tue 21/11/2017

The Monkees, Royal Albert Hall | reviews, news & interviews

The Monkees, Royal Albert Hall

The Monkees, Royal Albert Hall

A dignified reclamation of all that was great about the Sixties boy band

The Monkees: Peter Tork, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz

The Monkees’ Head was their celluloid suicide note. They chanted that they were a manufactured band with no philosophy. The film caught an authentic psychedelic vision which came to life again last night. Post-interval, the show continued with a stunning run through of the Head soundtrack songs, most of which had never been played live. Reclaiming this maverick and wilful part of their career, The Monkees said last night that they were more than the puppets of those who had assembled them as TV-land America’s answer to The Beatles.

This wasn’t the pop band known and loved by many, but the underground-embracing Monkees that hobnobbed with Jack Nicholson and Frank Zappa. Live last night, Head’s psychedelic, Middle Eastern-styled “Can You Dig It” was as freaky as on the original album, and accompanied on stage by a belly dancer. Micky Dolenz’s strong vocal on “As We Go Along” highlighted the song’s Tim Buckleyisms. The drifting, languid “Porpoise Song” was as seductive as the studio recording. The surprise of seeing this material played live was surpassed by how good it was in this setting.

Jones is a not-quite-catering-size ham, Dolenz was more reserved and Tork looked like The Wizard of Oz’s straw man

The Monkees were never meant to be in charge their destiny. Created by hardened showbiz professionals and supported by backroom boys like impresario Don Kirshner, The Monkees were feeding an insatiable market. Songs came from gold-chip writers like Neil Diamond and Carole King. By the end of January 1967 The Monkees’ first two albums had sold over five million copies, while their singles had shifted more than four million. Their debut single had been issued barely more than five months earlier.

Using session musicians led to the fake band tag that set the tone in the Sixties (players on their records included Stephen Stills and Neil Young). Such issues didn’t bother The Beatles. Paul McCartney welcomed Dolenz into his house. Tork played on George Harrison’s Wonderwall.

Another tension central to Monkee-world was their relationship with the underground. These leanings were all too apparent with the release of Head in December 1968, but The Monkees were old hands at freakery and psychedelia. They’d given platforms to Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa and Tim Buckley. Dolenz became one of the earliest domestic owners of a Moog synthesiser. With Mike Nesmith in the driving seat, they were also early adopters of what would become country-rock. But the teen-scream market defined them.

Head and the bonkers 1969 TV special 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee publicly acknowledged that the chirpy small-screen Monkees were dead, but what’s striking is the original band’s drawn-out death. After Tork’s departure in December 1968 and Nesmith’s a year later, it took until September 1970 for the end to be acknowledged by the two-piece Jones and Dolenz Monkees. A non-Nesmith reunion in 1987 resulted in the Pool It! album, but that didn’t last long. They reunited again in 1996 with Nesmith and played London the following year. They went their separate ways again and here we are, again without Nesmith, on the slightly chronologically wonkily titled 45th Anniversary Tour (they were assembled in November 1965).

All aspects of The Monkees' musical sprawl were on display last night, yet it was a seamless evening – even with the Head segment. The songs had been chosen and sequenced by Davy Jones. There were two sets, with a 20-minute interval. This celebration was total. In the context of the 39 songs aired, even the schmaltz-fest that’s “I Wanna be Free” shone. Great song followed great song. The first half opened with “I’m a Believer”, which gave way to a tough “Mary Mary”. The eight-piece backing band – mostly drawn from Jones’s live band – caught the flavour of the songs well by being straightforward.

Dolenz, Jones and Tork themselves were always mismatched – brought together to reflect distinct personalities of individual Beatles – but on stage in 2011 they appeared even more disparate. Jones is a not-quite-catering-size ham, always hoofing, jigging and ready to make a crack. Dolenz, in his hat and clad in black was more reserved - he probably had to be, as many songs called for him to sing while drumming. Tork looked like The Wizard of Oz’s straw man and his asides were often cut off by Jones. The years have bred a familiarity bordering on curt. There was little banter between the songs. The evening moved forward without brakes.

Nesmith was absent, but his songs “What Am I Doing Hanging Around”, "Listen to the Band" and Head's “Circle Sky” didn’t miss him. Tork’s vocals weren’t strong, but he did the songs no disservice.

Pop songs like “Valeri”, the psychedelic “Words” and “Shades of Grey” were glorious. “I’m Not Your (Stepping Stone)” was harder than it could have been. But it was “A Little But Me, A Little Bit You”, halfway through the second set, that got the audience to its feet. “Last Train to Clarksville”, "Pleasant Valley Sunday” and set closer “Daydream Believer” were what people wanted. “(Theme from) The Monkees” was played by the backing band as outro music. With its two halves, ads screened in the interval and outro music, last night echoed the structure of the TV show.

The cheese factor was low, the standard high. Just as it was with The Monkees in the Sixties, last night’s show was better than it had any right to be.

