After 33 years of data gathering and analysis, all the way
from the 1986 revival to their (probably?) final US show last Saturday, I
finally feel ready to propose a Grand Unified Theory of the Monkees. The
Monkees, singularly and collectively, on screen and on stage, through their
music and in their individual lives and work, can be understood as exploring a
(the?) central question of humanity: How can one make a difference in the world
while remaining true to one’s friends, one’s art, and most importantly, to
oneself? I suspect we all grapple with that balance between gaining the world
and losing one’s soul. The Monkees’ journey suggests that this dilemma can be
resolved by striving for an ideal that is rooted in our values and sense of
self, but that is directed toward making a better world for others.
More on that later, though. We’ve got a show to review.
Prologue: Philadelphia Museum of Art, about 4 hours before soundcheck.
Cin and I stood near Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, trying to listen to the museum guide over the chattier members of the tour group. I’ve become mildly hooked on visiting the museum since moving here (if you make it past the “Rocky Steps” you’ll find a truly world-class collection), so this wasn’t my first or even third time looking at one of the museum’s crown jewels. I was just about to pull out my phone to make sure we were still going to have time to grab lunch before heading back home to get ready for sound check, when the guide’s spiel caught my ear.
“Notice the two wilted flowers in the arrangement. Van Gogh
included these in each version of his Sunflowers paintings as a Memento Mori, or reminder to the viewer
that all things in time must die. This version of Sunflowers was painted in
Arles in 1889, and…”
And the tour guide’s voice faded out. I looked at the two
wilting flowers, but I didn’t see them. Instead I saw Nez, eagerly but gingerly
climbing on stage at the Colonial Theatre, about 3 months after joining the
Zipper Club. I saw a photo of Peter that was released after his death, taken
the day he recorded Angels we Have Heard On High for Christmas Party. The
wattage of his smile kept me from weeping at the frailty of his body—if only barely.
After his death I’d remembered that he’d seemed a little thinner than usual
when I met him backstage that final time I saw him in St Louis in 2016, but
after he spent two hours running around a stage like he was 23, I simply
chalked it up to nearing the end of a 7 month tour.
I’ve never had trouble with that concept. The thing I had to learn was Memento Vivere, and The Monkees were 4 of my first and most important teachers in living fearlessly and joyously in the face of death, from 1986 to now. But tonight would be the first time I would see them since Peter’s death, at the very venue where Nez had to end last year’s tour in favor of a quadruple bypass.
What would tonight be like?
(note: while I list all songs played during soundcheck and the show proper, I don’t discuss all of them. that’s how I kept this under 3000 words. 😉
If you ever have a chance to do VIP soundcheck for the Monkees (or any other band you love), do it. To be clear, I’m quite sure there’s a difference between a real soundcheck and VIP soundcheck (We heard Nez singing from the Keswick lobby a solid half hour before they opened the doors to let us in, which was both cool and damn reassuring for the obvious reason 😊). However, it was still neat to walk in to see Micky and Nez in a more relaxed and casual mode (Nez was in sweatpants cracking Kim Jong Un Jokes! Micky’s monitor earpiece just plays CNN!), and listen to their banter, watch the band go through its paces, and play a half-dozen songs, some we’d hear again later that night, and some that weren’t in the setlist. I’ve embedded a few videos Cin shot, but a few moments stand out from the soundcheck.
One of several that were also featured in the show proper. I was bopping and grooving along with Cin, as you do, until the Harpsichord solo, when it hit me that it was the first time I’d heard it since its originator, Peter, died. Micky and Nez glanced at each other for the briefest of moments, and it seemed as though something might have passed across both their faces. Nothing was said, and I fully admit I could have projected it. In any case, the moment passed, the guys started singing again, and we all joined in, as you do. 😊 The first of a few times in the evening I was struck by how lightly they were carrying Peter’s loss—in a good way.
Andrew pointed out this song probably won’t be in the
setlist for any of the shows this tour, so if this is the last time I ever hear
this song live, what a lovely way to go out, sharing an intimate performance
with about 30 of my fellow fans. I’ve mentioned how much this tune means to me
in a few previous reviews for a few different reasons, so I won’t belabor the
point here. After this tune Andrew called forward one of the audience members,
who had brought his vintage Monkees edition Gretsch to the show. And now, I’m
not 100% sure, but it looked like Wayne was actually playing that guitar most
of the main show! If so, how cool is that? In any case, after the audience
member showed off his guitar, Nez told the story of his original (stolen)
Gretsch 12-string, which somehow devolved into a tale of getting baked with Red
Another highlight moment, with Christian and Nez bantering
with each other. At first Nez demurred that he didn’t remember the tune very
well, after Christian responded a little teasing and waving of the “I wrote this”
sign behind his dad’s head, the two did a lovely version that put me in mind of
the version Nez did at Pantages. Another song I thought I’d never hear live
again, and another song I was so thrilled I DID hear again. And then they
transitioned seamlessly into the closing tune for soundcheck,
Pleasant Valley Sunday
And with that, we bid the guys farewell for a couple hours,
and Cin and I went down the street for Chinese. And because this was the kind
of night it was turning into, we bumped into Jodi Ritzen and Marty Ross.
