Five decades after their TV debut, The Monkees are on the road with a multimedia tour featuring footage from the 1966 television series. The performances are heavy on banjos, ponchos and memories of Hollywood plot lines (plus: guitarist Mike Nesmith and singer Davy Jones - who died in 2012 - aren't part of the festivities). Yet, in spite of the stage antics and film clips, the show makes it clear that a band invented by screenwriters now has a real rock and roll legacy to defend.
Over the years, The Monkees have pursued everything from horse farming to Broadway roles and other musical collabs (the group's catchy new album, Good Times, features songs by Noel Gallagher, Andy Partridge and Paul Weller). But original members Mickey Dolenz, 71, and Peter Tork, 74, continue to make their bread and butter in reunion tours, where the guys excel in presenting the hits and acknowledging the classic songwriters who made them famous (see set list below).
In Atlanta on the fourth stop of the 35-date tour, the pair bounced through 31 tunes, including Nesmith's "Listen to the Band" and "The Girl I Knew Somewhere," plus a jangly new single penned by Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo ("She Makes Me Laugh"). As an MTV logo flashed on the screens during the 1986 comeback song, "That Was Then, This Is Now," a full moon rose above the pines and lightning bugs began to blip around the amphitheater. Next, Mickey got behind his drum kit for 1967's psych-lite "Your Auntie Grizelda" and teased a front row ticketholder for texting on her cell phone while he sang, "She." Later, he donned his Carnaby Street tablecloth for "Randy Scouse Git" (a replica of the cape could be purchased at the merch booth for $75) and "Johnny B. Goode" before Peter picked-and-grinned his way through a mashup of R&B ["(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher"] and Appalachian folk ("Wildwood Flower").
Maybe things crackled a bit less crisply than on the recordings The Monkees made back in the heyday of bell bottoms and beanie caps, but the live interpretations felt loose, fun and groovin', like songs from the late 1960s should. Even without Nesmith, the outstanding backline of instrumentalists properly repped the band's catalog of compositions by Boyce and Hart, Leiber and Stoller, Mann and Weil, Goffin and King and, of course, Neil Diamond. "Last Train to Clarksville" and "Shades of Gray" (which summoned the recorded voice of Jones for a sing-along from the vault) were slotted early in the set; the second half saw the band rawking through Nesmith's "Mary, Mary" followed by a trio of tunes from the soundtrack to the 1968 film Head, a rowdy "I'm Not Your Steppin' Stone" and a finale containing "Daydream Believer," "Pleasant Valley Sunday" and "I'm a Believer."
This summer may or may not pay off in the form of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nod for Mickey, Peter, Mike (and Davy). Yet, in 2016, when so many musicians from the golden age of rock are leaving us, The Monkees' joyful 50th anniversary tour offers us a reminder that this band is still very much a part of the story.
Listen to the Band (Songwriter: Mike Nesmith)
Last Train to Clarksville (Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart)
That Was Then, This is Now (Vance Brescia)
Your Auntie Grizelda (Diane Hildebrand)
Saturday's Child (David Gates)
She Makes Me Laugh (Rivers Cuomo)
A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You (Neil Diamond)
The Girl I Knew Somewhere (Michael Nesmith)
Steam Engine (Chip Douglas)
Shades of Gray (Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil)
Randy Scouse Git (Mickey Dolenz)
For Pete's Sake (Peter Tork, Joey Richards)
Johnny B. Goode (Chuck Berry)
(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher (Gary Jackson and Carl Smith)
Let's Dance On (Boyce/Hart)
Mary, Mary (Michael Nesmith)
Circle Sky (Michael Nesmith) from Head
Porpoise Song (Gerry Goffin/Carole King) (Theme from Head)
Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again? (Peter Tork)
(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone (Boyce/Hart)
Pap Gene's Blues (Michael Nesmith)
Little Girl (Dolenz)
D.W. Washburn (Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller)
What Am I Doin' Hanging Round (Michael Martin Murphey and Owens Castleman)
Daydream Believer (John Stewart)
Pleasant Valley Sunday (Goffin/King)
No Time (credited to The Monkees)
I'm a Believer (Diamond)