OK, so let’s Recap, because I’ve just had the wildest 8 months of my life:
- I didn’t review the Saint Louis 50 Summers of Love show in October 2017 here because I’d literally just come back from the biggest job interview of my life halfway across the country (I actually had a follow up phone call with my soon-to-be boss right before I got in the car to drive out from Tulsa) and I simply didn’t have the mental bandwidth to write anything coherent. (I was also so exhausted I managed to trip over a curb and sprain 1 ½ ankles the day after the show, so… ).*
- I didn’t review the November 2017 solo Micky show at the Hard Rock Casino 5 minutes from my (now-former) home because I was frantically packing up and cleaning the house we’d lived in for 10 years to move halfway across the country to take the aforementioned job.
- I didn’t even GO to the December Micky show in Bay City, Michigan at the same venue where Peter gave my sisters and I a musical gift I am still trying to pay forward in some ways, because, well, see pretty much all the other essays I’ve published here.
- And then I moved halfway across the country.
- And then I started the hardest and best job I have ever had and may well ever have.
- And then Ken almost died.
- And then all of us on the Zilch Podcast team had to think very hard singularly and collectively about a sustainable future for the Zilch podcast and our roles in it.
- And then as the adrenaline of the move wore off I started weeping at random moments when watching sailing millennial hipsters** on youtube and I got myself back into therapy for the first time since my post-doctoral implosion.
- And then the M&M shows were announced, and I bought tickets for two shows less than a week apart (one in Ohio, one in my new hometown) because one of the minor(!) facets of this awesome, overwhelming miracle of a life change is that I live a nonstop flight or an easy day’s drive from my sisters now.
And now I’m gonna review BOTH shows, right here, over the next week.
…Holy Shit, I needed this tour.
It was a perfect melding of old and new—Cin, Mich, Mattie and I (plus my obligatory owl pendant) at the Cain Park Ampitheater in Cleveland. The sisterhood of the Frodis Femmes hadn’t all been at the same show since, lord, Nez in 2013 I think? And once I handed out my Zilch buttons, I could just lean back and enjoy the show. I know Peter argues that pop music is aspirin and the Blues are vitamins, but all I know is their music is some damn good medicine in whatever genre or configuration. After cheering on the hybrid FNB/Monkees backing band, we all lost our freaking minds as I saw Micky and Nez stroll casually on stage. And with absolutely no ceremony they plunged into what just might be my favorite set list of any Monkees show. Though I actually hesitate to call this a Monkees show—but I’ll circle back to that in a bit.
Good Clean Fun: have y’all ever seen Nez give a Loose performance? He kinda got there a bit at the 2014 con’s MOTM concert, but seriously, the man seemed genuinely, deeply relaxed onstage for the first time…ever? And as blown away as I was by hearing a Nez song done live that I never expected to hear live, I realized that this band was big enough and deep enough to render some pretty complex tunes in something close to album arrangements. (Though I will note for the record that you did NOT tell us you’d come back, Nez. Damn glad ya did, though. ❤ )
Clarksville: a thicker, richer rendition of the usual. Felt there were about 15 guitars up there. That said, it Gave me a chance to watch Coco and Circe Gogo dancing in the back—I don’t think over ever heard them on vocals at the same time and having them both lending their talents was amazing. 🙂
Sunny Girlfriend: after a confused quip from Nez about Micky wielding a pair of red maracas that was poignant in its subtlety, we got what might be the best performance of Sunny girlfriend I’ve heard to date. One note though, given the throwback nature of a lot of the arrangements this tour, Nez’s more recent embrace of his stoner phase, and the fact that we ALL know what that song was REALLY about(see Zilch episode 18), why not re-embrace the original “eyes as red as thunder” lyric? 😉 But no pondering time, they directly morphed into the intro to…
Mary Mary: great to hear the author back into the harmonies of one of my now slightly problematic faves. 😀 Coco and Circe added some excellent layers too!
