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Bluesfest International Highlights: The Monkees

By Terry Steeves on July 16, 2016

Picture a kid who would run home from school everyday, to plunk herself front and center in front of the TV, nestled in her daddy’s favourite easy chair, supplied with a generous amount of chocolate chip cookies and milk. It was 4 o’clock, and the world stopped, because The Monkees were on. Young girls in the schoolyard were skipping rope to chants of “Davy, Davy, Davy Jones”, while their bedroom walls, along with every teen magazine cover was emblazoned with their images.

Even though the band’s peak of activity ran from 1966 to 1971, with the television series that lasted less than 2 years, The Monkees shook up the world’s musical pop culture in this tiny window of time to such a degree, they were selling more records than The Rolling Stones and the Beatles combined, just a year in from their formation. Eventually, the girls grew up, and the posters came down, but the memories of that era remain intact, and were brought back to the Bluesfest grounds in a display of music and film memorabilia that time-warped us back to those bright-eyed girls with swelled hearts.

This year marks The Monkees’ 50th anniversary, celebrated with a 50-day tour across North America, and the release of their new studio album, Good Times, which retains a similar upbeat vibe to their past material. Mike Nesmith had decided not to join the tour this time around, although he made a short appearance at this year’s June 1st show in NYC via Skype. Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork continue to carry the torch for this tour, as well as for their dearly departed friend and fourth member, Davy Jones, who sadly passed in Feb. of 2012.

Peter Tork of The Monkees. Photo by Terry Steeves.

Peter Tork of The Monkees. Photo by Terry Steeves.

A generous crowd had gathered in front of the main City Stage, who let out a massive bout of cheering as the two boarded the stage along with a 5-piece band ensemble of guitar, bass, drums, keys, and backing vocalist. Mickey sported a snappy black blues-style hat and electric blue Lennon specs, while Peter’s glittery tangerine shirt stood out in the sun. They wasted no time, as they dove into their famed debut single, “Last Train To Clarksville”, which set the show off to an enthusiastic start, and demonstrated the still very intact vocals of Mickey Dolenz, who sang most of the material. A slew of other early numbers followed, like “That Was Then, This Is Now”, the comical “Your Auntie Grizelda” and “She”. A large screen which displayed perfectly synched musical segments of their TV series, served as an entertaining backdrop throughout the entire performance.

Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees. Photo by Terry Steeves.

Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees. Photo by Terry Steeves.

Peter switched from acoustic to electric guitars for nearly all the material, except when he donned the banjo for “What Am I Doin’ Hangin’ ’Round?” (which he also sang), and for “She Makes Me Laugh“, the debut single from the new album. He also sang, “For Pete’s Sake”, from their 3rd album, Headquarters, which marked The Monkees’ own creative effort in playing the music themselves. Another from same album, “The Girl I Knew Somewhere”, was alive in all its 60’s jangliness, accompanied by the iconic episode clip of the 4 boys fighting for the love of the same girl, played by Lee Meriweather. Mickey also played some acoustic guitar, aside from his usual percussive activity, and I especially loved the series scene re-enactment of “Randy Scouse Git”, complete with kettle drum and original poncho. I’ve always loved the song’s rebellious tone and Mickey’s tantrum shouts of “Why don’t you cut your hair!”.

Another stand-out moment for me was the slow, trippy number, “Porpoise Song”, from their soundtrack and 6th album, Head. The song showed a clear departure from their typical sound into a progressive-psychedelic one, and was performed extremely well. It moved seamlessly into the double-timed “(I’m not your) Steppin’ Stone”, as the crowd moved to its rocked-up flavour. Mickey led us into a trip through what he called their “Wayback Machine”, where Davy Jones led the way on “Daydream Believer”, via video clip footage, as a sea of hands waved back in forth. The sound was cut but for his voice on a few bars of the chorus, to allow the audience to join in, and I have to admit, brought a tear to my eye.

One of Carole King’s songwriting contributions to The Monkees came with, “Pleasant Valley Sunday”, a fast-paced, vibrant favourite, which had some impressive finger-picking leads by Tork. The grand show closer, “I’m A Believer”, got all generations in the crowd singing and dancing together. Since there have been quite a few versions that have brought this song back to life time and again, folks young and old stood united in the song’s energy. The band moved to the front of the stage and took their final bows, while The Monkees theme song played, and ended this truly delightful and well put together trip down memory lane.