Here's a sight Monkees fans have spent years dreaming about: Michael Nesmith playing his trademark 12-string Gretsch guitar, looking regal in a white jacket and glitter-covered shoes, playing the holy hell out of "Sweet Young Thing." Right next to Peter Tork on banjo, while Micky Dolenz keeps time on a suitcase with a couple of drumsticks. Papa Nez back onstage with the other surviving Monkees? At last. It brought out the sweet young thing in a crowd of diehard Monkees freaks, the kind who can whistle along with the intro to "Tapioca Tundra."
The Monkees kicked off their summer tour last night at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York, and it was a momentously festive occasion. The last time Nesmith tried playing with the band, back in 1997, it was by all accounts a drag – he quit after just a handful of European gigs. Before that, they hadn't toured together since the Sixties. But last fall, the three surviving Monkees reconnected in the wake of Davy Jones' tragic death, playing a few select dates. As Nesmith told Rolling Stone's Andy Greene, "Now is the time."
Their music has been everywhere lately, showing up on two of the past year's most intense TV moments. Breaking Bad scored a Walter White meth-lab montage to "Goin' Down," while Don Draper bottomed out to "Porpoise Song," in a Mad Men episode full of Head references. The Monkees included both these scenes in their pre-show video montage. (Although they unfortunately left out Micky Dolenz's cameo in Syfy's proto-Sharknado classic, Mega-Python vs. Gatoroid.)
They also screened loads of Sixties video footage, proving among other things that nobody beats the Nez's mastery of the Sixties fashion game. The man was to tan suede coats with wool collars what Beethoven was to sonatas. Needless to say, Nesmith hats were on sale at the merch table. (There were also cards promoting the Davy Jones Equine Memorial Foundation, started last year by his daughters.)
Papa Nez was in hearty spirits all night, holding court in eternally fantastic psychedelic-cowboy classics like "Sunny Girlfriend," "You Told Me" and "You Just May Be The One." He brought down the house with "Listen To The Band," the greatest non-Creedence Creedence song ever, and "What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round," which as always sounds like it could have been a lost Bob Dylan/Carole King collabo. After so many years, the Monkees freaks in the house were hungry to hear Nesmith play these songs with the band – and maybe so was Nesmith.
The set emphasized 1967's Headquarters, their finest album. (Although if you wanted to argue it was really Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., you'd probably win.) Peter Tork sang a touching "Early Morning Blues and Greens," then turned into a California golden god in "For Pete's Sake." He also went Full Tork on slide guitar, adding a bluesy solo to "The Kind Of Girl I Could Love." Micky Dolenz banged the timpani for "Randy Scouse Git" after donning an awesome dashiki – or as Nesmith cracked, "Maybe it's just curtains." (Question: Is the social-climbing groupie in "Steppin' Stone" the same girl Robert Plant sings about in Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog"? They have remarkably similar skill sets.)
The Monkees' 45th Anniversary Tour, just two years ago, was a career-summing triumph. But it turned out to be the final go-round for the late great Davy Jones. So seeing the other three get it together to pay their respects to these songs was deeply moving as well as historic. This was the right thing to do, and they did it in the right way. They never mentioned Davy by name, but there was a touching memorial interlude when they left the stage and screened his solo tap-dancing showcase from Head, "Daddy's Song." It was a graceful tribute to the Davy Jones school of showmanship and the Davy Jones way of life. For "Daydream Believer," Micky pulled a fan out of the audience to sing. As he explained, "None of us can really sing this song because it doesn't belong to us anymore. It belongs to you." And so do the Monkees.
"Last Train To Clarksville"
"Papa Gene's Blues"
"Your Auntie Grizelda"
"The Kind Of Girl I Could Love"
"Sweet Young Thing"
"I'm a Believer"
"(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone"
"You Told Me"
"You Just May Be the One"
"The Girl I Knew Somewhere"
"Early Morning Blues And Greens"
"Randy Scouse Git"
"For Pete's Sake"
"Can You Dig It? "
"As We Go Along"
"Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again"
"What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round?"
"Listen To The Band"
"Peter Percival Patterson's Pet Pig Porky"
"Pleasant Valley Sunday"