You told me: The first song of a few that I had forgotten was on the set list! (I tried to stay unspoiled and haven’t watched any show video yet, but I saw the set list by accident on Zilch fairly early on). The first of two songs of the evening In which the infamous Nez “…Guh” made an appearance. (Every straight woman and gay man reading this knows precisely what vocalization I’m referring to here). I never expected to hear that syllable again in person, and hooboy did Nez deliver. Tim Curry would have been proud of how long Nez held that note and made us shudder with antici…
I kind of had a moment. (So did Mich).
For Pete’s Sake: Micky did it, and did it well, and I grok why it was in the set list, but it ain’t his song anymore. Nez gave his love to the absent friend, and then came the second song of the night I forgot was on the set list:
Door into Summer: go see the 2013 Tulsa show review for my feelings about this song. And imagine the tensions around it 5 years later as a library dean who literally has her name upon her door. ( Although I also have a Zilch mug and a jar of Liquid Paper on my desk, so I like to think I’ve found a better balance than this song’s protagonist.) I needed to hear this song, it was such a perfect encapsulation of everything I don’t want to be as a leader and a professional—sort of a “cat’s in the cradle for the upwardly mobile, I suppose. 😉 I wanted to do right by my new library and my new team, help make them all the best they could be while making sure I was giving them a pleasant place to work. By God I was gonna be Fezziwig, not Scrooge, and I knew I couldn’t afford to make a single mistake. I leaned forward listening to Nez, trying to get a booster shot of the reality check I’d received in Tulsa in 2013 and…
Then Nez blew a cue and scrambled a verse. A couple times over actually.
And they got it back together and finished the song.
And then the crowd cheered loudly anyway because even if there was a flub or two, everyone knew he cared and was gonna press on and keep doing his best by the audience and his band mates.
And then I laughed, realizing that Nez had accidentally imparted a somewhat different message than I anticipated, but one that this new Library Leader probably needed to hear a hell of a lot more. ❤
Stepping Stone: the larger band made this set list staple COOK!!!
Also, somebody needs to give Rich Dart a raise. HOLY SHIT the drums rocked on this one.
You just may be the one: missed Peter doing the bass lick at the top, but John Billings carried the torch admirably. 🙂
Here they took a moment to reset. As everyone tuned and swapped instruments for a moment, Nez looked out beyond the seats to the general admission lawn, and beckoned folks to move up to fill a couple rows of empty seats toward the front. At first it was sweet, and then as the ushers stood in indecision about letting folks come forward, it became sweetly insistent. Sweet old grandpapa Nez or no, the guy still has enough steel to get shit done. 😉
And around that time someone in the audience yelled out the now ubiquitous “I love you Mike!”
And Nez grinned a big ol’ grin and replied “You cannot imagine how much I love you.”
And as we all melted into a puddle of feels, it was time for
Some of Shelly’s Blues: Newcomer Pete Finney was a revelation on Steel guitar. His solo could seriously give Red Rhodes a run for the money. This tune made me even more excited than I already was for the east coast first national band tour that will be stopping in my city. Because I now live in the kind of city where the First National Band would stop on a tour.
Girl that I knew somewhere: Another old chestnut in the setlist that was elevated by more complex arrangements made possible the larger group. Newbie Alex Jules stepped in on keys to handle Peter’s customary harpsichord with aplomb. Mike’s FNB associates may be new to the Monkees material, but they are pros at giving it the treatment it deserves.
Birth of an Accidental Hipster: Two years ago I made peace with the fact I was never ever gonna hear this live. I couldn’t afford the time or money to go to Pantages to hear this live.
I heard this live.
