep myself from wasting my life had actually caused me to waste my life on a deeper, more important level. I knew step one was to be present for Cin and Mich, to hold them as they cried and to be the strong one. This wasn’t my first time to bury a friend, after all, though I was pretty sure my friends didn’t know that and it didn’t seem like the time to bring it up. The first time I saw a dead body was my friend Jenny. She was 7. I was 4. Her heart defect killed her. My heart defect was successfully “corrected”. I’ve been trying to earn that quirk of fate ever since. Anyway, I got through Jenny’s viewing at an age when most kids were still grappling with the mortality of goldfish, and so now I would be strong and stoic and help my friends through Anissa’s funeral. It was the least I owed them. The car radio was blaring Monkees, of course. I was staring out the window on the way to the cemetery, pretending to look at the beautiful countryside outside Columbus. And then, the stereo caught my attention as Cin’s Random MP3 shuffle turned to Sometime in the Morning. As the song played out, I was getting closer and closer to losing it. For the first time it felt like Carole King’s lyrics were describing my unlikely friendship with my sisters in general, and Anissa specifically. Determined NOT TO BE WEAK, I gritted my teeth through the second verse, bracing myself for the bridge.
Now in her childlike eyes
You see the beauty there
You know it was always there
And you need no longer wear a disguise…
And at that last line I lost it. Cin squeezed my hand as I wept, and I let her. More to the point, I realized that if I was going to make anything positive come of Anissa’s death, and of my life, I would have to shed my protective shields and camouflage. Of course, at that time I thought it would be a simple matter of digging up some albums and seeing if there were any Monkees fans still puttering around online in the wake of Davy’s death. Heck, maybe I’d even start a blog or something. Let’s just say I did not yet comprehend just how deep the rabbit hole of radical vulnerability would take me.
Ram’s Head in Annapolis is a nifty venue that struck me as a more casual version of a City Winery. There are two main sections, the restaurant and the performance venue, and we took advantage of their dinner+show+validated parking deal. I hadn’t even dared to get my (much less anyone else’s) hopes up, but the fan at the next table during dinner told Melanie, Megan, and me that her husband had confirmed that Micky would be signing autographs after the show. Megan showed off her copy of Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, and Jones, (already signed by Nez, Peter, and all the Jones girls), thrilled that she would have a chance to complete the set. I grabbed my phone to text my friend Zak Mortensen‘s grandma, to find out what (if any) Micky CDs he didn’t already own. There was unsurprisingly no signing after the Nashville Twokees show, so I hadn’t been able to get Micky to sign the sparkly fedora I got for Zak as his 1 year “Heartversary” present. Luckily, I figured this would work as his birthday gift in February (his birthday is two days before mine because of COURSE it is 😉 ). After we headed next door from the restaurant to the venue and settled into our seats, I scampered out to the merch stand, conducted a little business, and returned to see Andrew Sandoval (who was sitting at the sound board like 10 feet behind us) running the slide show. As the show ticked closer, Zilch podcast listener Hubert swung by our table to say hello, and we made small talk with a few people nearby.
I think the easiest way to recap the show is to just go down the set list and share my thoughts. That’s how I’m gonna do it, anyway. 🙂
Mary, Mary: I wouldn’t have thought of Mary Mary as an opening song, but it works! Of course it helps that Rich Dart was on fire. His drumming was rock solid from the opening riff of this song, and he stayed nice and deep in the pocket for the last of the night. (Now, he and/or John Billings may have had a little too much caffeine before the show, but we’ll get to that in due course. 😉 )
(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone: Well played, well sung, a playlist staple these guys can do in their sleep. The main point of interest was Andrew’s new animation for the video screen, sort of a Mad Men/Mid-century Mod animation of the lyrics that reminded me a lot of the art he sporadically posts on his facebook page (which you should follow if you don’t). It’s hard to describe, but I suspect many of you will get to see it later this year, tour gods willing.
That Was Then, This Is Now: Glad this was still in the set list. That was a pleasant surprise from the July concert, and I hope it sticks around.
She: The Mike Stand Spin lives on!
Words: David Alexander took Peter’s vocal part, and he and Micky traded lines smoothly and confidently throughout. (Somebody’s been working on that one! 😉 )
Sometime in the Morning: Whatever was off about this song in Nashville got fixed. THIS is the live performance I’ve wanted (needed?) to hear of this song since 2012. I still need to compare it to my Nashville recording, but I think they made it a little more country, and more reminiscent of the arrangement from Remember. All I know I was transported back to the events of my prologue. I knew instantly what lyric would become the title to this review, and managed to keep my eyes dry as my personal “movie of the Mind” played out during Micky’s performance. Well, OK, I almost did…
D.W. Washburn: Once again Dave took Peter’s opening bit on this song, and though he didn’t quite embody it with as much hammy verve as Peter did, it (and the rest of the song) was still darned good. I’m glad that this song didn’t go anywhere, and I hope it doesn’t for any *ahem* future shows either.
