I bought tickets to this show a couple of months back, knowing I’d either want to celebrate winning the AV referendum, or need cheering up after losing the AV referendum. As turns out, it’s done a good enough job of cheering me up I think I’m ready to get back to blogging.
I was sat in Row E, which I didn’t realise until I got in was actually the second row, next to possibly the most enthusiastic people in the world – two women in their twenties who spent the pre-show talking to each other about which of the two reunion albums – Pool It! or Justus – was better, and who squealed every time Peter Tork did anything, and their enthusiasm was catching. (When they saw where they were sitting, one of them said “YES! We’re going to get extreme Tork!”)
For those of you wanting to listen along at home, by the way, I’ve created a playlist of all the songs they played.
The show was a strange mix of two completely different styles. On the one hand, the setlist itself was of a type familiar to me from shows by Brian Wilson, Arthur Lee and so on – you do twenty or so obscure album tracks to please the die-hard fans, then you have an interval, after which you perform your most famous ‘classic album’ in full, and then finish with a ton of hits. This is usually the kind of thing that is done by Serious Musos and involves much stroking of beards and furrowing of brows at the Importance of the Serious Artist on stage.
But everything else about the show was showbiz razzle-dazzle, of a kind I very rarely go and see but can certainly appreciate – costume changes, physical comedy, giant video screens, dance routines – the sort of attention to putting on a show and actually entertaining the audience who’ve paid fifty quid to see you that very, very few people bother with. The end result was something that came out equal parts The Goodies and Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds tours, and will I think have pleased both the MOJO-reading crowd and the grannies wanting to relive their teenage crushes.
They also seemed to be desperate to prove themselves as multi-instrumentalists – possibly still hurt by the jibes at them for not playing on their first two albums (a criticism that can be raised for *every* American band of the 60s to a greater or lesser extent, from the Byrds to the Mothers Of Invention). Micky spent pretty much every song where he wasn’t the lead singer behind one of the two drum kits (one with the Monkees logo, the other with ‘DRUM’ written on it a la Head) and strummed an acoustic guitar on a few other songs, Davy played acoustic on a few songs, and Peter played keyboard, guitar, banjo and French horn.
In fact Peter Tork was the revelation of the show. He was a little rusty still on some of his instrumental parts (some slightly stiff banjo picking on What Am I Doing Hanging Round and a single very slightly flatted note on his French horn solo on Shades Of Gray), which can presumably be explained by the fact that he’s spent ten years ostentatiously *NOT* being a Monkee, and the band apparently only had three days’ rehearsal before the tour started – I’m sure those problems will be completely ironed out by the middle of next week – but his dancing and over-emoting facial expressions reminded me of nothing so much as Harpo Marx ( I know of no higher praise). And the absence of Mike Nesmith meant that Tork got to sing Nesmith’s lead vocals, meaning he had a decent share of the spotlight (Tork rarely sang leads on the records).
Davy was about as you’d expect – the showbiz song and dance man with a joke for every occasion, an all-round entertainer of a type they don’t really make any more. You could easily imagine Davy in another life as Ernie Wise or someone (again a compliment). As I get older I have more and more time for this kind of old-school entertainer, as I have less time for ‘authentic’ rock posing, though Davy’s still never going to be my favourite Monkee (a view shared by the women next to me, who before the show were discussing the dilemmas faced when you come to songs like Star Collector – “but it’s great… but it’s Davy! But it’s great… but it’s Davy!”)
And Micky is one of the great rock vocalists of all time – seriously. The only performer I’ve seen live who was as strong a singer was Arthur Lee, who is of course sadly no longer with us. I’ve seen some extraordinarily good singers in my time (Jeff Buckley, Al Green, Robert Plant) but Micky is at least the equal of all of those, as well as being a great performer. To an extent he was saving his voice for his lead parts – on songs where he wasn’t singing lead, his parts were doubled (and sometimes covered) by a keyboard player who sounded scarily like him – but when he did sing lead (on sixteen songs, so we’re not talking about him being lazy) he was astounding.
Before the show, the PA played cover versions of Monkees songs, ranging from the obvious (the Association doing Come On In, Nilsson’s Daddy’s Song) to the obscure (what sounded like a Japanese indie band) to the plain odd (a slow string arrangement of Your Auntie Grizelda which I can only presume was incidental music for the Monkees TV show or something) – along with, for some reason, Davy Jones’ cover version of McCartney’s Man We Was Lonely.
Then the backing band came on, and over a five minute montage of clips from the band’s career, played a medley of bits from maybe a dozen songs, before Davy, Micky and Peter came on. The backing band (guitar, bass, drums, two keyboardists (one of whom doubled on sax and flute) and three horn players (one of whom doubled on percussion)) were all extremely good, and thankfully mostly free of the 80s slickness audible in some of the recordings of earlier reunion tours.
I’ll reproduce the setlist below, along with relevant comments:
I’m A Believer Micky ended this with “thank you Liverpool!” – I’m still not sure if this was a joke or not.