And I was transported to my last day at my old job, blasting this at max volume as I drove away from the library where I had worked for the previous 12 years. I had wondered how it would sound live, but with that deep, deep band they produced the wall of sound that number requires. And then the third newcomer Paul Kramer’s fiddle picked up seamlessly and led us into my friend Mattie’s (nick)namesake song:
St. Matthew: Forget toe-tapping, this was a foot-stomping rendition of a ultra-deep cut that somehow became a fan favorite in the years since Andrew Sandoval dug it out of the vault. Micky and Nez traded verses, which was a truly lovely innovation. Mattie looked to be in heaven, singing along with every word. I’ve always thought it was her song. 😊
Porpoise Song: After Micky ruefully admitted that Head had been released 50 years ago, he asked us if any of us knew what it was about, and if so whether we could tell him. (Some wag yelled out “LSD!”, which in fairness is probably about 70% of the answer). And this huge band, which almost felt a bit more like an orchestra at times like this, broke into THE BEST VERSION OF PORPOISE SONG I HAVE HEARD LIVE, and I’ve heard a lot of ‘em over the years. I was softly humming along, when suddenly a song that’s accrued its layers of meaning for me over many of the farewells and transitions of my life unexpectedly spackled another coat of meaning on top. I suddenly realized I was bidding “goodbye, goodbye, goodbye” to my old life in Oklahoma. My “Ego sings” of a hell of a lot of things that go with a life of style too, and although that’s not a bad thing, it’s a drive I’m having to rebalance as I start living the life of a leader in practice as well as theory. And I wept, but they were the tears of relief, not anxiety or exhaustion. I needed to take a moment to say goodbye to the time that was, but also acknowledge the fact that I had been given many gifts that had made me the kind of leader my new university needed, and that I indeed have what it takes to succeed.
Oh, and Wayne and Christian particularly wailed on this one. Most touring acts would kill to have one guitarist of their caliber, and this show has two.
Circle Sky: after some musing about “the purpose of the porpoise”, Nez started the band on Circle Sky. I think we were all blasted back about 3 feet. 😉 Have I mentioned how much sound that band can put out?
As We Go Along: But that’s not to say they can’t do the tender stuff like Kevin and I’s wedding song too. Circe and Coco added some lovely layers with their backing vocals, and all in all its possibly the best performance of the tune I’ve heard, well, except for the time I danced with my husband to at the Brady Theater in the 4th row while Micky sang right at us. Sorry, that ain’t getting topped.
Me and Magdalena: Ok, yeah, got a new favorite live version. There’s more I could say here, but there’s limits to the amount of oversharing I’m prepared to do even with y’all. Let’s just say that this one resonated with me at an even deeper level than it already did.
And with that, it was time for intermission. We gathered ourselves, chatted for a bit, and talked to more members of Zilch Nation who trickled up to say Hi. (So sorry I ran out of buttons!). After about 15 minutes, the guys returned to the muggy stage, Micky having sensibly shed his long overcoat in favor of a country singer-style shirt. (PS Micky—it’s OK if you need to take off the hat when the venue’s that warm and muggy. We get it. 😊 )
Papa Gene’s Blues: The guys started off the second half of the show with an acoustic mini-set, which in turn started off with a long-time favorite, Papa Gene’s blues. It was just the two of them with Wayne and Christian playing in the background (discreetly to start with, then less so). A sweetly magical change from the bombastic first half of the show to hear their harmony with a minimum of bells and whistles. 😊
Randy Scouse Git: Randy Scouse Git? In the Acoustic set? Well whadayaknow, it works! Though Christian did almost steal the number with his playing along to Micky’s scatting… 😉
Nine Times Blue: The band started trickling back in throughout the acoustic songs, with Pete Finney sliding back in behind the steel guitar in time for this beautiful, poignant rendition of one of Nez’s first and best songs. One of his best vocals of the evening, and 95% of the evening he was in the strongest voice I’ve heard him in live.
I’ll spend my life with You: A tune that doesn’t come up much in the setlists—they did it in 2015, with peter on lead vocals—but Micky turned the volume down to an easy country vibe, and harmonized as beautifully with Coco as he always does.
Different Drum: One might argue this pushes the boundaries of a “Monkees song” slightly (though it DID appear on the TV show)—but who cares? No funky re-arrangements (not that I don’t LOVE those rearrangements), just a straightforward country steel pedal-heavy rendition, with Nez providing a sweet, gentle delivery of one of the greatest songs in his catalog.
