At the Chicago Theatre, Chicago, Illinois: Many so-called nostalgia acts figure all the crowd wants is to hear the big hits. However, longtime fans were richly rewarded on November 16, 2012, when The Monkees hit the stage and treated the audience to deep album tracks as well as the hits. In other words, fans of the Head movie were in their glory, as the now-trio — Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork — performed a healthy dose of the soundtrack. Along the way, the three saluted other Monkee member Davy Jones, who passed away in February 2012. Through videoclips and music, Jones was present in spirit.
The concert proved a multimedia affair, an appropriate technique for a group initially created for television. Clips of various “romps” from the Monkees series provided a backdrop for the three, along with their excellent backing band. The sold-out audience roared with approval when Dolenz, Nesmith, and Tork made their entrance, hitting the ground running with a spirited rendition of “Last Train to Clarksville.” Here and throughout the evening, Dolenz displayed his still-strong voice, lending credence to the belief that he remains an underrated rock singer. Tork, who alternated playing guitar, bass, piano, and banjo, performed a delightfully loopy rendition of the silly “Auntie Grizelda.” His comical footwork, facial expressions, and interaction with front row fans perfectly accompanied the insane tone of the track.
Anticipation was high for Nesmith, who returned to the Monkees after a 15-year absence. His droll voice, accented with a country twang, sounded strong on “You Just May be the One,” “What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round,” and “You Told Me,” a track from their landmark 1967 album Headquarters. Judging by his multimedia-heavy solo career, Nesmith chooses not to overly dwell in the past, and proved this through his radically different reading of “Sweet Young Thing,” slowing down the tempo and adding Middle Eastern accents. He also surprised fans with “Tapioca Tundra,” a track from their 1968 album The Birds, The Bees and the Monkees. Wearing a wry expression, Nesmith crooned the largely free-association lyrics, featuring tongue-twisting lines such as “Silhouettes and figures stay close to what he had to say, and one more time the faded dream is saddened by the news.”
The most fascinating section of the concert was the Head sequence, during which the Monkees performed virtually every song from the album. Dolenz’s voice still glides over the ethereal “Porpoise Song” and the romantic “As We Go Along,” both co-written by Carole King. Over the years, Dolenz has become a gifted interpreter, as he effectively evoked emotion out of the latter song. Tork tore through the overlooked “Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again,” a fierce jam that remains one of the best songs he ever composed. He also led the band in “Can You Dig It?” a psychedelic workout that swirls with its Middle Eastern sound. The belly-dancing segment from the film served as the backdrop. Not to be outdone, Nesmith wailed through the rocker “Circle Sky,” his still defiant voice adding new meaning to the lyric “And it looks like we made it once again.” To pay tribute to Jones, a video of Jones performing “Daddy’s Song” from the film loomed over the stage, with the band providing live accompaniment to Jones’ spirited singing and footwork. The trio continued this playful mood throughout the show, joking with one another and the audience.
Throughout the night, the trio seemed bent on demonstrating that they could still rock out. Dolenz paced the stage, spitting out the angry lyrics to “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone” while the band emphasized the pre-punk overtones of the track. Wearing a replica of his familiar ’60s poncho, he furiously pounded the bass drum during the hard-driving “Alternate Title (Randy Scouse Git).” “Why don’t you cut your hair? Why don’t you live up there? Why don’t you do what I do, see what I feel when I care!” Dolenz yelled, the words still sounding as defiant as they did in 1967.
The most emotional moment of the night came toward the end, when the trio and a randomly chosen audience member led the crowd in a massive singalong to “Daydream Believer.” Dolenz introduced the song by explaining how he and the band debated how to perform the song, since the Jones vocal was so important to the track. In the end they decided that none of them could do “Daydream Believer” justice like Jones; therefore they elected to have the audience sing the ever-familiar words. “The song belongs to you now,” Dolenz said, extending his microphone over the crowd.
After their final song, “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” it was evident that the Monkees had accomplished their goal: celebrating their loyal fans and demonstrating that they have all evolved into top-notch performers. At the same time, they respectfully honored their departed bandmate. While the Monkees celebrated their past, they also acknowledged how far they have come as musicians.
Set list for the Monkees, Chicago, November 16, 2012:
Last Train to Clarksville
Papa Gene’s Blues
Your Auntie Grizelda
Sweet Young Thing
I’m a Believer
(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone
I Wanna Be Free
(Davy on video)
You Told Me
You Just May Be the One
The Girl I Knew Somewhere
For Pete’s Sake
Early Morning Blues and Greens
Randy Scouse Git
Porpoise Song (Theme From “Head”)
(Davy on video)
Can You Dig It?
As We Go Along
Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?
(Vocals sung by audience)
What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round?
Listen to the Band
Pleasant Valley Sunday