Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Monkees - Live At The Star Plaza Theater in Merrillville, Indiana

Capping off an incredible weekend of concerts, I went to see The Monkees Reunion Show at The Star Plaza Theater in Merrillville, Indiana, on Saturday Night. 

Incredibly THIS was the only show I saw all weekend that wasn't a complete sell-out ... and the very idea blew me away.  When Micky, Peter and Mike reunited after the death of Davy Jones last year, there wasn't a ticket to be had ... a fact not lost on Peter Tork who remarked from the stage, "Thank you all for coming ... those of you who are here ... and you know who you are!"  (lol) 

It was quite a multi-media extravaganza Saturday Night ... a giant movie screen was perched directly behind the band and it never stopped all night long, showing vintage clips from their old television series (that virtually every fan in the audience was able to recite right along with them, word-for-word, forever embedded in our memories and known by heart.)  There were also quite a few outtakes shown, including much more from their original screen test / audition tapes (which kicked off the show prior to The Monkees Theme coming on), including scenes of each of the Pre-Fab Four auditioning with other actors who did not make the final cast.  (Sorry, no ... Charles Manson was NOT amongst them ... but that was all just a big rumor anyway!!!) 

Musically, the trio was supported by what was in effect a ten-piece band ... so we were treated to a very full and rich sound ... musically speaking, it may have been the best backing I'd ever seen afforded a Monkees concert. 

Over the years I have seen some various incarnation of the Monkees at least forty or fifty times ... Davy, Micky and Peter, each as a solo act (again and again and again) ... several of the usual, post-MTV comeback "Here We Come ... just the three of us ('cause Mike's not here)" shows that have happened all over the midwest during the past forty years, Micky and Davy (doing their "Just Monkeeing Around" schtick at this very same theater AGES ago where I'll bet there weren't 28 people in the entire audience!), as well as a few of the original Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart / "The Guys Who Wrote 'em and The Guys Who Sang 'em" Reunion Shows (including their very first gig together at Six Flags Amusement Park in St. Louis, Missouri, way back in 1976!)  Speaking of amusement parks, I've seen Peter at the long-since-gone Old Chicago indoor amusement park in Bolingbrook, too, as a solo act (where he signed a napkin for me with a green felt-tip pen!) as well as at various clubs around the city back in the early '80's ... and Micky and/or Davy at many of their local summertime neighborhood fests in and around the Chicagoland suburbs ... everything from the beautiful "Music In The Park" Wednesdays in Bensenville, IL, to the echo-bouncing-off-the-walls Elk Grove outdoor concerts to Franklin Park's "Railroad Days", which was held across the street from the train tracks (where the music was drowned out every time a train passed by ... which was about every twenty minutes or so!)

But I had NEVER seen Mike Nesmith before.  (The one chance I had to go was a LONG, long time ago when he did a solo date at a club in the Wrigleyville area ... but I got sick that night and was unable to attend.  Based on all the subsequent reunion shows that never included him, I felt like I had blown my one and only chance to EVER see The Nez.) 

But Mike was in full view Saturday Night ... taking center stage on a great number of songs throughout the night, revisiting a part of The Monkees catalog that has long since disappeared both from the radio and the concert stage over the past 40+ years.  (I couldn't get over the way Mike was dressed ... blue jeans ... a white t-shirt ... very "down home" ... but then these black, sparkly, glitter shoes that seemed so COMPLETELY out of character for him.  When I had the chance to visit with him a little bit backstage after the show, he had changed into black sneakers ... and I told him "I had REALLY hoped to get a picture of you in those shoes!"  Mike laughed and said "Well, you're too late ... those came off a half hour ago" to which I replied "You probably can't wear those in Texas, right???") He was gracious enough to then pose for a photo (taken, as was the shot below of me and Micky, by Micky's wife Donna.)

A TON of Nesmith material filled the set list ... "Sweet Young Thing", "You Just May Be The One", "Tapioca Tundra", "What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round" (actually written by country star Michael Martin Murphey of "Wildfire" fame), "You Told Me", "Listen To The Band", "Circle Sky", "Papa Gene's Blues", "The Kind Of Girl I Could Love", "The Door Into Summer", "Sunny Girlfriend" and probably a few others that escape me as I type this.  (I couldn't help thinking how cool it was to not only hear these songs again, but to hear them from the guy who originally wrote and sang them.  A typical Monkees show over the past dozen years might have featured two or three Nez-Songs as a tribute to Mike, but that would have been it ... now we were being treated to nearly his full Monkees catalog.  I told him how good it was to hear HIM singing these songs again ... but couldn't help but know that, had Davy still been around for this tour, Mike's set list would have most likely been cut by 60-70% ... and he probably would have once again become disenchanted with the whole idea of doing these shows.) 

