Monday, June 18, 2018

Monkees Monday! (A Concert Review of the Mike and Micky Show)

As mentioned in this column numerous times before, although I never had the opportunity to see the original quartet, performing in their hey (hey)-day or at one of their very "limited edition" appearances in the decades since, I have seen SOME configuration of The Monkees at least 35 or 40 times now over the years ... Micky solo, Davy solo, Peter solo, Micky and Davy "Monkee-ing Around," Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart and then, a few years ago, The Monkees Reunion Tour that included Micky, Peter and Michael Nesmith ... my first time ever seeing "The Nez." 

But the performing duo of Micky and Mike has never toured together before ... so it was absolutely mandatory that I catch "The Monkees Present The Mike And Micky Show" when it hit The Copernicus Center in Chicago last Thursday Night (June 14th).  [Very special thanks to Micky's East Coast PR Guy David Salidor for making that happen ... we had INCREDIBLE dead center main floor tickets and backstage passes for after the show.]

I got to meet Micky and Mike after The Monkees show at Star Plaza a couple of years ago ... and you can find photos from that ... as well as that concert review ... here:   
(Hard to believe that that was almost EXACTLY four years ago ... man, time flies!!!)  

I had not been to The Copernicus Center in nearly twenty years ... (not a particularly easy place to get to when coming from the western suburbs.)  My daughter used to have her preteen dance recitals there and, quite honestly, it looked like the place was wasting away at the time. 

Well, let me tell you ... they have done an INCREDIBLE job of refurbishing ... it is now a BEAUTIFUL theater with excellent seating, comfortable air conditioning, private meeting rooms, bars and concessions and more ... and the place was absolutely PACKED with Die-Hard Monkees Fans of all ages Thursday Night for this one-of-a-kind show.  (I have never seen a line so long at the merchandise table before ... we literally waited 45 minutes so Frannie could buy a t-shirt ... and at intermission time the line was every bit as long again as fans scooped up a wide variety of souvenirs ... shirts, hoodies, beach towels, cds, books ... even $200 collectors items were moving off the shelves.)  [Man, I sure hope Micky and Mike get a share of the Merch Table ... 'cause they were JAMMIN' all night long!] 

The show opened with the somewhat obscure Monkees Single "Good Clean Fun," a #73 Hit from 1969, written and sung by Michael Nesmith.  It was a very appropo opening ... as the song ends with the fitting lyrics:  

"I look in the crowd and there you stand
And the gap that once was time is forever closed behind
'Cause I told you I'd come back and here I am
Yes, I told you I'd come back and here I am
I told you I'd come back and here I am"

This drew an amazing round of applause from the audience, indicating immediately that these folks out here tonight know their Monkees Musc!

From that point forward, Micky and Mike traded off lead vocals on each subsequent, alternating song.  Both were in FINE voice for the majority of the night ... and sounded especially moving when they sang together, a vocal blend that always stood out on The Monkees' recordings back in the day.  (Think "What Am I Doin' Hangin' 'Round," "The Door Into Summer," "You Just May Be The One" and the recently recorded "Me And Magdalena," all of which were performed Thursday Night.  Keep in mind that Nesmith also wrote the popular Monkees' tracks "Mary Mary" and "The Girl I Knew Somewhere," both of which featured Micky's vocal on the records.)

Their back-up band was incredible ... without a doubt, hands down, the BEST band I've EVER seen on one of The Monkees' shows.  

Naturally, because of Nesmith's involvement, the music had a decidedly country feel to it ... but all of these "modified" arrangements worked ... and on more than one occasion I thought to myself "Well, it took awhile, but Micky has finally 'Gone Country'!"  As such, songs like The Monkees' very first single, "Last Train To Clarksville" and "Take A Giant Step," had a very nice hoe-down feel to them ... while still remaining true to their original arrangements. 

