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More than 45 years after they formed as a made-for-TV band, The Monkees are still the Rodney Dangerfield of rock — they get no respect from those who think of them as the Prefab Four, a fake group put together for a sitcom and nothing more. Saturday night at the Greek Theatre, the band continued its long struggle to be taken seriously and had an added challenge this time around: This is the group’s first tour since the death of “the cute one,” Davy Jones, from a heart attack in February. Should they, could they continue without him?
The “should” question likely will be debated by Monkee-maniacs for years to come, but Saturday the surviving trio of Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork proved they can get along fine without Jones, just as Dolenz, Tork and Jones had staged past tours without Nesmith, including an ill-fated 45th anniversary trek in summer 2011 that was cut short due to “internal group issues and conflicts.”
On the third date of the tour billed as “An Evening With The Monkees,” the band offered all the hits you’d expect but also delved into deep album cuts that showed off their trailblazing forays into country rock and psychedelia. The surviving trio — backed by a seven-piece unit that included Dolenz’s sister, Coco, on backing vocals and Nesmith’s son, Christian, on guitar — played a nearly two-hour set that pleased the faithful, still mourning the loss of Jones.
The band wasted little time getting into the hits, opening with their 1966 chart-topper “Last Train to Clarksville,” with Dolenz on lead vocals, backed by Tork and Nesmith on guitars. From there, they seemingly sent a message, playing “Papa Gene’s Blues,” a track that was also on their multiplatinum self-titled 1966 debut album; but rather than being penned by an outside writer such as Tommy Boyce, Bobby Hart, Gerry Goffin or Carole King, this was a Nesmith composition and the first hint that there was legit musical talent behind the prefab facade.
Throughout the evening, Dolenz, wearing a black fedora and sunglasses, served as the ringmaster, flanked by Nesmith and Tork on either side. But all three took turns singing lead and, at some point, taking a breather backstage. Nesmith, making his first appearance with The Monkees since 1997, barely resembles his younger self. With his trademark green knit hat long gone, he’s now gray and balding, and if it weren’t for his silver sparkling shoes, he could easily be mistaken for a retired executive. Yet he proved to be still strong in voice and adept on his 12-string Gretsch guitar, the same model he played in the video clip of “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” four and a half decades ago.
Before the band performed another early No. 1 hit, their cover of Neil Diamond‘s “I’m a Believer,” Dolenz pointed out to the younger members of the crowd that he had “sung this song long before Shrek.” His point was well taken, as the band’s impact on pop culture has continued long after they originally disbanded and was evident in their set Saturday night.
“(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” which Dolenz performed with youthful vigor, was covered by the Sex Pistols in the ’70s. In the ’80s, hip-hop crew Run-DMC reinterpreted “Mary, Mary,” a Nesmith-penned tune, sung by Dolenz behind the drum kit. Of course, there was Shrek with “I’m a Believer” in 2001. That same year, “The Porpoise Song” from The Monkees’ cult classic film Head, was featured in a key scene in Cameron Crowe‘s Vanilla Sky. It received a full psychedelic treatment at the Greek and was one of the night’s highlights. And this summer, “Goin’ Down,” originally the B-side to “Daydream Believer,” was controversially featured in a meth-cooking scene on Breaking Bad. In concert, it was delivered with Dolenz scatting vocals, a blazing sax solo and strobe lights.
The missing Jones was honored with a pair of video tributes, including the late singer frolicking on the beach in “I Wanna Be Free.” When it came time to play their biggest Jones-sung hit, “Daydream Believer,” Dolenz relayed a conversation he and Nesmith had before the start of the tour, where he acknowledged that he or Tork could sing the song, but it now belongs to the audience. So a woman was plucked out of the crowd to sing. It turned out she wasn’t much of a singer, but when the crowd joined in, it turned into the night’s emotional high point.
The Monkees ended the night with “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” an apt choice to cap a pleasant but cool evening outdoors in Griffith Park.
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 (video tribute)
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
The Porpoise Song
As We Go Along
Daddy’s Song (video tribute)
Can You Dig It?
Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?
What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round?
Listen to the Band
Pleasant Valley Sunday
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