More than 50 years after the Monkees made their Cleveland debut, two of the band's principal members—Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith—brought their first-ever duo tour to Cain Park last night. The two-hour, 30-song set did justice to all facets of the band's formidable catalog, and underscored the Monkees' vast musical range.
The night started with a rollicking "Good Clean Fun" and a pedal steel-and-banjo-augmented "Last Train to Clarksville." Dolenz gave the latter song a boost at the end with some urgent vocal exhortations. From there, the set touched on all kinds of styles: jangly pop-rock (the well-received "The Door Into Summer," "You Just May Be The One"), psychedelic rock (the violin-bolstered "St. Matthew," garage-twang stomp "Sweet Young Thing"), country-folk ("Nine Times Blue," "Take a Giant Step") and roadhouse blues ("Goin' Down").
Highlight "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" was a raucous garage-punk rave-up with ferocious guitars (including a double-necked variety) and Dolenz unleashing his inner soul revue star. For Head
's "Porpoise Song," Dolenz gave the song appropriate gravitas with a restrained performance and moments of Broadway-esque vibrato. And songs from the latest Monkees album, 2016's Good Times!
, fit seamlessly next to older material: "Birth of an Accidental Hipster" was a skyscraping mod rocker with lovely piano interludes scattered throughout, while the Ben Gibbard-penned "Me and Magdalena" was tender.
Unlike previous Monkees-associated tours, the stage production was sparse. There were no multimedia elements or videos, just a tasteful light show and a giant banner proclaiming the tour's name, "The Monkees Present the Mike & Micky Show." However, Dolenz and Nesmith were backed by an ace nine-piece band that included several family members—Nesmith's son, Christian, played guitars and arranged the vocals, while Dolenz's sister, Coco, added percussion and backing vocals—and encompassed banjo, mandolin, pedal steel, piano and organ. The instrumentalists and extra vocalists enhanced the songs and elevated the music rather than compensating for any weaknesses. Dolenz could even be seen conducting the group during "As We Go Along."
Both Dolenz and Nesmith were also in fine form vocally. The former stalked the front of the stage, slashing maracas in his hands for the psych-garage nugget "Mary, Mary" and unleashed some rather impressive scatting during "Randy Scouse Git." Nesmith, meanwhile, steered his country-leaning song "Different Drum" and the coppery folk "What Am I Doin' Hanging 'Round?" with confidence. The duo's vocal harmonies, of course, were also on point, with an acoustic-heavy "I'll Spend My Life With You" coming across as especially lovely. The only small quibble is that Nesmith had a few vocal missteps here and there: He missed some lyrics on "Auntie's Municipal Court" and seemingly fell behind the tempo on "You Told Me."
Yet the good humor (and vibes) flowed liberally. At one point, Nesmith, who was sporting silver-glitter shoes, proudly showed off the Byrds shirt he was wearing. Prior to "Porpoise Song," Dolenz asked who in the audience had seen the movie Head
and whether anybody knew what it was about. "L.S.D.!" someone yelled out. And the two absent Monkees weren't forgotten. After "For Pete's Sake," Nesmith remarked that Peter Tork wrote the song and remarked, "Hi, Pete—wherever you are!" On a more sentimental note, as "Daydream Believer" concluded, both men gestured to the heavens, no doubt nodding to their late bandmate Davy Jones, who sang the tune originally.
The encore started with Nesmith alone onstage with an acoustic guitar, kicking off "Listen To The Band." The rest of the band trickled in and joined the musical fray, creating a triumphant (and pointed) mission statement. As the song progressed, members of the audience gathered at the front of the stage, poised to then dance and holler along to the night's final song, a jubilant "I'm A Believer." It was the perfect ending to a concert that proved beyond any doubts that the Monkees deserve to be ranked among the greats.