June 8, 2016 — When The Monkees first hit the airwaves in 1966, most of their critics would’ve laughed at the notion of the “Prefab Four” still packing big houses 50 years later. After all, the band was made for TV and didn’t play instruments on their records. Some say they were the first boy band. These are not accolades musicians prefer to brag about.
But by 1967 the band was sick of the trash talk. They rebelled against their management and insisted they actually play instruments on their Headquarters LP. They demanded creative control and since then have demanded the respect they deserve.
While The Monkees television series ended in 1968, their fandom hasn’t sputtered out. In fact, the group’s latest record, Good Times!, topped Amazon.com sales and has every respectable rock critic praising its tasteful, nostalgic vibes. The disc features some originals, but it’s also heavy on tunes written by the likes of younger-bloods like Rivers Cuomo of Weezer and Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, among others. No joke, it’s a damn fine album. Not bad for a band who hasn’t released a disc in 20 years. It’s also the first record since the passing of the band’s iconic vocalist Davy Jones, who passed away in 2012.
The surviving members, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith, are experiencing what many bands fail to accomplish after five decades on the planet: a relevant pop record with notable sales.
And that positive energy was on full display at Meijer Gardens Wednesday night. While Nesmith is sitting out this tour (he’s sort of a known hermit), Dolenz and Tork were as vibrant and charming as ever. They tore through a longlist of radio hits, including: “I’m a Believer,” “Last Train to Clarksville,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “Stepping Stone,” and “Daydream Believer.”
Dolenz, 71, and his bandmate Tork, 74, lit up the stage with the humor that helped launch their careers, but also sounded spot on doing it — especially the youthful sounding Dolenz, who hasn’t lost his signature vocals.
The pair didn’t forget about their true fans either, the ones who didn’t just come to hear the hits. The band’s setlist included the tripped-out masterpiece “The Porpoise Song” along with “Circle Sky” and the psych’d-up rocker, “Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?” ( all three from their cult classic Head). Dedicated fans were no doubt ecstatic. After all, some bands from the same era (i.e. Mike Love’s Beach Boys) refuse to play their weirder songs in concert these days — opting instead to stick to well-known songs in an effort to not confuse the casual fans. I mean, can you imagine Mike Love & Company belting out “Vegetables” at Meijer Gardens? Not going to happen. Luckily, The Monkees embrace their rare cuts and haven’t dismissed their not-so-successful records.
The guys even got the crowd reeling with a spirited performance of its new single, “She Makes Me Laugh.” Written by Weezer’s frontman, the hook is indisputably catchy and will no doubt get stuck in your head for days — like all classic Monkees’ singles. While I’d heard the song streamed on the web the day it was released, it was thrilling to watch Dolenz and Tork perform it live. After years of unjust critical bashing (i.e. the “boy band” disses), the guys are getting a well-deserved second wind and it was an honor to witness it live.
The only bummer vibes came when images of Jones, their late vocalist, appeared on the stage screen — only because it reminded you he wasn’t there to bask in the glory of this surprising Monkees victory lap.