Dedicated to my brother, Daniel Walker. (Who I just can’t quite call “Dan” or “Danno” without feeling weird–but I’ll keep trying!)
Prologue: Salina, Kansas—about two weeks ago
I was tossing my overnight bag on the hotel bed and about to start getting ready for the evening’s concert when my brother Daniel updated Facebook. It was the early days of the biggest tour of his career thus far, playing keyboards for Ann Wilson of Heart (read all the way to the end for some video of him in action), and he posted that he was DYING for a local delicacy, a chocolate shake from Braum’s. There was a Braum’s conveniently on the way, so I texted him, then swung through the drive through and headed over to the venue, a gorgeous restored art deco palace in the middle of a medium-sized city in the Kansas Plains.
Now I’m a casual Ann Wilson/Heart fan of the “greatest hits” variety, but she has her version of superfans too, and a few were already hanging on the fringes of the parking lot. I chuckled quietly to myself at the irony—I’ve never been one to stake out the tour buses (not judging, just isn’t my cup of tea), but I don’t know that cohosting a fan podcast is that much different in the grand scheme of things. I texted Daniel again to let him know I was here, then made my way closer to the buses. Just as the security men were starting to take an interest in me, Daniel hopped out of one of the buses, called off the guards, and ushered me in to the seriously posh bus he was sharing with the rest of the band. Ann had her own RV, of course, and the techs had a bus as well. I made small talk with his bandmates for a few minutes, got a picture of him with the aforementioned milkshake to provide proof of life to our parents, and then we went back out to the parking lot to chat for a while about sibling stuff.
We’re polar opposites in some ways (though not all), but we get along very smoothly, having lived through and been shaped by the same parents and circumstances, both good and bad. We don’t talk as much as we’d like these days since we live so far apart (He’s a semi-itinerant Musician/Industrial Engineer based loosely in Seattle, I’m a librarian in Oklahoma), but when we do spend time together, we easily pick up where we left off. It’s a sibling thing, I guess. And then I went back to the hotel, changed, and came back to see him play some damn good music and make yet another one of his childhood dreams come true.
After all that, I’m guessing the more regular readers of the existential ponderings that I disguise as concert reviews are expecting me to transition this review of Micky and Coco’s 54 Below shows into some sort of ham-handed parable where my brother=the flashy rock star who got all the attention and me as his lesser-known but amazingly talented sister. Yeah…that’s not our dynamic at ALL, almost the opposite in many ways. But I realized this past weekend that there are some interesting parallels too.
Oh, and thanks to a quirk of fate and a crowded meet and greet, Melanie, Christine and I got a chance to have a real conversation with Emily Dolenz about writing, art, life with semi-hidden disabilities (a topic I have talked into the ground in a few posts and therefore will spare you here 😉 ), and the glories of British chocolate (Take it from the gal who spent sophomore year in Dundee. it IS glorious.). For the record, Emily is absolutely as amazing as you think she is from her blog and artwork. She’s been on the podcast before, but I’m kind of hoping we can get her on again to talk more deeply about her work. She’s just a neat lady (and her husband is ADORABLE), and if you don’t read her blog, just read this silly little review later and GO OVER THERE NOW. 😀
54 Below, New York, New York, March 25
As Melanie and I settled into our seats right under Micky’s microphone (Christine and her husband Kevin were at the next table) it occurred to me that this was the first time I’d stopped moving in over 24 hours, from the moment I stepped off the plane in Newark to learn that the normal airport train was cancelled, to checking in to the hotel, dinner in Brooklyn, a leisurely, chatty stroll through Central Park (during which time I randomly came to the realization that Christine and Anissa had a lot more in common than I realized), a lunchtime Zilch Nation meetup, and some hasty primping for the show. The pre-show dinner was good, better than the Ram’s Head in Annapolis where I saw Micky last year, but not quite up to the City Winery in Chicago where I saw (and met) Nez in 2013. Heck, even my margarita, although tiny by Oklahoma standards, was better than any concoction of that name mixed so far north had any right to be. I then fiddled with my phone to see if I could record high quality audio of the show (for use on Zilch) and livestream at the same time—turns out I could, but just as I finished my test stream, I saw Jodi Ritzen setting up her phone at the table behind us to stream, and I gladly closed facebook, hit record on my audio recorder and then set my phone down to be ignored for the next two hours. Thanks Jodi! 🙂 (Note—Cindy Ferrier also recorded video from the same area, and her youtubes are used for this post).
