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Life as viewed through silliness, Fandom as seen through Reality

How much to protect your heart: The Monkees in Cleveland (again), June 5, 2016

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13407314_10208195163054348_7381164402299097378_nThere is no obligatory throwback intro. That’s because nothing obvious sprung to mind around which I could frame this review. I could have talked about listening to She Makes Me Laugh as the plane descended over the Cleveland skyline, thinking of Anissa, who I was still grieving when i flew in to town for my first serving of Gazpacho and who IS the subject of that song for me. I could have written about the first meeting of Melanie and my fellow charter members of the Frodis Femmes, and the Instant Click that proved she was an appropriate new member of our sisterhood. I could have written about touring the Christmas Story house/museum/gift shop, gazing at the cornucopia of themed shirts, mugs, flagpoles, BB Guns, and above all Leg Lamps in every size, and wondering if that’s where Clevelander John Hughes got the idea to sell those dang ponchos. I could have talked about working the line for Team Zilch before the doors opened, handing out pink party hats, accepting compliments on the show, recording bumpers, and wondering exactly when I’d become revered by a (very) small minority of a (decreasingly) small minority.

But none of those moments seemed like a big enough theme to hang an essay on, so I sat there, chatting as the lights dimmed, and waited to see what The Monkees would tell me. They’re pretty handy that way. I just sat back, watched the utterly stunning remastered show footage, and screamed my head off alongside Cindy and Melanie as they launched into a new opener:

Listen To The Band

With the rediscovered Clarksville train ride concert playing on the screen, Micky and Peter nailed their duet opening. I know that Nez/Micky is the vocal pairing we all swoon over these days, but those two are nothing to sneeze at either, with Micky soaring to the top of his vocal range over Peter’s rock-solid foundation. HOME RUN, even though I’ve never thought of it as an opening.

Clarksville

Moving on to the traditional opening, it was sung in the traditional manner, with the traditional panache. Liked how they wove the LTTB closing into the Clarksville opening, though. One note on the video screen—Peter’s sweatshirt in the Clarksville train romp IS RED. Not orange like we thought for 50 years.

Saturday’s Child

99% sure this is new to me, but it works well live. 🙂  Wayne Avers (glad you’re back!) played a barn-burner of a guitar solo, though Peter did join in on the fun there if memory serves. 😉

Auntie Grizelda

OK, there are times in life where I must take a stand, and this is one of them. I don’t care if you philistines disagree with me—IT IS NOT A MONKEES SHOW WITHOUT AUNTIE GRIZELDA. Obviously Peter’s knee surgery took, because that’s the craziest I’ve seen that man dance since he climbed the amp tower back in ’01. And that patter he does over the bridge must save him THOUSANDS in psychotherapy. In fact, as I watched Peter sashay around the stage, it occurred to me that it’s high time for us Auntie Grizelda fans to strike a blow for this obviously beloved song, not as a guilty pleasure, but as an iconic touchstone of pure, unadulterated Monkee Magic.

Here’s my Pro-Grizelda argument in a nutshell:

  1. Auntie Grizelda is really a poignant protest song all about fighting for freedom against the snobbish, oppressive, and emotionally frigid older generation who are refusing to give way to change and creativity.
  2. Seriously, i think it’s safe to say Andrew Sandoval isn’t frogmarching Peter on stage at gunpoint or something at this point in the proceedings. If Peter didn’t want to do the stupid number, he most likely wouldn’t do the stupid number. He certainly wouldn’t do it with such unbridled, cathartic joy, right down to the parrot sounds and therapeutic mocking asides he raps over the bridge. It’s Peter’s Mooging the Nightly, he just doesn’t get enough credit for it because
    1. he’s been doing it in every show for decades, and
    2. when Nez does essentially the same schtick with Daily Nightly or No Time, Lord Nesmith, the Right Honorable Baron of Sparklyshoes is hailed as being all “witty” and “creative” and “subversive”. (Aside: I love Nez. In a disturbing number of ways I am a far dumber and dorkier version of the guy. Please don’t hit. But really, folks…what’s the difference?)
  3. Fans, both hardcore and not, LOVE this song. The second best memory of my husband at his first (and probably last) Monkees concert was him singing along cathartically with Peter, thinking of his own personal Auntie Grizeldas. (Every family has at least one…). I can verify that Melanie, who is one of the wisest and most insightful fans I know, appeared to love every second of it.