Mary Mary introduced as ‘a Mike Nesmith tune’, the only time Nesmith got mentioned during the show
The Girl I Knew Somewhere
She Hangs Out
Randy Scouse Git/Alternate Title Micky’s scat singing here was great, sounding like Louis Jordan.
Your Auntie Grizelda the girls next to me screamed at this. I never in my life thought I’d hear two women in their twenties screaming because a nearly-70-year-old man who looks like Catweazle was doing a silly dance and singing a comedy song, but I’m very glad I did. Peter stuck in the line from Head “I’d like a glass of cold gravy with a hair in it” into the scat section.
It’s Nice To Be With You Sung in front of a backdrop of Davy from the 60s. Davy – “I used to be a heartthrob, now I’m a coronary”.
I Don’t Think You Know Me Sung by Peter, whose facial expressions on this were priceless.
Look Out Here Comes Tomorrow At the end, where Davy says “Mary, I love you, Sandra, I love you too”, instead he said “Mary, I love you, Sandra, you love Mary… it’s a new world”
Papa Gene’s Blues Sung by Peter.
Listen To The Band Sung by all three in unison, all strumming acoustic guitars, with an extended instrumental break to introduce the backing band members. Davy had to keep looking at his fingers.
That Was Then, This Is Now Performed with photos of the band as children projected behind them. Micky and Davy were joking to each other about these off-mic, and Davy said something that made Micky laugh so much he was still laughing half-way through the next song.
All Of Your Toys
Hard To Believe
What Am I Doin’ Hangin’ Round Peter sang and played banjo
Sometime In The Morning
Valleri – this was *much* better live than on the record.
No Time – all three took a verse each on this.
We’ll Be Back In A Minute – the music that they used to end the first half of each TV episode led into the interval, during which we saw various 60s vintage commercials by the band, for Kellogg’s cereals, Yardley aftershave and Kool-Aid.
The second half started with the full, long trailer for Head, including the full Ditty Diego War Chant (which I was *very* surprised they kept in) before the band came out and played every song on the Head album while the relevant sections of the film played behind them.
Circle Sky Sung by all three in unison. This was the only song whose video footage was edited, to cut out the shots of Nesmith singing lead.
Can You Dig It When it was announced before the start of the tour that Davy Jones’ wife (who’s a dancer half his age) would be taking part in the show, a massive uproar rose up on the various Monkees fan fora, saying that she’d wreck it. This turns out to have been pure Yoko Ono Syndrome (the unfounded belief among fans of a male musician that that musician’s wife must in all cases be evil and talentless. QV Linda McCartney, Gail Zappa, Melinda Wilson, Courtney Love). In this case she performed a belly-dance to match the ones being projected behind the band from the film, and in so far as I’m any judge, she did so perfectly well. She certainly added to, rather than detracted from, the show.
As We Go Along
Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again? Peter sang lead.
Porpoise Song The long version with the extended outro. Micky sang Davy’s part as well as his own, as Davy was offstage getting changed.
Daddy’s Song Davy and his wife, in black and white outfits, recreated the dance routine from the film. Davy looked *absolutely exhausted* at the end of this, and out of breath, but managed to keep a smile on.
For Pete’s Sake Sung by Peter rather than Micky.
When Love Comes Knocking At Your Door
A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You
Shades of Gray Peter played the French horn. He also ruffled Davy’s hair on the last ‘only shades of gray’.
Last Train To Clarksville
Goin’ Down Micky made this *slightly* easier on himself by changing some of the phrasing to allow more room to breathe, but it’s still an astonishingly difficult song to sing and he pulled it off tremendously. This was the song everyone talked about as they were leaving.
I Wanna Be Free Davy missed the first line of this.
Someday Man Wonderful to hear these two.
I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone
Daydream Believer Peter told the security guards off for not singing along with the rest of us, after which one of them did some half-hearted arm-waving.
Peter Percival Patterson’s Pet Pig Porky – Peter had to shut Micky up so he could do this.
Pleasant Valley Sunday Micky sounded *astonishing* on this.
I’m A Believer a shortened version with no second verse.
Given the band’s fractious history – roughly speaking they have a reunion tour once every decade, at the start of which they’re best friends, but by the end they hate each other’s guts and won’t speak to each other for ten years – and their age (they’re all in their mid-late 60s now) this is almost certainly the last chance you’ll get to see them live, and you should take it. For all the jokes about ‘the prefab four’ and so on, they are simultaneously the last of the old-style variety performers *and* a band with a catalogue of great songs any three other bands would kill for.
For those of you who can view Flash, here’s two Youtube videos of last night’s show:
I’m off tomorrow to see Van Dyke Parks in London, which will be equally great but in a very different way. I’ll post a review of that on my return, and then get back to my much-postponed Seven Soldiers posts, now I’m physically and mentally well enough to handle them. Thanks for your patience.