Last Train to Clarksville
The Monkees go ape at the Long Center
By Raoul Hernandez, 11:57AM, Thu. Aug. 1
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Five numbers into the Monkees’ 30-song, two-hour set at the Long Center Wednesday, the small screen loomed large. A video backdrop scrolled a continuous run of TV clips from the original quartet’s prime time heyday, 1966-1968, which then spawned a universe of images and even a film. Those four had it all – wit, charm, looks, and boy could they sing.
The three surviving members of the group can’t quite hit those same notes going on almost 50 years later, but then neither could their baby boomer brethren.
The Monkees’ hit-making tenor, drummer Micky Dolenz, a child actor whose mother “was from Austin and went to UT,” chopped a few notes off his era flare-up, “Randy Scouse Git,” while proud Texan Michael Nesmith struggled to soar his forever golden cover of Michael Martin Murphey Westerner “What Am I Doin’ Hangin’ ‘Round.” Peter Tork took the least vocal leads, but his craggy croon on Jones’ tribute “Early Morning Blues and Greens” landed a heartfelt breather in an evening that pinwheeled one two-minute hit after another.
Davy Jones’ death at 66 last February freed the remaining Monkees of simply delivering hits, in fact. “Daydream Believer,” a vehicle for the foursome’s late Englishman that spent a month at No. 1 in 1967, “now belongs,” according to Micky, to the concert-goer he picks out of the front rows to sing it. On Wednesday evening, that was two cute kids, approximately 8 (she) and 10 (he), who did the song more justice than the off-key audience (mea culpa). “Last Train to Clarksville” prepped “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” but the relatively heavy take on the latter owed as much to the Sex Pistols cover as the original. More to the point, Jones’ absence allowed Dolenz, 68, Nesmith, 70, and Tork, 71, to shake some serious coconuts off their tree of songs.
Eight tunes from the Monkees’ third LP, 1967’s Headquarters – on which the band famously took control of the music being made for the television show – beat the heart of the concert, with a ninth selection, Nesmith outtake “The Girl I Knew Somewhere,” proving most wistful in a gamut running from anthemic (“For Pete’s Sake”) to uncannily Beatleseque (“You Told Me”). Likewise Head, a psychedelic relic that makes the Fab Four’s Magical Mystery Tour look like Chekov, reeled off five nuggets from its soundtrack that dueled Nesmith battle cry “Circle Sky” with a Tork twofer (see set list below). All 10 musicians, the star trio and seven backers, left the stage while Davy Jones hoofed it onscreen to choreographed Head highlight “Daddy’s Song.”
Most rewarding, perhaps, was Dolenz and Tork allotting Lone Star hero-songwriter-tech-pioneer Nesmith the lionshare of the spotlight, although save for the substitution of Headquarters’ “No More” here for “Daily Nightly” last year, the Long Center set offered the same songs as a performance I saw in November in Northern California. Debut Nesmith brand “Papa Gene’s Blues” brought a tear to my eye, electro-C&W groover “Tapioca Tundra” made me wanna mosh, and “Listen to the Band” remains the ultimate live music commandment.
Tork brought a blues slide and cracklin’ banjo, Dolenz maintained his youthful, entertainer’s verve, but Papa Nez revisited a fistful of songs as big in sound and heart as Texas itself.
Long Center set-list, 7.31.13
“Last Train to Clarksville” (Micky)
“Papa Gene’s Blues” (Mike)
“Your Auntie Grizelda” (Peter)
“The Kind of Girl I Could Love” (Mike)
“Sweet Young Thing” (Mike)
“I’m a Believer” (Micky)
“(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” (Micky)
“You Told Me” (Mike)
“Sunny Girlfriend” (Mike)
“You Just May Be the One” (Mike)
“Mary, Mary” (Micky)
“The Girl I Knew Somewhere” (Mike)
“Early Morning Blues and Greens” (Peter)
“Randy Scouse Git” (Micky)
“For Pete’s Sake” (Peter)
“No Time” (Micky)
“Tapioca Tundra” (Mike)
“Goin’ Down” (Micky)
“Porpoise Song (Theme from ‘Head’)” (Micky)
“Can You Dig It” (Peter)
“Circle Sky” (Mike)
“As We Go Along” (Micky)
“Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again” (Peter)
“Daddy’s Song” (Davy)
“What Am I Doing Hangin’ ’Round?” (Mike)
“Listen to the Band” (Mike)
“Pleasant Valley Sunday” (Micky)