(Yes, I know that at the rate I want to keep these rarer songs in, the 50th anniversary set list will wind up being 4 hours long, especially if Nez chooses to come back and all of his spotlight tunes are back in the mix. They can just add an intermission, or a set of Coco and Circe Link singing, or just run some episodes on the screen. 😉 )
Last Train to Clarksville: After responding to the enthusiastic cheers to the question “Got any Monkees Fans here tonight?” with “…Well, we’ll fix that!” Micky did a roll call of all the songwriters featured in his first set, culminating with a few kind words for the ones who started it all, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. He followed that up with their first #1 hit, done in the traditional manner if not in the traditional spot in the set list. I don’t think I’ve ever heard this done in the middle of a set before, but it worked. Also, after the song Micky shared a story about recording it, which I’d never heard before. Apparently, there were originally lyrics in that fast little “doo-dee-doo-doo, doo-dee-doo-doo, doo-dee-doo-dee-diddle-diddle-dum” section in the bridge. However, Micky apparently came to the studio after 14 hours of shooting, took one look at the sheet music, and essentially went “LOLnope”. It may have been born of exhaustion, but IMHO the song was better for the change.
Johnny B. Goode: Excellent song and they hung together, but it did seem a little, erm, rushed. As in I half-expected them to pull a Marty McFly and jump off the deep end into thrash metal rushed. Alas, the song ended before we could see Wayne Avers go full Eddie Van Halen. Great performance that nearly blasted the roof off (and special credit for Dave Alexander’s excellent keyboard work), but the band earned a mock-stern look from Micky and a threat to remove the Red Bull from their contract rider. 😉
Purple Haze: THIS was a hoot, with Micky reenacting the infamous reaction to Jimi Hendrix as the Monkees’ opening act in 1967, followed by a full rendition of the song, which was capped with his customary “The Colors! The Colors!” flashback. Side note–whatever Micky’s paying Wayne Avers ain’t enough, because he basically stole this number. 😉
Crying in the Rain: After Micky got a bit jumbled due to the alleged “small font” on the set list (and did a remarkable impression of a rewinding video after Wayne pointed out his goof), Micky and Coco did a delightful duet of this Carole King classic. Because I don’t own King for a Day (a situation I intend to rectify), the only time I’d heard Micky do this song was with the amazing Circe Link on a Concert Window show a few months back. It’s a hard pick between the two duets, but I think I have to give the edge to Coco. 🙂 At the end of the song, Micky handed over the reins to Coco, and introduced her stellar performance of…
Different Drum: Now, don’t get me wrong Nez, it’s not that I knock your delightful Edith Piaf-esque re-arrangement of the song from the Movies of the Mind tours. It’s just that Coco, who stuck to an arrangement nearly identical to Linda Rondstadt’s, hit this tune out of the bloody park. I got audio of the show, but nobody’s posted any video yet. *pout* Here’s a Youtube of Coco from another show a few months ago that will give readers the gist. 🙂
The Girl I Knew Somewhere: After Micky took a moment to say hi to his local family members including his daughter Emily (who I had been 95% sure I saw walk past before the show started), this setlist staple came next. Not much to say, besides the fact it was excellent as always. Special kudos to Dave Alexander, who handled Peter’s traditional harpsichord solo delightfully.
Daydream Believer: The Monkees standards continued with The Song That Will Be In Any Monkees/Micky/Peter Show Until The End Of Time. 🙂 Much like in Nashville, Micky did the bulk of the song on his own, then invited the crowd to join in at the end. Always a high moment of the show, and Melanie, Megan and I belted out the chorus as Rainbow Room Davy danced away from us on the video screen. The band transitioned into another Davy tune handled well by Micky…
A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You: The Monkees mini-set ended on a strong note, with another formerly classic Davy tune handled superbly by Micky.
Sugar, Sugar: I may have quietly squeed when the intro of my favorite song from Remember came up, as Micky sprayed his throat with it-probably-wasn’t-really-vodka (I hope? 😉 ) and shared the origin myth of the song. And then Micky made most of the women in the room (and probably a few of the men) melt with his snarky salted-caramel lasciviousness. It’s moments like these that I am glad I found the guts to defend the honor of this tune against the snark of my more-musically-educated co-podcasters way back in the early days of Zilch… 😉
Oh! Darling: I’m used to Micky using the Royal Family/ “I looked like a cross between Ronald MacDonald and Charles Manson” anecdote to intro Randy Scouse Git (and I thought we might even be getting Good Morning Good Morning) , but instead the band kicked into a superb cover version of the Beatles’ Oh! Darling. I’d never heard this band do this one live, and they did it justice, particularly Dave Alexander’s keyboard work and John Billings’ tasty bass line.