Speaking of Davy, his name was NEVER mentioned once during the course of the entire show ... quite a surprise to me.  I guess by now, everybody just knows and accepts the fact that he's gone ... whereas the first Micky / Mike / Peter reunion shows were staged as more of a tribute to Davy.  In fact, other than a short film clip of Davy's song and dance routine from the film "Head" (Harry Nilsson's "Daddy's Song") the only other Davy song performed all night long was "Daydream Believer", where they guys (including Mike) each took a turn singing a verse.  (Mike's reading was especially moving ... he might most likely deny it, but his voice cracked during his verse and in my heart I believe that was due to the pure emotion of performing a song SO associated with Davy ... and knowing that Davy will never be able to sing it again.)  The performance rendered a well-deserved standing ovation ... and was an emotional highlight of the night.  (I got choked up just telling this story the next day!) 

Addressing the elephant in the room, I will also admit that I am more than a little bit heart-broken every time I think about Davy not being here to be able to share in what fans have waited SO long to see ... a full-fledged Monkees reunion featuring all four original members.  But, shame that it is, it just wasn't to be ... and fans truly do appreciate the return of Michael Nesmith to the fold to help keep the legacy going. 

Most of the schtick and comedy were missing from Saturday Night's show ... this seemed to be a much more serious presentation of their music ... and any humor that was to be found came by way of the vintage tv clips ... there were no antics on stage this time around ... which has always been a HUGE part of a live Monkees concert.  As such, the band who "couldn't play their own instruments" certainly excelled in the live concert environment Saturday Night. 

And, because they were as much saluting the songwriters as the group's recorded legacy, we were treated to Mike singing his own "The Girl I Knew Somewhere" and Peter performing his "For Pete's Sake", both of which featured Micky on lead vocals during their original commercial releases.  I have to tell you that both sounded excellent when performed by their originators Saturday Night. 

As for any comments made recently in these pages about Micky's "lackluster" performance at The Arcada Theatre a few weeks ago, I can absolutely assure you that this was most certainly NOT the case at this Monkees concert ... he held absolutely NOTHING back at The Star Plaza show ... and was in EXCELLENT voice from start to finish, tackling the full gamut of Monkees material at a very high energy level ... "I'm A Believer", "Last Train To Clarksville", "Steppin' Stone", his own "Randy Scouse Git" (which was accompanied by a movie clip featuring some old man yelling out his window at one of his daughter's suitors, calling him a "randy scouse git" ... great stuff!), "Goin' Down" (which featured an audience member singing an entire verse, every word in perfect phrasing, to a HUGE round of applause from the crowd), "No Time" (a favorite of mine from the "Headquarters" album, from which they performed SEVEN tracks!), a killer rendition of "She" (from "The Monkees' Second Album") and "Pleasant Valley Sunday", their final encore track.  GREAT performances all around. 

They also performed the entire "Head" soundtrack ... which, for the die hards was, I'm sure, a real treat ... but truth be told, this simply is NOT The Monkees' strongest work ... despite 40+ years of them trying to convince us of otherwise.  (I have DESPERATELY tried to find the shining light in "Head" for four decades now ... and it still alludes me!)  Truth is, if you weren't a TRUE, die-hard fan, you probably had a hard time getting past "The Porpoise Song" and "Circle Sky" ... the music just isn't that commercially accessible. 

On the plus side, two of the absolute highlights of the night for me featured Peter and Micky trading off vocals on the seldom-heard and long-forgotten tracks "Words" and "Shades Of Gray", both of which are featured below (along with the obligatory Nez-Tune!) ... both of these classic tracks were executed beautifully and showed again just how well these two work together. 

As mentioned earlier, I was invited back stage after the show (Thank You Again, David Salidor!) to meet Micky.  Escorted in by Micky's wife Donna (who I had absolutely NO idea that this was who she was at the time she came to get me!), I got a chance to visit briefly with one of my all-time heroes in rock and roll.  (I have always maintained that The Beatles were the first, biggest and longest-lasting impact of music on my life ... but it was The Monkees who made me want to PLAY rock and roll ... and I remember telling Micky that many, many years ago when I had the chance to meet him at a signing after one of their shows at this very same Star Plaza Theater.) 

Overall, a GREAT show ... and an opportunity to finally hear some Monkees music long absent from our consciousness for far, far too long.  (I can't imagine that there'll be too many more of these shows featuring all three original members ... although The Monkees' 50th Anniversary is coming up right around the corner ... so who knows!!!) 

If you get the chance to see them, do yourself a favor and go ... this music was such a HUGE part of our lives growing up in the '60's ... it's not to be missed.  I can assure you that you'll really enjoy seeing it performed live by the guys who gave it all to us in the first place!
 kk and Micky

 Mike Nesmith in the foreground


Micky and Peter

If you DO plan on going, you'd better act quickly ... there are only a few dates left ...