Watch the “Porpoise Song” sequence from The Monkees’ Head

Comments

Good to see a positive review of the reunion tour. One thing that seemed like a deliberate exclusion... Michael Nesmith did join the other 3 Monkees for a new album and UK tour in 1996 and 1997. The article made it seem like he hasn't been involved since the 60s at all.

Thank you for pointing that fact out Tony, I wonder why it had been left out. Good to see a positive review though as I was curious to see how the show would be seen by an impartial viewer. I had tried desperately to get tickets to the Royal Albert Hall show but it sold out pretty quick. I'm seeing them in Nottingham next week instead! :o)

it was a great show

Brilliant review, and as per Tony's comment, MS did attend the 1997 tour, which I saw; this was perhaps the best of the 3 x Monkees gigs I have seen now. Last night's show was great because it was the Monkees, and there's so much affectiion for them - but did anyone else think the sound was AWFUL? I was in the stalls behind the sound engineers (don't think that's relevent) and this was my fifth gig at the Hall - and the worst, sound wise. Micky sounded like he was struggling with his vocals most of the time, and the mix between the band and Micky's vocals was dreaful. Davy's was the best and his voice was, surprisingly, the strongest. The montages played behind the band were amazing and the Head section was really great too. But all in all, a disappointing gig - for one of the best venues in the world, the sound was tinny and the mix between band and singers third rate, sounding under rehearsed and a bit karaoke. At least from where I was sitting! But it is amazing to see them together again and these are some of the best pop songs ever written. I am not sure their vocals will hold out for a 50th anni, but I will be there with bells on if they make it.

Superb review - you've captured it perfectly. I was expecting a large portion of cheese and only detected a sprinkling of Parmesan. Whoever put this together has finally got it . The Monkees metaphor straddles much more than a tea-time show for kids, they've finally come of age. 45 years on, the Monkees renaissance has finally been realised . Simon Wells Simon Wells

I hold my hand up re Nes and the 96/97 reunion oversight. The review was written right afer last night's show. Re the sound. It was good where I was, middle back of lower area above sound desk (and I've moaned enough about sound in venues). You could even hear Davy Jones acoustic guitar. Peter Tork's voice faded in and out, which I thought was to do with him - and I thought that is why he had the head mike rather than a handheld, to keep it close to him. I was taken aback by how strong some of Micky Dolenz's singing was. And Davy singing while dancing during "Daddy's Song"...

I wasn’t too sure what to expect from this gig, but my hopes were high, especially when remembering fondly back to their last gig in the UK, but sadly I was a bit disappointed. As others have said, the sound quality wasn’t great, not too sure whether it’s to do with the Albert Hall itself, or just that the vocals were being drowned out at times by the actual band, together with that “tinny sound” because of the “mixing” by the sound engineers. The boys put on a great performance, it was nice to see the interaction between them and give credit where it is due, Davy tried to do his little dances, albeit it was knackering him out in the end! Also, it was lovely to see both Davy and Pete go down into the audience, what a thrill that most have been for those who managed to “touch their idols”! Just think, back in their heyday, if they ever dared to do that, they would have been “ripped to pieces”! Credit due, they did try their hardest to put a good show on. Loved looking at the visuals on the screen as well, was reminiscing about my youth as I watched! The major downside for me was that the audience inter reaction, it was pretty non existent. I’m not too sure whether this was because of the venue, or the age group or the “reservedness” of the English. I know there is much debate as to whether or not you should stand at gigs (I’ve been to plenty where you try to get and dance and told to sit down), but for me, I like to get up and dance and was really relieved when finally people did stand. But it wasn’t just the “not getting up to boogie on down” that I found lacking, looking around a lot of people were sitting deadly still and I don’t know how I would feel if I was on stage, looking forward into a still audience, must be quite worrying. I know everyone enjoys gigs in a different way, but I found it very staid. Even my sister, who rarely goes to gigs (and is much more reserved than me) even made the same comment, about how the audience was just sitting there. All in all though, I would recommend my friends to go and see them, even it’s just for nostalgia reasons (actually one of them was waiting to hear back from me as she is thinking of going to one of their gigs in the US, being that she is from that side of the world!)

I agree, the sound quality was not good, I think a technical aspect as the guys were singing well (considering thier age and Peter's illness!) when you could hear them...disappointing Albert Hall! Never mind, they put on a great show, I heard no negative comments, there was a great mix of ages, and not all women! I saw happy, smiling faces and most people think it was the best they had heard from them! Nez should be proud too. People have a genuine affection for The Monkees, and rightly so, they rock!

I thought it was absolutely fantastic and throughly enjoyed all of it - the only downside for me as mentioned by others was that I was desperate to get to my feet when they first came on stage and those around me were not so keen ! This was a childhood dream come true for me (I'm 33) and they didn't disappoint ! Fantastic.

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