I’m just gonna focus on the “Little Bit Broadway” half of Micky’s setlist this time, as A: The Usual Stuff was done in the Usual Manner, and B: I ran out of insightful things to say about I’m a Believer at least a year ago. 😉 Anyway, As I settled into the glow of my mini-margarita, the lights dimmed, and the fun began.
Drums: Billy LaGuardia (so versatile! Great delicate touch on the lighter numbers too)
Bass: Larry Cook
Electric Guitar: Alex Draime (The kid who looked about 14, played like a beast, and put me in mind of Daniel, who was the youngest member of his band playing a gig on his dream tour a hundred miles or so south of me AT THAT VERY MOMENT.)
Acoustic Guitar: Khaled Tabbara,
Piano/Musical Director: Michael J. Moritz, Jr, AKA the second-best keyboard player on the eastern seaboard that evening. 😊
I’m just going to let Cindy’s excellent videos speak for themselves, with a bit of added commentary from me.
If it’s wrong that I laughed at the “Hey Micky!” intro, I don’t wanna be right. Also, DW Washburn is worth a note, as it was done less as a Monkees single and more as a Broadway song (if that makes sense)
Don’t Be the Bunny, or, yet more evidence that Micky was born to play villains (see also: Zilch’s recent discussion of guest appearances). So much oily charm! That’s the guy who tried to beat up Ryan O’Neil on Peyton Place…
I need to think on it (I’ve seen some good touring versions of Chicago over the years, not to mention John C. Reilly’s excellent performance in the movie), but I may have a new favorite version of Cellophane. Magnificent.
Not to second guess a Monkee, but I dunno if this song would have worked for them. Then again, they had an exceedingly loose relationship to stifling concepts like “Genre”…and I do bet his mom sang it amazingly, in any case.
A: a lovely payoff to a Standard Micky Joke ™ done in a swoon-worthy and nuanced manner.
B: An anecdote that reminds us that Paul McCartney can be kind of bitchy 😉
Just remembered that I’m pretty sure the lady holding up the King for a Day CD wound up doing Goin’ Down (the closing number of the main set). Guess that beat the stack of “Mickees” Zilch buttons we had on the table for any interested backup band members to snag after the show. Also, In case anyone’s forgotten, Micky and Coco’s voices mesh magnificently. (more on this later)
And then, after appropriately wild applause, Micky came back to do the song I’d been aching to hear him do live since I saw it in the setlist from his first round of 54 Below shows. One of the very few pop culture things that I’ve loved for even longer than The Monkees was Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I loved the movie, and in due course the book. I loved Gene Wilder with the fervor only a quirky 7 year old with Father Issues could feel. And I LOVED this song from the first time I heard Willy Wonka sit on that silly marshmallow mushroom and belt it out. When Michael Moritz started the intro, I fully expected to be in tears by the bridge.
And it was GREAT—don’t get me wrong, but I found myself surprisingly dry-eyed. I suppose I could come up with some reasons why, but I’m not sure. It was well sung, but it wasn’t an F5 Tornado to the Feels like I expected. But no matter. Tears or no tears it was an excellent show performed by a consummate showman. We cheered, ate our second course, and got ready for Coco.
Coco hopped on stage, joined by Michael on Piano, and proceeded to blow away the room. No offense to you, Micky, but there is no doubt in my mind who gave the better performance last Saturday night. Micky was an excellent, polished vocalist as always, but Coco sang her impeccably curated selection of standards with an intensity and vulnerability that put me in mind of seeing Ann Wilson for the first time a few weeks before, even though their setlists and overall vibes couldn’t have been more different. I’ve struggled to say much coherent about this set, so I’m just going to paste in my friend Melanie’s much better written review that she posted on Coco’s facebook page, interspersed with links to my favorite moments of the show. Then I’ll be back to talk a little more about my tear ducts, and close with some thoughts on sibling dynamics (and a cameo appearance of a certain famous door handle in Greenwich Village).