Snark is a time-honored and frankly necessary ingredient of the Monkees Fandom Recipe, lest the Good Times get too treacly. However, to mangle a famous quote by Samuel Johnson, he who is tired of Auntie Grizelda is tired of life. Therefore, I am hereby inaugurating the #teamgrizelda hashtag, for those who share my love of this song as a completely non-guilty pleasure. Go Forth and retweet your love of this song on its own terms!

She

Once again, Micky nailed this song, and once again Peter nearly stole it out from under him with various gestures and asides at key junctures. Oh—and Micky AND peter nailed the mic stand tilt!

She Makes Me Laugh

Before I get into my thoughts on this one, I’d like us all to take a moment to stare in awe at a universe where Micky Dolenz can say in 2016, “Here’s a song off our new album!”

Are we good?

Ok, onward.

Micky’s still learning the lyrics on this one, which is understandable. However, the band is definitely getting solid on it, and it was a crowd pleaser, with a strong round of applause from the audience.

A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You

After dispatching a smart-aleck in the front row yelling “Manchester Cowboy!” while Peter was attempting to introduce a song by his “dearly departed friend”, Peter (yes PETER!) launched into lead vocals on this song, and he and Micky, trading verses, knocked it out of the park. I hope they give Peter more of Davy’s traditional vocals—they have similar ranges, and Peter’s voice gets more rock solid every time I see him. And if you disagree with me, you can just surf on over to the next overly verbose and existential PhD fangirl Monkees concert reviewer in your bookmarks. :-p

The Girl I Knew Somewhere

It never ceases to amuse me that Micky is more solid on the lyrics to this tune than Nez (who got a lovely and warmly received shoutout) was on the gazpacho tours. Though in fairness Micky HAS probably sung it a few thousand more times than Nez has…

Steam Engine (click link for facebook video)

This isn’t one of those things that’s on my Monkees Live Song Bucket List, but it’s near the top of Cindy’s, right next to Oh My My. As Micky belted it out and Wayne shredded his solo into musical confetti, I watched my sister Cin chair dance in bliss.

Shades of Grey

The minute I interpreted Peter’s setup about the wayback machine and realized what was coming, my gut clenched. I knew it was in the setlist, but I hadn’t really thought about the implications of seeing it live for the first time till now. I saw the Davy fans around me reaching for Kleenex. An involuntary “Oh no,” escaped my lips in a murmur. As Peter started the keyboard introduction, I found myself transported halfway between Then and Now, images from 30 years ago battling in my mind with the real world sight of a young Davy and an old Peter singing the duet that I’d longed to hear live, never expected to hear live and was suddenly absolutely terrified to hear live.

 When the world and I were young, just yesterday,

Life was such a simple game, a child could play

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As Davy’s archived vocal track rolled out of the speakers and into my ears, my own wayback machine roared into gear, and I suddenly found myself experiencing

a Saturday afternoon in the fall of 1986. I was 9 years old, and a brand-spanking new Monkees fan. Mom was running errands. Dad was watching me and Daniel, as well as the football game. I’d been spinning my new album Headquarters non-stop all day. That’s probably why I missed the knock at first. By the time I got to the door, Dad was opening it up to reveal my new friends. At least I hoped they’d be new friends. After my best friend’s Mom died of type 1 diabetes and her Dad remarried and they moved to Texas, I needed to make new friends. But I was finding it harder to make friends than it used to be. The girls looked up at Dad as I poked nervously around the corner into the front hall. They asked if I could go ride bikes with them. I looked up at Dad, grinning hopefully.

It was the Rocksino in 2016. I forced myself to stay in 2016, in the now. Listen to Davy. Listen to Peter. Listen to the Band. Feel the tears starting to roll down my cheeks—yes, for the man who left us too soon, but mostly for the girl I used to be.

It was easy then to tell right from wrong,

Easy then to tell weak from strong

Back in 1986, the girls had just asked dad if I could go ride bikes. He just stood there.

Still.

Too still.

From 4 years of experience I knew what was coming, and ran in front so I could try to break his fall as he pitched forward, already starting to tremble before the real convulsions of his seizures. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the girls back away in fear, or revulsion, or I didn’t really care much what. Then Me held on to Dad with all her strength as Now Me heaved herself forcefully back to

2016, as Peter and Micky both joined in to the chorus. My shoulders started shaking. I knew I had to keep my eyes open, even as the tears streamed. I had to stay in 2016. I would not have a flashback here, not now, NOT AT A FUCKING MONKEES CONCERT.

