Hey Hey, The Monkees live in Detroit

June 2, 2014

Monkees live

Much has been written about the Monkees over the years, but much of it has been ill-informed and based on rumor rather than fact. The biggest slight that has been repeatedly thrown at the band is that it isn’t really a band at all, just a group of actors plopped together for a TV show. It’s also often said that the guys could barely play at all.

As Peter Tork freely admitted onstage in Detroit Friday night, the Monkees were put together by big-wigs, fair enough. Maybe it’s also true that, initially, a couple of them only had rudimentary knowledge of their instruments. But, man, did they turn it around. Like many other pop bands, some of the Monkees’ hits were written by outsiders. But the imaginary TV band really did bond, and they became a real band with real ups and downs. And they have songs by the barrel-full.

The most recent big downer was obviously the death of Davy Jones, arguably the most popular member of the band. Perversely, it kind of paved the way for the return of Mike Nesmith. In Detroit, the three men go out of their way to not mention Jones’ name, which leaves a slightly bitter taste. When Tork is speaking of the band’s beginnings, he says, “The three of us, and the dearly departed.” It seems very deliberate.

Speaking to us in a recent interview, Micky Dolenz said, “It was tough, especially when we did ‘Daydream Believer.’ Mike Nesmith actually came up with the wonderful idea of having the crowd sing it.” That idea must have been ditched, because the three band members take turns singing lines from the famous and beloved song in Detroit.

There are other minor complaints. There are three Monkees on stage, and seven other people. That’s ten in total. Sure, two of them are backing singers (one of which is Dolenz’s sister), but still, that’s five musicians in addition to Dolenz, Tork and Nesmith. Is that really necessary? Also, the band walks on stage to a recording of the “Theme From The Monkees”, but they don’t play it live at all. Is there a reason for this? When was the song dropped from the set? This writer just wanted to sing “We’re just trying to be friendly” at the top of his voice.

But all of that aside, the band put on a great show at the Fox, video clips and all. Opening with “Last Train to Clarksville (the debut single in ’66), the Monkees played a set that took in “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” “She,” “I’m a Believer,” an awesome Head segment that included “Can You Dig It,” and a closing “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” There were hits, albums cuts and a few obscure choices. The voices were strong and the musicianship tight (too many of them, but tight).

The Monkees 2014 is, as it always was, a production. Nesmith raises his eyes but can’t help but smile as Tork and Dolenz act goofy. It’s theater, and it’s kind of silly. Without Jones, there’s something missing, for sure. But taken at face value, these guys are doing a great job of performing some amazing songs. That’s really all you can ask for from them at this point.

Tags: ,

  • Nicole

    Brett – Your review could have been written by me. I agree with absolutely everything, especially the seemingly deliberate way they didn’t mention Davy by name. He was/is my favorite and the only one I’ve ever met. The other three never cared much about the fans. When I saw them at the Fox Theatre in 2011, Davy stayed until all the fans who had bought the special seats (that allowed us to go backstage) had autographs. Micky and Peter couldn’t have left for their hotel any faster than they did. The Monkees just aren’t The Monkees without Davy.

  • DED

    Really? You have some sort of quota on the number of musicians on stage? That’s what bothers you? Maybe you have preferred backing tracks instead. (Advice: Stay away from classical music concerts, you’ll never recover!)
    It’s my understanding that the tour before this featured a tribute to Davy Jones and they elected to downplay it this time around lest they be accused of milking it. Davy was well represented in the videos and I think all three of them have been very forthcoming in interviews regarding their fondness for Jones and their sadness in his passing.

    I thought the show did a very good job representing just how strong their body of work is apart from the television show and for a bunch of 70+ year old men, they held their own quite well and if some of the material requires a few helping hands, so what?

  • Randy Burbach

    They have never, to my knowledge, done the theme song live. As far as musicianship – Tork and Nesmith were both strong musicians before – Nesmith had done session work. Bob Rafelson, the creator of the show, relates that Stephen Stills, when he suggested Tork, told him Tork was a better musician (at the time, it was probably true, but Tork has said that he always considered himself an entertainer first, musician second and probably didn’t put the effort into improving as a musician that he should have). Dolenz had been playing guitar and singing in various bands and Jones was nominated for a Tony for best actor in a musical, so none were exactly musical novices

  • Randy Burbach

    It’s been two years. They still show “Daddy’s Song.” Them singing “Daydream Believer” is far more enjoyable than having someone random do it. they aren’t stuck, and no one should should be after this time.

  • Nicole

    How nice of you to tell people when they should be over their personal grief. I’ve been a fan since I was five years old. My mom passed her records down to me. You clearly weren’t there on Friday so stick to what you actually know about.

  • David Gee

    They have to have several backing musicians. With the three of them it certainly wouldn’t work, especially with Mickey trying to play drums and sing. At the very least they have to have a drummer, a keyboard player (for obvious reasons) and a second guitarist as several Monkees’ songs have more than one guitar track (great example, Last Train To Clarksville). So at the very least they need three backing musicians. As for the backing singers, I think we’d pretty much rather hear Mickey, Mike and Peter and that’s it.

  • Randy Burbach

    I’ve been a Monkees fan since I was 4. I’ve met all of them, and they all treat their fans with kindness and respect. They did two years of shows. I saw the last two, but no, I couldn’t get to this one. They didn’t mention him much in those shows either, not even when introducing “Daydream Believer.” you can sit around and mope because they didn’t honor your favorite enough, or you can choose to enjoy them for what they are NOW.

  • Randy Burbach

    Just found this out – the estate of Davy Jones has trademarked his name and likeness and they have to have written permission to use it (the clips don’t count, those rights are Rhino’s). With the dispute between the daughters and the ex, that permission isn’t forthcoming

  • BC

    That is interesting. Thanks Randy.