Here’s Melanie, writing on Coco’s facebook page (interspersed with some corroborating evidence I’ve linked from youtube):
“Dear Ms. Dolenz:
I’m sending this to you on Monday, because I didn’t get a chance to speak to you on Saturday. And because I do express myself better in written words than I do in person. I know you hear from a lot of strangers (some of us stranger than others) but I hope you’ll read this.
I have to admit, I made the journey to New York to see Micky. I was perfectly happy to buy a ticket to your show as well, as I have frequently enjoyed hearing you sing “White Rabbit,” and “Different Drum,” and “Crying in the Rain.” I knew you’d put on a great show, but I expected it to be a light dessert after a hearty meal. Oh my, but was I ever wrong. Your brother was terrific, as he always is, but moments after your show ended I posted to the Zilch Podcast’s facebook group: “Coco is the better performer.”
I took a little heat from other fans for saying that, but I stand by it. (To be fair, I also got quite a few comments in enthusiastic agreement.) Later that night, I added:
“Her song choices were astounding, her vocalizations were dramatic and dynamic and daring, and her storytelling and emotional messages were deep and broad and massive. . . Her funnies were funnier. Her sads were sadder. Her angries were angrier. Her joys were more joyful. Her inspirations were more inspirational. It was, without a doubt, the better show of the evening.”
My expectations were totally confounded by your opening number [“I’m Still Here”]. It was brash, and then it was topical, and then it was brave, and then it was just amazing. I just looked up Sondheim’s lyrics, and I’m astonished at how well you adapted them!
“Control Yourself” was by far the funniest thing of the evening, and it was funny in a sustained way that nothing else even approached. It started out amusing, it took several bizarre turns, a couple of bawdy bumps, and ended with the kind of compulsive laughter that makes breathing a challenge. (Also, controlling one’s self, if you take my meaning.)
But it was your performance of “You Will Do Amazing Things” that won me. When you sang, “Close your eyes, take a breath, and smile,” I could do no other. You had me. I wept (I did a lot of that during the evening) but it was a good cry, the kind that cleans out the eyes and strengthens the soul. “
Ok, I’m back. Melanie mostly covered it, but I did want to add one or two notes.
For whatever reason, as mentioned above, the Feels weren’t really coming as strongly as usual during Micky’s set. I’m a bit of a Broadway nerd, and It was great hearing one of my favorite singers do some new-to-me (via-him) numbers. But Coco blew me away. And I think in my case, at least, it’s easy to see why. I expected to enjoy the show—being introduced to a mostly new-to-me artist who I knew for a fact had great pipes. What I hadn’t (but should) have expected was the freshness of Coco’s show. The journey of her performance wasn’t as well-trod as Micky’s set, and it felt like every song was a bit of a discovery for both sides. The tears that surprisingly weren’t inspired by Pure Imagination crept closer and closer through Coco’s set, but I wasn’t quite there, even though “It’s not that Easy being Green” got me damn close.
I was enjoying myself, but it felt like my tear ducts were waiting for something–like I was waiting for something. And then Micky hopped back on the stage, and they did a song I didn’t think to expect in Coco’s set–AND they did it magnificently.
I think I’ve said here before that Me And Magdalena, for me, has always been about the girl I used to be, the struggles of my earliest years, and the winding, beautiful, bittersweet, and surprisingly Monkees-filled trip that got me to a reasonably well-adjusted midlife.
But, of course, I wasn’t the only one trying to make sense of my father’s illness, my own quirkiness, and the vicissitudes of childhood and puberty. As Micky and Coco harmonized as only siblings can, I thought of the quiet little boy pouring his feelings into the keyboards every afternoon after school without bothering to take off his backpack, playing piano like the prodigy he was for hours on end while I sat in my room listening to Headquarters and moping like I was the first hormonal 11 year old to discover the concept of Angst. I thought of the times we were close, and the times we weren’t, and how when the chips were down we have always stuck by each other. And I know we will always stick by each other. Nobody else will understand the joys and terrors of our childhood (can anyone understand what goes on in another’s family?), but we were bonded together in those years in a way that only a few others in my life can even approach. And then I thought of the incredible man my brother Daniel has become, and was suddenly struck by the way that, in his quiet, mellow manner, he was making his childhood dreams come true just a couple of hundred miles south of where I was sitting listening to voices that had saved my childhood.
