Steve had seen them before. Simon hadn’t. So both of Crave!’s reviewers offer their thoughts on The Monkees show in Auckland. Steve first, then Simon.
On the strength of last night’s show at Auckland’s Town Hall, it’s not clear that anyone would accuse the two remaining Monkees, Mickey Dolenz and Mike Nesmith, of monkeying around.
While Dolenz is still an outstanding singer — he was, let’s be fair, the strongest singer of the four even back in their glory days of the 1960s — Nesmith was very much the musical backbone of the band, the strongest songwriter. And so a show that revolves around, as it was billed, the Mike and Mickey show is always going to be a slightly uneven thing.
Opening with Good Clean Fun and Last Train To Clarksville, the set was a mix of the songs you’d expect to hear at a Monkees show — Daydream Believer, (I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone, I’m A Believer, Last Train — bookending a couple of dozen more numbers that made up a fairly representative trot through a back catalogue, taking in songs from Head (Porpoise Song) and their most recent album Good Times (Me & Magdelena, Birth Of An Accidental Hipster) as well as more obvious hits like Pleasant Valley Sunday.
So the songs were glorious, since, after all, they were written by some of the finest songwriters in pop history, many of whom — Carole King, Neils Sedaka and Diamond, Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller — Dolenz was careful to give full credit to. Credit often went to Nesmith for his songwriting contributions.
Less credit, however, is due Nesmith for his contributions to last night’s show. While Dolenz is still possessed of a magnificent voice, a scorcher of an instrument that cut through most clearly on Stepping Stone, toward the end of the second set of the evening (no support act; the two Monkees played two hour-long sets with a fifteen-minute interval), Nesmith struggled for much of the show to reach the notes that once he made quite effortlessly. While Dolenz stalked the stage with a tambourine or bongos as Nesmith looked for, and only occasionally found, the notes he was reaching for, Nesmith frequently left Dolenz on his own to sing. And between songs it was Dolenz who told the stories, who introduced the numbers, who credited the writers who created them, while Nesmith chimed in with asides and gags that sometimes made sense.
The last time a Monkees show came to town, Mickey Dolenz was behind a drum kit and performing with Peter Tork, who died earlier this year. And while I’m sure Dolenz misses his old mate personally, it’s clear that he misses him on stage too. Nesmith is perhaps a little old (he’s 76) to be a compelling stage performer these days, his voice not all it should be and his guitar playing possibly a tiny bit suspect in places. Ultimately, this was more the Mickey Dolenz Show than the Mike And Mickey Show that it was advertised as. And it’s likely that the absence of Tork and Davy Jones constrained the set list — only Tork could do justice to Your Auntie Grizelda, but also it lacked Good Times!, the title track of their last album and a fantastic workout for Dolenz’ voice, and even The Monkees’ Theme. But, backed by an outstanding backing band that featured Mickey’s sister Coco on backing vocals and Mike’s boy Christian on guitar, the two remaining Monkees do still put on a very entertaining show.
Parts of this concert from The Monkees I enjoyed immensely, but overall I didn’t like it as much as I wanted to. It’s a dangerous game to think you can read the mood of an audience, but given that, it felt like many others had a similar view. It wasn’t for a lack of goodwill on the audience’s part. And, to be fair, everyone enjoyed the big hits. But something about what was happening on stage felt a little awkward and at times, at least for me.
What was it? I had to be the lineup. Steve saw The Monkees on their previous visit, and tells me that Micky Dolenz was joined by Peter Tork on that tour. Dolenz was on the drum kit, and Tork did much of the frontman work. I’m told Tork filled the role well, with a strong voice and an energetic performance. Tork has died since then, and in this tour he is replaced by Michael Nesmith, the band’s guitarist and main songwriter from back in the day.
I have very fond memories of The Monkees from their TV show which I saw as a kid. Back then their personalities were evident – scripted or natural, I’m not sure – but I recall Nesmith as the quietest one, perhaps even a little introverted. He seemed an intelligent guy, with a quirky sense of humour and a sheepish grin. He seemed comfortable in the background, happy to let Messrs Jones, Dolenz and Tork take most of the limelight.
Well you are who you are. In this concert Nesmith occupied centre stage alongside Dolenz, who forgot about the drums to stand as a co-frontman, a brother in arms. Nesmith needed the help. He just seemed, even now, a little awkward. He and Dolenz traded a few jokes about their longevity and age, but I’ve got say Nesmith mumbled into the microphone and it was hard to make out what he was saying. Dolenz moved around the stage, geeing up the band and injecting life into the show. Nesmith for the most part stood stock still, with the odd gesture with his arms marking his best efforts to animate the performance. His voice at times worked well, but not always.
Perhaps understanding Nesmith’s limitations as a frontman, Dolenz frequently reminded the audience of his mate’s songwriting credentials and of his importance to the band. All fair enough, and just having Nesmith there gave us a feeling that we were indeed watching The Monkees, as many of them as was humanly possible. Nesmith was clearly being true to himself. It’s simply that he is not a charismatic performer, and it made for a patchy show. The band, a big outfit with three guitars, keyboards, bass, drums and two backing singers, did their job very well.
It’s an obvious point but still worth saying that those well known songs – Last Train to Clarksville, Stepping Stone, Daydream Believer and of course I’m A Believer – were great to hear live. There’s something special about listening to a song performed by (some of) the same people who brought it to you as a youngster. Dolenz and Nesmith gave us plenty of other fare, including a fair smattering from their very recent album Good Times, of just a year or two ago. The audience loved the well known songs and politely applauded the less well known ones. The last song, I’m A Believer, was the only one to get everyone on their feet. You felt they’d have wanted to do that a lot earlier in the show.