But don't be misled ... this band could also rock out when it needed to as evidenced by performances of "Steppin' Stone," "Circle Sky," "Listen To The Band," "Pleasant Valley Sunday" and "I'm A Believer."  (They also did a very nice arrangement of "Daydream Believer," the only non-Micky and Mike song presented that night, which had the whole crowd up on its feet, swaying together in unison with their cell phone flashlights and singing along.)

Downsides:  If you WEREN'T a Die Hard Monkees Fan, you were probably pretty bored during the last half of their first set when they performed a batch of about half a dozen songs that most likely weren't familiar to you ... far too many to lump together into one continuous flow of music.  Had these been spread out a little bit more, they would have been easier for the "average fan" to digest.  (And, quite honestly, a couple of these songs could have been dropped all-together and not been missed.)  "Steam Engine," Some Of Shelley's Blues," "Birth Of An Accidental Hipster," "St. Matthew," "The Porpoise Song," "Circle Sky," "As We Go Along" and "Me And Magdelena" were all performed in sequence.  As such, there seemed to be more emphasis on the importance of maintaining the alternating trade-off vocals than on the content of the material ... and I believe it took away from the overall caliber of the evening's performance.  As it was, the duo performed 33 songs that night ... that's a HELL of a lot ... so dropping a tune here or there might have made the evening flow a little smoother.  Because of this wide array of tunes, there were moments when each of their voices seemed a little taxed.  Keep in mind that Michael hasn't toured in ages ... and never toured regularly at all ... so there were a few times along the way when it felt like he ran out of gas.  He was already using a small computer tablet screen to help him keep tabs on the lyrics ... which provided a pretty funny, unexpected moment when the screen stopped working and showhands had to scramble out on stage to get him typed copies of the lyrics before they could get the computer up and running again.  And even Micky, who has toured incessantly for most of the past fifty years and has retained every bit of his vocal chops, seemed to be "playing it safe" on a couple of high notes along the way.

On the other hand, the Upsides FAR outweighed the down ... their second set was nothing short of extraordinary. 

It kicked off with an unplugged, acoustic set of slowed-down / stripped-down versions of "Papa Gene's Blues," an incredible arrangement of one of Micky's signature tunes, "Randy Scouse Git," which sounded great in this new countrified arrangement ... and had Mike Nesmith laughing out loud when Micky hit the scat portion of the song ... "Nine Times Blue," "I'll Spend My Life With You," another song that lent itself well to this new arrangement and style, and "Different Drum," sung by Nesmith, which came as quite a surprise since Micky's sister Coco typically sings this at every concert performance ... and she was there handling background vocals all night long. 

As the second set unfolded, band members joined in one by one for each subsequent song which led to a great build up to their version of the first Monkees B-Side, "Take A Giant Step," which sound greatly enhanced thanks to the fiddle and pedal-steel guitar.  

The big finish included "Sweet Young Thing" and "Goin' Down," another showcase for Micky's vocal talents, followed by the aforementioned "Daydream Believer," "What Am I Doin' Hangin' 'Round," "Pleasant Valley Sunday," "Listen To The Band" and "I'm A Believer."  

All in all, a fantastic and very enjoyable night of Monkees Music.  Another big plus is that it looked like Mike was absolutely having a ball up there ... it had to mean a lot to him to hear such a great, enthusiastic reaction to his song catalog, stretching back over the past five decades.  (My guess is he'll be back out on the road again before you know it!)

Frannie was able to snap some great shots (all of the above) ... and we even got one taken by Coco Dolenz (below) showing what things looked like from the stage ... and capturing the large, enthusiastic crowd ...

The Last Word:  GREAT show ... that could be made even stronger with a bit of fine-tuning. (kk)

A final tip of the hat to The Copernicus Center ... you guys have done a fine job of creating a theater that works well with this rock and roll atmosphere.  Recent concerts there have included Robin Trower, Pat Benatar and, just a week or two ago, The Alan Parsons Project.  Gordon Lightfoot has just been booked to perform there in September, as has Dennis Tufano, former lead singer of The Buckinghams.  
Add this place to your list of venues doing their part to help keep this great music alive. (kk)