“I remember when the answers seemed so clear,

we had never lived with doubt or tasted fear…”

My throat caught in a sob as Peter started in on the second verse, his eyes looking suspiciously misty, his weathered, post-op voice adding a new, gloriously horrible layer of resonance that sent me careening back into

1986, where I’d managed to tip dad away from the concrete of the front porch to instead fall on a slightly softer kitchen floor. I tried to hold Dad’s limbs down as he convulsed, but he was too big to maneuver. I found myself on top of him, holding on for dear life in a sadistic parody of a bareback rodeo ride, trying to keep him away from the table legs. He had work Monday and wouldn’t want a bruise on his head. As his tremors calmed, he resumed his normal breathing pattern, and looked up at me with glazed eyes. A random, insane but ever-present thought flew through my 9 year old head, “God let them fix my heart but I’m not good enough to deserve it, so he made Dad sick instead. This is all my fault.” 39 year old me and her various psychotherapists had heard quite enough of THAT nonsense, and so I dragged myself with a LURCH back to

2016, where Peter and Micky were doing the chorus. The Monkees were and are my elixir. I was 39, older, stronger. My dad hadn’t had a seizure in 25 years, I would live to a fucking ripe old age and I WOULD NOT BE RULED BY MY PAST. I felt Melanie’s arm slide over my shoulders as I trembled. I felt stronger, more grounded. I could do this. But then I glanced at the monitor as Davy and Peter and Micky sang

It was easy then to know truth from lies, selling out from compromise

Who to love and who to hate, the foolish from the wise

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Photo courtesy Scott Edwards

And I was

BACK in 1986, after helping Dad back to the sofa. I ran to the door to reassure my friends, but they were long gone. Oh well, it really wasn’t worth the bother, they all would find out eventually, and then they’d all run away. But the versions of Davy, Peter, Mike and Micky that lived in my head wouldn’t leave me. I knew intellectually they were almost a decade older than my parents. but even as a brand new fan I already knew the music and the show made it better, made me less desperate to die or to run away forever. If other kids didn’t want me, well, I didn’t want them. I had the Monkees.

Dad was fine, already starting to talk back to the OU football game. We didn’t typically talk about the seizures unless we had to, because what was there to say? The seizures were a family routine whose perverse banality I only appreciated years later. I went back to my room, shut my door, turned on Headquarters. Shades of Grey was next and 1986 Me and 2016 Me sang along in a bizarre time warp with

It was easy then to know what was fair

When to keep, and when to share

How much to protect your heart

And how much to care…

And I found myself back in 2016, waves of terror receding. And I hoped the Me of 1986 could somehow sense the band singing in front of me, the replica poncho in my bag, and everything else I had done and would do to give her the glorious, hopeful, healthy, friend-filled future that she couldn’t believe in during those dark days. I found myself shaking from catharsis and relief, as Peter, Micky, and Davy’s magnificent performance drew to a close. And I screamed out my triumph as much as my appreciation as the crowd cheered.

 Papa Gene’s Blues

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And in a transition that felt a something like that moment in Hamilton right after It’s Quiet Uptown where Jefferson and Madison rap “Can we get back to Politics? PLEASE?”, Micky and Peter riffed on the “Quiet, isn’t it, George Michael Dolenz?” line, making the assembled crowd (your neurotic author included) bust out in cathartic laughter. And then we launched into Papa Gene’s blues, confirming as we all guessed that there would be no Skype tonight. Having just rather violently and melodramatically discovered my theme for tonight’s concert, I was content to sit between two of my best friends on earth, and hear Micky and Peter do a lighthearted duet on a song I’d somehow heard Nez do live more times than I’ve heard them do it live. I’d worried this year’s events would feel forced and contrived after the twin shocks of Davy’s loss and the Gazpacho tours, but the 50th anniversary actually seems sweeter for all we’ve lost and gained and overcome the past 5 years. I have no more than I had before, but now I have all that I need, indeed.

Randy Scouse Git

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Photo Courtesy Andrew Kruczek

And if that wasn’t enough…Micky put on the tablecloth (A REPLICA OF WHICH I NOW OWN) and cut to the chase, sans story. Excellent as always. 1986 felt 30 years ago again as Micky did his “The Colors, The COLORS!” freakout. Which is still apparently obligatory, as well as hilarious.