Take a Giant Step: And then Nez, being Nez, decided to go into falsetto mode as he urged Micky to “take a Giant Step outside his mind”. And so he did. This is another tune where the larger band allowed them to capture a sound much closer to the original album, albeit with more fiddle and overall twang. The version with Peter at a Two Man Band show in Texas back in the 90s (the first song I EVER heard performed live by a Monkee, kids) will always hold a spot in my heart as my favorite performance. This comes in a mighty close second, though, and it IS my new favorite arrangement. I’ve talked before about how important this song was a kid, as it gave me a musical string to follow out of the labyrinth of my preteen angst.
Auntie’s Municipal Court—and now it was Micky’s turn to goof up an entrance! But nobody cared, the song was all the more amazing for how damn long we’ve waited to hear it live. This was perhaps one of the best harmonies of the night—up there with Me and Magdalena, really. Special kudos go to Paul Kramer, whose INCREDIBLE banjo stylings kicked this one up a notch if such a thing was possible, and who could probably give Peter a run for the money, come to think of it. (don’t make me pick one of them though, my musical objectivity has its limits). Ditto Wayne Avers, whose guitar solo was flat-out phenomenal.
Oh, and nobody’s posted video of it yet (though Sherri Hansen’s may be coming), so y’all will just have to listen to an upcoming episode of Zilch. I’m scheming something a little special. 😉
Sweet Young Thing-(Guh):
Done in the album arrangement.
I’ll be in my bunk.
*ahem*–where were we?
Goin Down: Nez danced offstage (yes, DANCED) to take a quick break, sparkly shoes glistening in the footlights, and Micky did his thing. No audience participation, but this is where they broke to introducing the epic, EPIC band. I’d say for the next threekees show they need to bring some of SSB up there too, but I’m not sure where they’d put ‘em!
Daydream Believer: I’ve run out of ways to describe this moment of twinkling cell phones and exuberant singing, so I‘ll let Nez say it for me, when he commented, obviously moved by the spectacle, “I wish you could see it from up here. It’s a sea of light”. I can’t arrange that, but seriously, turn around for a moment during that singalong next time you see the show. You’ll be blown away.
What am I doing Hangin’ Round?: I seem to recall arguing last time I saw Peter do this one that he might do it better? Well, Nez swiped back the crown. The only way we’re gonna settle this one will be a duet, methinks. 😉
Pleasant Valley Sunday: This is the point where we said “screw it” and stood up to dance. Most of the section joined in, so yay. (I may have indulged in some mild headbanging). And with that everyone walked off the stage, except for Nez who stood alone for a moment, in the spotlight, and started into
Listen to the Band: I always love this song, it’s in every setlist, it’s essentially their freaking mission statement. And yet, this is the first time I felt what it might have been like in that studio watching this recording session play out for 33 1/3rd. Well, if it was the imaginary version that should have been. In moderation, dreams are often better than reality, anyway. 😊 I’m just gonna shut up and let this one play out.
I’m a Believer: Yep, despite all that has changed since my last Monkees show, I am still a believer, regardless what my address or my business card says these days. Some things evolve, or cycle in similar yet unique permutations, but they never change.
And then the Frodis Femmes (including Melanie, who got the chance to go to the show at the last minute) went to Denny’s. I got Moons over my Hammy, with a dash of Cholula to cut through the sinus congestion. Excellent.
So…I guess it’s time to sum up. I’m not exactly sure what to say, since I’m going to the Philadelphia show in a few days (the closest together I’ve ever seen two Monkees concert, the closest comparison is really the two shows I saw in the same weekend with Shoe Suede Blues a while back, and that’s rather a different beast). Thanks to a recent thread on the Zilch facebook page about on-stage bloopers and whether they make a performance better or worse*** (The consensus was better, by the way), I found myself thinking about why it is I go to see these guys live, decade after decade. On reflection, I think it’s about goodbyes and hellos, and the ways they’ve played out over the first 4 decades of my life.