Good Clean Fun The Keswick Blues
Anything I could say would not approach this amazing moment, so just watch. At the end we all leapt to our feet. Nez expressed his gratitude at surviving his near miss last year, and then renamed his song “The Keswick Blues” to laughter and applause.
Last Train to Clarksville
You Told Me
“Peter Chat” and For Pete’s Sake
In a well done segue, Micky pointed out that the banjo part in You Told Me (handled masterfully by backing band newcomer Probyn Gregory) was originated, of course, by Peter. Then, Micky matter of factly led the band into For Pete’s Sake. No Elegies, no dwelling, just a forthright tribute and on with the show, which I believe is almost certainly what Peter would have wanted. 70% of my brain was focused on singing along (as much of the audience also did), but a bit of my brain was chewing on how smoothly Micky had handled what could have been an awkward or maudlin transition, especially in comparison the cascade of Feels that were flowing on-stage and off in 2012 after Davy’s passing. I was now pretty sure that Micky and Nez had known what was going on for a lot longer than even when they dropped a few ominous hints last spring and summer, and had processed the loss in ways we hadn’t had the time to do yet (something later confirmed in an article on Billboard). But beyond that, it felt like there was a lesson in Nez and Micky’s approach to the evening. However, mid-Monkees concert is a decidedly stupid time for introspection, so I put a pin in that germ of a thought for later. Maybe on the ride home.
Door Into Summer
Unlike Cleveland, Nez nailed it! My definitive version is still Tulsa in 2013, but it’s good to know that all Nez needed to give a killer performance of one of my favorites was a sufficient blood flow to his brain. 😉
You Just may be the One
Little Bit Me, Little Bit You
A non-insignificant part of the audience was playing along with the hand gestures. Some things never change.
Girl I knew Somewhere
Birth of an Accidental Hipster
Best. Live. Hipster. EVER. (that I was present for, anyway)
Every time I’ve heard Nez play this one, from 2012 to now,
he seems just a little bit more incredulous as he sings “It looks like we made
it once again!”
With good reason. 😉
Pleasant Valley Sunday
The first time (I think) I’ve heard them do this one so early in the set (it was the act 1 closer), and it actually works to get folks jazzed up to head into the break, buy lots of Merch, etc.
Intermission was pretty straightforward. There was no projector at the Keswick, hence no Till Then Tribute or other videos. I bantered with Cin, handed out some buttons and met a few listeners, which I always simultaneously love and feel a smidge awkward about. Producing Zilch is inherently a solitary hobby in some ways. Yes, I hear Ken’s or Christine’s or Tim’s or Rosanne’s voice through my headset, and we’ve all become good friends, but every hour of recording time translates to another two or three of solitary editing and sound work to create a final segment. (Well at least it takes that long for me, but of course I’m not the Podfather. 😉 ) Beyond that, even with over 7500 members of Zilch Nation FB, I’m still a little taken by surprise to meet living, breathing strangers who listen to our rambling of their own free will. Getting to know members of Zilch Nation in person is something I’m always grateful for, and a responsibility I take seriously.
Back to the show!
Act 2, as was the case last year, opened with an Acoustic set.
Papa Genes Blues
Randy Scouse Git
For all that I loved the Poncho and the Tympani and “THE COLORS!!!”, every time I hear this arrangement of RSG, I love it more. Might be my favorite version.
Nine times Blue
I’ll Spend My Life With You
Didn’t really expect to hear this one in a Monkees Show, but I’m glad of it. Just as he did at the Colonial a few months ago, Nez NAILED THE HIGH NOTES, with some lovely backing by Circe and Coco. (Note–for brevity’s sake I’ve glossed over my usual gushing over the backing band in this review. Tl;Dr–they were everything they’ve been in every show I’ve ever seen with them, and more.)
With the Acoustic set done, we made the turn toward the last 10 songs of the evening.
Me and Magdalena
Beautiful. Might be my favorite version they’ve done.
Auntie’s Municipal Court
Nailed it even more impressively than in Cleveland, though I think the fact that it wasn’t 85 degrees and 85% humidity probably helped. 😊
Excellent as always, and they did the band intro here. Oh, and the gal in the front row fucking nailed her verse. Almost as impressive as when Christine did it in 2016.