For Pete’s Sake

Well, after 50 years, Peter finally confessed that the Monkees didn’t play their own instruments. (The drums were rented, and he’d borrowed a guitar from Wayne). And then after reciting the tale of the palace revolt, Peter sang another setlist staple with another rock-solid performance. Rich Dart added some tasty fills throughout, as is his habit. 🙂

Johnny B. Goode

I’ll admit feeling a little sad that Micky didn’t do Don’t do It for his solo number (the topic of one of my first, small “tryout” appearances on Zilch back in episode 2 or 3), but he apparently removed the Red Bull from the tour rider, resulting in a much more reasonable tempo that Micky could even dance to some. (Side note—the guys were MOVING around stage more than I’ve seen in a good 15 years. Wayne’s solo, again, was awesome, and Dave Alexander contributed some tasty honkytonk work on the keys that would have made Jerry Lee Lewis smile from that wackadoodle Piano Pyramid they put him on back in ‘69.

 Higher and Higher

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Photo Courtesy Nicki Lock

You know how Cin was blissing out during Steam Engine? This tune was Melanie’s turn. I was thrilled to hear it live myself! But then, some, erm, *lubricated* gentleman started screaming out “you guys rock!” I tensed up, not looking forward to him potentially spoiling something Melanie had seriously been looking forward to (and a favorite of mine from his solo repertoire as well). However, Peter Tork is not only 35 years sober. he’s rather (in)famous for not suffering fools. He raised an eyebrow in his inimitable Peter Tork fashion, and drily retorted, “One of the things about getting old is you can’t hear people very well.”  The guy bellowed something else, and Peter snarked back, “Steve Martin used to say at this juncture in his show, ‘Yeah, I remember my first beer…’ ”. As the crowd busted up in hysterics, the drunken gentleman was suitably chastened. (or ejected. Either way, not a peep from him the rest of the night.)

Higher and Higher was lovely (once he ordered the crowd not to clap along and we meekly obeyed), with Coco’s background vocals and John Billings’ rocking Bass solo particularly worthy of note. Melanie looked like she was in heaven. 😉

Let’s Dance On

So happy for Craig Cohen. 😉 Solid song, sung well, with the relevant romp from the pilot playing in glorious HD in the background and plenty of goofing around from Micky, Peter, and the rest of the band. They seem to have figured out the weird pacing issue they were dealing with in Nashville, because this was a perfectly organic act 1 closer.

Intermission

Stay if your bladder allows! Among other things, we got restored footage of the original pilot opening credits, some less familiar Yardley Black Label commercials, and the uncut Daddy’s Song performance (black suit, white background. Without the strobing crosscutting, you can tell it was mostly filmed in only 3-4 long continuous takes. You can also see just how damn good a dancer Davy was. The remastered Teardrop City and Someday Man performances were also noteworthy.

Mary Mary

Act two kicked off with a bang, and Micky back on drums for Mary Mary! This one’s easily one of my favorites with him on drums.

 Circle Sky

After a slightly wonky entrance, Micky settled nicely into the groove, with a little help from Rich Dart and John Billings.

Porpoise Song (Click for video)

And I was transported on a pleasanter trip to the past—Dundee by way of Cleveland and Tulsa. I wouldn’t have much new to say here if it weren’t for the fact that Micky made up for his struggles on Circle Sky by wailing so hard on the drums that his fedora plum flew off his head. See video. 😀

Long Title

Not much to say about this, aside from the fact they did this just as amazingly as they have every time the past few years. And that Peter’s voice is the best I’ve heard it. EVER. I can’t believe I’ve been able to say that each and every time I’ve reviewed him for this blog. Yet another reason the #teamgrizelda hashtag’s time has come.

I was There (and I’m Told I had a Good Time)

It’s a sign of how strong this album is selling that they’ve already added a second song to the set. Micky was much more solid on the lyrics for this one, but I suppose co-writing it helps. 😉 It’s gonna be hard with Micky and Rich doing an incredible dual performance on drums, but watch the animated cover art streaming down the video wall in the manner of the end credits of a Pixar film. I got the giggles when the spaceship took off and started flying around. Alas, said animations didn’t translate well to the video but this is still worth a watch.

Stepping Stone

After 4 years I’m running out of creative ways to say “The band played the hell out of this setlist staple”, but, well, the band played the hell out of this setlist staple. Micky was maybe a little heavier on the glam 70s antics than usual, though, and Peter got in on the act as well.  The drawn out outro was awesome too. 😀

Words

Micky’s got the words to Words rock solid again! Woohoo! Another great duet from Micky and Peter. 😀

Goin’ Down

Forget my random 30 year time warp during Shades of Grey—Micky’s dancing legs just teleported in from 1967. Cin and I sang along with the first verse or two, then sat there, jaws agape, as Micky sashayed across the stage with as much panache as his onscreen TV version. After a quick interlude to introduce the band (minus one—we’ll get there), he ended the song with flair. No audience participation this time, that may be gone from the set.