When I went to my first shows in 1997 and 2001, it was to say farewell to a girl who I had just barely outgrown, and then to celebrate my new bond with the first friends I’d had since I was 9 years old that really, truly GOT me, scars and traumas and all, and didn’t run screaming into the night. 2012-14 were all about saying goodbye to Anissa and Davy, and to close a circle with Nez that I hadn’t been able to close in ’97 because I was a fucking idiot and didn’t go to the Justus UK show. And truly, I left the Monkees convention in March 2014 thinking my time with the Monkees was drawing to a close. As y’all know, that lasted about 6 weeks. 😉
The concerts in the Zilch era gradually, then more intensely brought the opportunity to share fun and silliness with the ever growing tribe of listeners that became Zilch Nation. I suddenly found I had become revered by a small minority of a small minority (just about the perfect level of celebrity IMHO), and I had to figure out how to use that weird power well. The occasional peek behind the curtain my position allows helped me better understand the role of other cogs in the Monkees Machine as it’s existed over the years, from John Hughes and Andrew Sandoval on down to the nice lady enthusiastically upselling us all at the Cain Park merch stand. (Give her a raise, John! 😉 ).
Finally, a combination of my own growing leadership career and the insights afforded by being a Zilch Cohost has led me to a deeper appreciation of four talented, complex, damaged, but ultimately good-hearted human beings who embarked 53-ish years ago on a project to play some songs, shoot some TV, and generally try to make us happy. And is true of most major choices one makes in one’s late teens and early 20s before knowing any better, they have reaped the incredibly positive and occasionally heartbreaking consequences of that choice from that day on.
I don’t go to a Monkees concert to see a note perfect repetition of deep cuts I memorized during the Clinton administration, if not the Reagan Administration—although hearing those deep cuts in person over the last few years has been AMAZING. I go to see those guys, solo or group, in whatever configuration is touring this time, because I like seeing these guys in all their humanity, ordering us to clap along to Higher and Higher, calling for a chorus of Daydream Believer in Latin, or dancing off stage for a quick break during the opening of Goin Down, sparkly shoes twinkling all the way. If that means the occasional flubbed entrance or off-key note, then so the hell what? That just shows they’re human. And the older I get, the more I like my role models to be human. Because time and again, for some inexplicable reason, the humanity I see in them reminds me of something in myself that I need to allow to shine.
That’s why I go to Monkees shows. Because although I wasn’t sure I’d call this a Monkees show when I started writing this review, over the course of telling the story I came around to the opposite conclusion. Was it radically different than any Monkees show I’ve seen before? Yes. Did the lineup make for something unique and special? Absolutely. Was this particular whole bigger than the sum of its parts? No doubt. But the same Monkee magic was there, from Micky’s banter to the hijinks of the freakishly talented sidemen and women to Nez’s goofy post-2012 smile beaming even more brightly than his sparkly shoes. Don Kirshner or Bob and Bert or even Nez and Micky might disagree, but based on the Elephant Part I’m holding on to, The chemical reaction created whenever two or more are gathered is what makes the Monkees The Monkees. Even if the resulting compounds sound a bit different (or even a lot different), the joy is still there.
And that was what happened in Cleveland. So I’d better get ready, since next week The Monkees are coming to my (new) town.
* Tl; dw—I will always count getting to usher a gaggle of Zilch Nation citizens backstage to meet Micky and Mark Lindsay one of the most wonderful moments of my fandom life.
**despite my tears, I heartily recommend watching the Sailing Millennial Hipsters of Youtube. There’s about a dozen different noteworthy channels in the sub-sub-genre, most amazing in their own ways. If it’s your thing, you will get hooked on one or more of SV Delos, Sailing Uma, Abandon Comfort, Gone with the Wynns, or La Vagabonde. Come to think of them I should probably write a piece on them sometime, because I got hooked about a year ago, right around the time I started making the choices that led to this Massive Life Change.
***Better or worse, live flubs happen to everyone. My brother Daniel, who plays for a singer (Ann Wilson) who tours a lot of the same venues that the Monkees do, once had occasion to play with Hanson at a Bob Dylan tribute concert. He had to play the whole tune with an irrelevant accordion strapped on him, because he had a brain fart about which song was up next. I was standing 20 feet from him and didn’t even notice till he was joking about it after the show. And he’s a 35 year old who does this sideman shit for a living.