The Monkees Concert Review: Pre-Fab Four Outlasts MTV Era, Critical Snipes

The Monkees' brand of video music mashups predated MTV by more than a decade. The channel long ago gave up playing music videos, but the TV-based quartet continues to pack concert halls despite losing a key member last year.

They don't make pre-Fab (Four) bands like this anymore.

A Midsummer's Night with the Monkees tour touched down in Denver Monday night, along with so many video clips from the group's '60s heyday one half expected to spot Nehru jackets in the crowd.

Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith allowed themselves four breaks during their nearly two-hour show, but the group's sturdy songbook required no technical time outs.

The band played in front of a massive screen, one loaded with videos from the group's Emmy-winning show. The boys were television's answer to The Beatles, a link that doomed them in the eyes of the music press. They didn't play their own instruments, scribes cried, unaware in 40-odd years major acts would lip sync their way through nationally televised appearances.

These Monkees do play their own instruments, but they were backed by a band including one fellow introduced as their "lead guitarist." The tour's band may be large enough to make Lyle Lovett envious, but the assembled musicians recreated the group's material with clarity and power. Some songs emerged more muscular than their recorded versions, while Tork's banjo strumming added texture to tracks that previously lacked bite.

Nesmith, the Monkee most reticent about these reunion projects, is still in fine voice and proved it by taking a larger share of the lead vocals. His country influences made the Monkees more than just a pop assembly line, and hearing him embrace What am I Doing Hanging 'Round reinforced his indelible mark on the band.

Nesmith, a respected tunesmith and innovator outside of the Monkees' bubble, adds gravitas to the tour. He's a necessary counter-balance to the aging rockers' knack for youthful mugging. It's a tic that has trailed the group through its various reunion tours. One wishes they would retire the forced shtick and just play the hits.

We all know Pleasant Valley Sunday, Daydream Believer and Last Train to Clarksville, but what secures the Monkees' legacy are the lesser-known numbers. Take She, a bruising break up and make up song with a blistering organ riff. Even better is Girl I Knew Somewhere, which Nesmith sang Monday with a kiss of remorse blending with its shimmery pop beauty.

Dolenz tipped his hat early on to Neil Diamond, Carole King and other songwriting giants who helped create the Monkees legacy.

The night's only clunker, Tork's novelty track Your Auntie Grizelda, was never meant to be taken seriously. Said novelty still wore off mid-song, leaving the crowd to, uh, admire Tork's fancy footwork.

The concert ignored the group's later efforts--both albums released immediately after the demise of its TV show and subsequent reunions producing Pool It and Justus. The band unwisely ladled plenty of attention on Head, the soundtrack to the justly maligned movie of the same name. It was worth it to hear a take-no-prisoners Circle Sky, arguably the hardest rocking song in the Monkees' catalog.

The expected tribute to Davy Jones, the former teen idol who died last year, featured Dolenz inviting two young fans to sing lead on Daydream Believer. It was the sort of stage schmaltz doomed to fail. Instead, the moment felt like the most surprising segment of the show.

Then again, did anyone expect the lads responding to an ad in Variety seeking "4 insane boys" would still be touring to adoring crowds nearly 50 years later? Here's betting those music critics of yore would be most surprised of all.

The Monkees tour continues Aug. 9 in Mesa, AZ then moves to Henderson, NV Aug. 10, San Diego Aug. 11 and Long Beach, CA Aug. 13.


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