DW Washburn

Glad to see this still in the setlist after falling in love with it in Nashville, and Peter contributed lovely banjo work as well as commentary asides. 😉 I’ve concluded it’s one of those songs that works best live. J The only thing that would make this song better would be Davy’s presence—I can only imagine what vintage Threekees antics he would have brought to the proceedings. 😉

What am I doing Hanging Round (click for video)

Another song Peter inherited (from Nez this time). Apparently he was doing this one back in the ’80s, but, well, I was a kid/broke/in a state that didn’t get many Monkees shows in the 1980s, so this was new to me. All I’m gonna say is that Nez better hurry up and get his butt on tour before the ink dries on his final book draft and get his song back, because this might be my favorite live version of this one. And NO. I AM NOT KIDDING.

Daydream Believer

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From the moment Micky and Peter yelled back my seat number from my flight to Cleveland at the screen, I knew they’d arrived at the only possible long term solution to the Daydream Believer Problem. Now, I don’t think that they should have done this from the start (we ALL had some grief to process), but from now on they need to do it this way, whether the Monkees tour for one more year or 50 (hey, researchers say they’re supposedly getting close to the Singularity! It could happen!) We sang as Micky and Peter conducted the crowd and we gave a rousing and collective FUCK YOU to fear, despair, and the Existential Abyss.

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Photo Courtesy Scott Edwards

Not to belabor the point, but that spirit of acknowledging and then joyously overpowering the darkness is why I have loved the Monkees since I was 9 years old, and always will.

Pleasant Valley Sunday

The main show ender was marvelous, as always. This was when I realized for certain I wasn’t getting Heart and Soul, but I’ve got at least 2 more shows planned for this tour. (good Lord, what new stuff am I going to SAY?! Oh well, good problem to have. 😉 )

That was Then, this is Now

After a minute, Micky and Peter re-emerged for the encore, and introduced both the writer (Vance Brescia) and the song. As he and Micky traded lines, I watched the screen and was jolted back on a much more pleasant trip to 1986, as I saw video clip after instantly-remembered video clip from the MTV and Nick footage that helped me fall in love with the “real” Monkees just as hard as I’d immediately fallen for the cute 20 year olds in the beach house. It wasn’t Heart and Soul, but the trip was similar enough. 😉

I’m a Believer

No Shrek Schtick! Did Micky hear that Melanie and I found the guy back in January, or was it just that we were at a 21 and over show? 😉

And that was it. We inched out of the venue, right past Andrew Sandoval. I very nearly opened my mouth, but what do you say to a guy who curated your childhood as well as your midlife misadventures in rewriting your childhood the way it should have played? A guy who you would love to have back on Zilch after the Good Times dust settles to talk about how he FOUND all this STUFF? So I clammed up and kept the crowd flowing. Melanie was a little behind me in the crowd, and gave him a quick Thanks. 🙂

In summation

Even the saddest Monkees song is delivered with a dollop of ‘Yeah, but it’ll get better soon’.

–Andy Partridge

This was a very different experience seeing the Monkees, after truly thinking I’d seen it all. 2001 was my first time, and I was overwhelmed simply by FINALLY losing my Monkees Virginity (Not like THAT) after 15 years of near misses, dumb decisions, and low cash flow. 2012 and 2013, well, that was all about the gazpacho. And in 2015, I was a worried fangirl, hoping the Twokees could carry the torch and rejoicing to learn they could. This show was different. My subconscious had other stuff for me to process. It was an old lesson, but reinforced in a new way from a new angle. The Monkees (group as well as much of their solo stuff) are the founding artists in a playlist on my phone I jokingly titled Audio Prozac. But their songs don’t numb the feelings. Instead the music holds my hand as I grapple with whatever crap I’m grappling with that day. I emerge stronger and happier in the skills that I need to squeeze every last damn drop of joy out of my life, both for myself and for my loved ones and for the kids who died for the medical knowledge needed for me to live a healthy, happy life writing emo 4000+ word essays about the Monkees. And I think that the ticket sales and record sales we’re seeing in The Year of the Monkees prove that their flavor of hard-earned joy is something the world is crying out for right now. So let’s let the Good Times roll. I’ll see you after the Tulsa show in *gasp* about 3 weeks. No clue what new things I’ll have to say, but I also think I know who’ll tell them to me. 😉

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One thought on “How much to protect your heart: The Monkees in Cleveland (again), June 5, 2016

  1. I was at the concert too on Sunday. They put on an amazing show!

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