There are enough old bands getting back together that reunion should be a verb. But the Monkees were never a band; they were a concept. They still are. Elderly Idols? Is this a new trend? Who'd a thunk it? In the words of another anachronistic group, the Knack, 'but the little girls understand.'
Three quarters of the Monkees brought down the house at the Pikes Peak Center Sunday, garnering sincere female adolescent screaming of the sort generally reserved for new-forest-growth musical groups like the Backstreet Boys. The place seemed packed, probably 75 percent of the seats taken. Perhaps the other 25 percent are fans of the stridently missing Monkee Michael Nesmith.
Apparently, there are new generations of die-hard Monkees fans; they stood side-by-side with parents, sharing a love for these guys. It is hard to make sense of the staying power of the Monkees. They are certainly rooted in the consciousness of at least one culturally triumphant generation: they were the first group ubiquitous both on television and radio during the Sixties, a socially galvanized period. It is no wonder members of that generation feel a great warmth for the Monkees. Nostalgia merely requires a sensory touchstone, like a smell, which alone is inherently neither good nor bad, but which can trigger a disproportional visceral response. The Monkees' music cause the memories to stream back.
Despite the better judgment of many, this 'band' became embedded in the social consciousness via its delightfully antic physical humor and irresistible confectionery music. Like sugar-coated fishhooks, the songs are the perfect guilty pleasure. The guys were fun and funny. It was hard to not be aware of their doings at the time: their hand-picked origin, their well-publicized attempts to assert their artistic independence, to wrest control from their corporate puppet masters, a move the cynic (realist?) might assume was all part of the act.
Actually the impact of the Monkees can be seen as that much more insidious, the knowing subversiveness of the Sixties packaged safely in a winking, adorable entertainment bouquet. Their 'rock' music, written by the Brill Building contractors, was mostly electrified Tin Pan Alley. The Monkees was all of the cultural and political change of the Sixties, cauterized, castrated, and re-presented with a bow. But what a pretty bow!
They are no longer the adorable fresh-faced boys of yore, of course. They are a bunch of old guys, Davy Jones a diminutive Sansabelt lounge singer, Peter Tork an old wise guy, having adopted the looks and attitude of Johnny Rotten as Doc Severenson, Micky Dolenz looking more like Larry Storch (F-Troop's Agarn) than Larry Storch ever did. Michael Nesmith's absence begged the question: could anyone honestly tell a difference? It was like a concert by the Archies without Jughead.
But young and old loved them, and why not? It was pure entertainment, rock and roll, and corny humor, good clean fun. Backed by faceless veteran ringers (the exception being the hilarious dancing horn section), able to reproduce the sounds and arrangements of all of our favorites, the boys performed like they really loved it and really cared; perhaps they did.
For two hours the guys played and mugged and Monkee'd around, while the audience laughed and cheered and bounced up and down in their seats as if they were watching Saturday morning cartoons under the influence of Frosted Flakes. I was a little embarrassed for the Monkees, for the audience, for myself, but found myself getting caught up in the mood.
They played all of the favorites, of course, and didn't screw with them at all. From 'Last Train to Clarksville,' to the two believer songs, 'Daydream Believer' and 'I'm a Believer,' and other familiar tomes. The three Monkees were at the front of the stage, taking turns in the spotlight, switching off on rhythm instruments, occasionally soloing, just to show they could really play, more for their ego than our benefit.
Much of the middle of the show was taken up with less familiar songs, most of them vintage and all greeted with unbridled enthusiasm. Each Monkee briefly showcased a part of his pre-Monkees career, an unnecessary diversion, seeming more like an attempt to lay claims to being serious performers. They will never be given musical cred and should simply accept that and play the hits.
Which they did, the last half hour a building argument for their legacy.
From the gorgeous psychedelic pop of the underrated 'Porpoise Song (Theme from Head)' to the defiant punk ethic of '(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone,' to the safely subversive 'Pleasant Valley Sunday,' with bitten-tongue firmly in cheek, the Monkees songbook is a wonderful thing. Many of these songs stand the test of time far more than one would have expected. By the end, I was screaming myself, like a little girl. To hell with the war; let's boogaloo!