Goin’ Down: What can I say about this one? Excellent as always, and Wayne and Dave both got nice solos. Nobody got picked on to sing a verse, though there was no need as half the room was singing along with him anyway. 🙂
White Rabbit: I’d seen youtubes of this one, but seeing Coco do it live is an entirely different animal. Utterly amazing performance. I both wonder and don’t wonder why Coco didn’t have a solo career of her own (if that makes sense), but heaven knows she has the pipes for it. Again, I wish I had some video, but I’ll make Ken play an excerpt on Zilch. 😉
Pleasant Valley Sunday: The main set ended with a customary set ender, Pleasant Valley Sunday. Much like the other Monkees staples, it was played well, by folks who’ve done it so many times it’s practically burned into their nerve endings. After just enough of a break for Micky to grab a drink offstage, he was back up in front of the lively crowd for an encore.
Gimme Some Lovin’: Again, this isn’t video from the show I attended, but it’ll give you an idea. Being a solo Micky virgin, this was another one I’d not heard him do live, but it’s a good cover, with nice work from Dave Aexander and Wayne Avers especially. 🙂
I’m a Believer: The song itself, performed capably and enthusiastically like most of the Monkees standards, wasn’t particularly noteworthy. However, I have an anecdote that is. One of the nifty things about the whole “dinner+show+validated parking” deal was that your waiter from dinner follows you next door to the venue, and takes care of any drinks or snacks you order during the show. He came by to bring back my credit card just as Micky was starting the song, and leaned over to ask, “Is that the original guy who sang that song?”
I blinked, and looked at the kid–he had to be over 21 since he was serving alcohol, but he didn’t look like he was much over 21. I did some hasty math in my head and realized that he was probably only 6 or 7 when Shrek came out. Which meant…I was witnessing Micky’s Shrek Schtick play out right in front of me. I grinned, and replied, “Yes! That’s the original guy who did that song!” He said back “That’s like my favorite song! I’m totally recording this!” And with that he scampered off to find a good spot to stand with his phone, and I started wondering if I’d packed my Metamucil. Even us Third Gen folks are getting old…
Overall Impressions: I had thought the Twokees show in Nashville was laid back and mellow, but that was because I had never seen Micky solo. His band (also the core members of the Monkees’ touring band) is a rock-solid machine that has played many of these songs hundreds of times over the past few years, and it shows–in a good way, not a stale way. They either have great chemistry as a group, or can do an excellent impression of it. It was a lot of fun seeing these guys operate as “just” a bar band, without the bells and whistles that come with The Big Show, and it seemed like all concerned were having just as much fun as the very enthusiastic audience.
Like I said, there was a signing. After the 2014 convention and completing the signatures on my Listen to the Band box, I had decided never to do a meet and greet line again. I’d ticked “Meet all Monkees” off the bucket list and my perfectionism and anxiety just made it too emotionally grueling. Never mind that I can make small talk with professional leaders, present at international conferences, and co-host a podcast without batting an eye, something about meeting a Monkee in the flesh just activates a lot of overlapping anxiety triggers. However, this trip through the line wasn’t for me, I was just running an errand for my friend. And yet, as the line moved closer, I found myself getting nervous in a way I hadn’t been in a line since the conversation reception with Nez. But I took a deep breath. I gathered strength from my nearby friends Megan and Melanie, and my distant friends from all over Zilch Nation and the Monkees community, like Cin and Mich and Ken and Iain and so many more. Beyond that, I thought of my Heart Defect friends like Stuart and Rowan and Jane and Sarah and Iain (not that Iain, a different Iain, though they would probably hit it off) and Eric (who bridges both worlds), friends I would not have found the nerve to make had Anissa’s death not taken me down the road of self discovery that helped me find them. That road, in due course, also led to Zilch, and the bizarre coincidence to top all coincidences that led to me standing in line for a CD for my and Micky’s mutual friend, Zak. 🙂
And then I got to the front of the line. I’m going to write Zak with the whole story, since it belongs to him just like the CD does. But suffice it to say that my time with Micky was short, and sweet, and will make our mutual friend Zak very happy. Micky, in the very unlikely chance you’re reading this, now you’ll understand some of the things I lacked both the time and the guts to say in the middle of that that meet and greet line. My thank you at the end of our time together was from me…and Zak…and the confused kid I used to be when I was trying to use the lyrics of Carole King and Boyce and Hart and Nez and even you to make sense of a VERY weird world. Now, I haven’t lost my sense of proportion here. You’re just a celebrity whose work made all of us happy in dark times, and I’m fairly confident you’re at least as screwed up as anyone else in your line of work. But if I’ve learned nothing else in my life, nothing beats the abyss back quite like a great song belted out by a great singer. Thanks for being part of our playlists, and thanks for giving so much back to your fans. 🙂