Last February, the Monkees’s lovably diminutive Brit, Davy Jones, passed away suddenly from a heart attack. Most people assumed that the group would now be history, but no, the show would go on in the form of a twelve-city tour – and with that came the surprising news that Michael Nesmith, long a holdout, would reunite with the other surviving Monkees Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork for the first time since some 1997 appearances in Britain.
This new configuration turned up at the Greek Theatre on a chilly Saturday night, for a show in which Jones was remembered fondly but not obsessively. Most of all, it was a show for Monkees connoisseurs, diving deep into the group’s discography for material while not slighting the hits.
For a long time after the band’s short, tumultuous heyday in the late-1960s, the idea that someday there would be any Monkees connoisseurs at all seemed far-fetched, but it happened. MTV resurrected the band’s TV series for a new generation in the `80s; Rhino’s reissues of their music scoured the vaults with extraordinary diligence; and the world finally had to admit that the Monkees made many wonderful records that still sound good and even broke some ground in their time.
A lot of that impetus came from Nesmith, who led the band’s “palace revolt” to take control of their music and can lay some claim to starting a country-rock hybrid that was a few years ahead of its time. Strumming a twelve-string electric guitar, Nesmith radiated the sureness and dignity of a veteran folk or bluegrass musician, offsetting the pop-culture montages of memorabilia and TV clips from the band’s heyday on the video screens.
Tork’s multi-instrumental capabilities on guitar, banjo, bass and keyboards were brought to the fore, and Dolenz was the crowd-pleasing entertainer and sometime drummer. With only minimal backing, the three performed several selections from the “Headquarters” album, their musical declaration of independence – and they did it well, the old interactive spark still alive.
With the composer at last on hand, the amount of Nesmith material nearly doubled (judging from 2011’s Greek Theater setlist), including cherished B-sides and album cuts like “Tapioca Tundra,” the countrified “Sunny Girlfriend” and “The Girl I Knew Somewhere.” Nesmith’s “Daily Nightly,” was one of the first rock records to use the Moog synthesizer, was performed with Nesmith simulating its kooky electronic sound effects with his voice (surely one of the backup band’s many keyboards could have done the job). There was also a clutch of selections from the Monkees’s cult film “Head,” the best being the hard-rocking “Circle Sky” and surreal “Porpoise Song.”
As for Davy Jones, the late Monkee could be heard in absentia on film in “I Wanna Be Free” and “Daddy’s Song,” and in a brief video retrospective. But the real tribute occurred when his colleagues decided not to attempt Davy’s lead vocal in “Daydream Believer,” leaving it up to the audience – which it did with increasing volume and confidence. It was easily the most emotional moment of the night – and a joyous way to remember him.