Sweet Young Thing
Micky, self-aware predictable performer that he is, actually treated us to some robot moves at the start of this one. We all laughed. (Somebody should try to calculate how many times he’s performed that song over the last 53 years between Monkees, solo, and other tours—it’s got to be closing in on 1000…)
Nothing was said beyond what’s become the usual intro, and nothing needed to be said. But I can’t have been the only person in the hall who flashed back to the opening shots of that video as Alex Jules started in on the keyboard intro. And if such a thing was possible, the Sea of Light shone even more brightly than it ever had before. And as I gazed around the full house at the Keswick, and up at the mighty band on stage, the question I pondered in front of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers earlier in the day was answered.
The Monkees are still Memento Vivere. Even—no, especially—in March 2019.
What am I Doing Hanging Round?
I’ve finally come to a decision as to who Sings this Better, after 7 years of waffling back and forth each time I heard Peter or Nez do it. Both give excellent performances, both interpretations have nuances that recommend themselves to the listener. More specifically, Nez knocked it out of the park this time. However…
Peter sings this better. (Sorry…)
Listen to the Band
That’s OK, though, because Nez and Company gave THE BEST PERFORMANCE OF LISTEN TO THE BAND I HAVE EVER HEARD.
Maybe it was another one of those mini flashbacks, this time to 33 1/3rd, when Peter said “hi” as Nez wandered up and plugged his guitar into an amp, Micky and Davy joined them, and the Monkees gave a live to camera performance that managed to simultaneously kill off one version of their band and give birth to a new version of the Monkees that has endured 50 years.
Now, I’ve always been ambivalent about the “I think I can make it alone” line. I wrote a whole diatribe about it back in 2014 if memory serves. But as I sang along to this song one more time, I got a sense of the deeper ways in which that line is true.
And then they wrapped up with I’m a Believer.
As you do.
Afterparty and Marty Ross Meet & Greet
After saying Hi to Host Emeritus Craig Smith and Megan Stemm-Wade on the way out the door, Cin and I headed over to Jodi’s afterparty, featuring a meet and greet with Marty Ross. I got the singular honor of giving a New Monkee a Zilch Button, we chatted a little bit, and then I guarded our stuff at the table while Cin met and talked to a guy she’s been a fan of for over 30 years. As the event wound down, Marty Ross played a little mini-set of music, and ended it by telling a Peter Story!
About 20 years ago, they were both at the same event (audition? Not sure on the details, it was after midnight at this point and I was kind of fading). Peter and Marty got to talking about the Beatles, as one does. Peter mentioned that he’d been working on a blues version of Lady Madonna, which he played with Marty. And Marty played that Bluesy Lady Madonna for us in turn. I wish I’d had my recorder going, because it was an excellent adaptation of the song, not to mention a beautiful tribute.
So, a little over 12 hours after we were standing in front of one of Vincent Van Gogh’s masterpieces, Cin and I were trying to stay awake in our Uber home. My mind was drifting, and I found myself thinking back to the understated and lovely ways Micky and Nez paid tribute to a man they both called a brother on Facebook when the world found out the news we now know they had been anticipating for a few years. Their chill approach to performing in the shadow of Peter’s passing created a space where we could focus on celebrating, not mourning. (I was struggling to describe it to Christine earlier today, and she gave me the word “Steady”. That nailed it.)
But there I was, in the back of the Uber, realizing that
what Micky and Nez did was actually a pretty cool gift for us. The evening
wasn’t about them, or the audience, or even Peter or Davy. It was about The
Monkees—the whole weird unlikely convoluted Shades of Grey phenomenon that
we’ve all co-created over the last 53 years. We all came together, and they led
us as we all invoked that weird, well, whatever the hell thing The Monkees is,
and we discovered that the magic, evolving though it might be, was still alive
and well in 2019.
And then a song that wasn’t in the show, and most likely
will never be in another Monkees show again, came to mind. And yeah, I’m fully
aware Peter was writing about the Tao, but as I drowsily watched the streets of
Philadelphia roll by my window, it seemed to fit both that night at the Keswick,
and everything in the previous 53 years that led up to it.
Something doesn’t change There is only one Always changing inside What does it become?
Can you dig it? Do you know? Would you care to let it show?
Those who know it use it Those who scorn it die To sing that you can dig it Is to make your soul to fly to heaven.
Can you dig it? Do you know? Would you care to let it show?
There is only feeling In this world of life and death I sing the praise of never change With every single breath
Can you dig it? Do you know? Would you care to let it show?
Next up on Fandom Lenses, God willing and the creek don’t rise, is The Monkees’ final (currently scheduled…) United States show, back at the Family Arena in St. Louis. Dedicated readers may remember that the first time I saw a show there, I had a strong, deeply visceral hunch that the show was the last time I would ever see the Monkees. Turns out I was 33 1/3% right. Now, I hope that premonition continues to be mostly wrong, but I shelled out for a good seat—just in case. Can you be simultaneously extremely excited for a concert and hopeful that it takes a little longer to get here?