So yeah, By the time Micky and Coco got to “Do you see a long-lost Father?”, I was weeping. Pretty much was that way on and off for the rest of her set.
It was a pretty good evening, all told. 😉
The meet and greet afterward was fun, largely because of the chat with Emily that I’d been hoping to have since I saw her sitting in the crowd, and also because for the first time I’d managed to take a picture with Micky Dolenz that didn’t make me look like an utter doofus (just a partial doofus). I got to talk to more listeners to the podcast, and I got to see Melanie get Micky to sign “Keep Off My Grass”–I know how hard she worked on preparing for the DVD commentary we recorded for it, and I know that she’s one of the movie’s most devoted fans. She’s even worked me around to a mild non-ironic appreciation of it! (It ain’t Citizen Kane, and the script needed SEVERAL more drafts, but for an early ’70s hippie-sploitation morality tale, it’s actually not half bad. In our head canon You Know finally grew up a little, married Mother Jessica, and they moved to Colorado to start a winery/pot plantation. Watch the film, you’ll see it.) Anyway, it meant a lot to Melanie to get that signed (and she got out of her comfort zone to do it), and Christine and Jodi were wonderful in helping make that moment happen in different ways. But by the time Melanie had accomplished her goal we were both ready to fall over, and headed for the exit. My one regret is that we didn’t get to congratulate Coco, who was trapped in a gaggle of fans on her side of the room, across from where we were stuck in our own scrum. I hope this review serves as an adequate apology to the best performer of the night, and that this might be the first of many cabaret shows. Coco, you were magnificent.
Sunday was a more conventionally touristy day. While Melanie was at church and Christine and her husband slept in, I found a not-too-touristy cafe to have breakfast and then went up to the top of the Empire State Building. (When in Rome…). Then we reconvened, had lunch, and puttered around Manhattan with a visit to Ground Zero (a very moving memorial, and I could tell they had taken notes on the OKC Bombing memorial in their design), Christine’s recreation of some KISS album cover or another at a lamp post that took some careful triangulation to find (Ken, you need to meet Daniel if only so you two can commiserate over my utter lack of musical taste), and of course, a pilgrimage to Davy’s former Zilch Boutique in Greenwich Village. The handles were still there, and many photos were taken.
For some reason I thought of my sister-by-choice Anissa, and the way that her life and our friendship led me to this utterly bizarre moment in front of a vacant storefront, posing for photos and utterly confusing passers-by. I wished she were there for the usual reasons, but also because a lot of what Zilch does is far more naturally her skill set than mine (especially holding court at meetups). However, since she’s not available, I bumble through as best I can in my introverted way. After the photo session we parted for the weekend, with Christine and Kevin heading to a dinner reservation, and Melanie and I riding back to midtown to grab a bite at a likely looking burger place, and then to grab our bags and catch a train to the airport hotel. The fact that Dancing Queen started up on the restaurant muzak the moment I opened the door was just too damn perfect. I Guess that’s just how siblings are. 🙂
Next up: There’s going to be a Micky thing this fall in St. Louis that I will probably go to, but December will find me at a Micky Show in Bay City, Michigan, hopefully with him doing his holiday show.
Yes…THAT Bay City. THAT venue. Probably staying at THAT hotel, too. Cin and I even wound up with almost the exact same seats.
I don’t know if that will end up being the last review for Fandom Lenses–They aren;t getting younger of course, but I never count these guys out, and their concert tickets are a better way to spend money during my midlife crisis then some flashy sports car. But if it does turn out to be the last solo or group Monkees show I chronicle at Fandom Lenses…
What a way to go out. 🙂
Oh, and here’s your reward for reading all that waffle–some videos of my brother being my brother. (especially the hiding behind the celebrities in the all-concealing shadows where it’s safe part 😉 ). He’s the one with the hipster beard, umpteen keyboards and the occasional irrelevant accordion. 😉