In what may be the strangest pairing of acts I've seen in a good long while, 1980's synth-darlings The Spoons opened a show for Monkees drummer Micky Dolenz at the I'm A Believer Benefit for the Utopia Conservation Area and Gristmill Restoration Project. While I generally go for the more basic pop-stylings of the Monkees, I dabbled in synth-pop for a brief while when there was little else to choose from...those were dire years, my friends, the mid-80's. I'm open to all types of music, though I don't usually like to mix my medicines on the same evening. What's the drug of choice for a show like this? Acid or X? Think I'll opt for the natural high of the sweet smell of excess.
The Capitol Event Theatre is a converted turn-of-the-century movie house, recently restored to it's 1918 splendor...which is good, as long as you weren't in Paris in 1918. Pretty sure it hosts more weddings than concerts, but space is space, eh?
Saw The Spoons open an early version of The Police Picnic, back in 1982. They were very close to the front of the bill with Flock Of Seagulls; there's a dueling-hairstyles contest in the making. They were followed by The English Beat, who caused my friend to comment "What's this? Song 1 Version 3?"; not everyone had an ear for dance music. Joan Jett was there too, in what is the closest example I can find in my concert history to the OTHER mismatched artist combination. She was pelted with fruit, threatened to leave the stage if it didn't stop, but eventually bore the abuse and did her set, to her credit. That show closed with The Talking Heads absolutely blowing the limp Police off the stage. I'm sure I recognized most of The Spoons set, however it's not like it was memorable, in light of the talent that followed.
But that was then. This is now.
Saw Micky Dolenz come through Toronto in 1986 with Davey Jones and Peter Tork, bringing all the fun of The Monkees with him, but leaving most of the musical song-writing talent back home in White-Out heir, Michael Nesmith. Micky was to Davey Jones what Keith was to Mick, what John was to Paul or what Danko was to Manuel...the rock'n'roll heart of the band. Always preferred his tunes, though the girls seemed to have a hankering for the syrupy sweet, more melodic offerings, of Davey.
The Spoons opening set was very good. Though they had difficulty enticing the crowd to get up on their feet they plowed through their hits with enthusiasm and energy. Their sound is actually much better when you strip off the multiple layers of harmonies and electro-pop noise that were put on in the studio. Set up as a strict rock band; guitar, bass, drums and the keys, they were being more true to their roots in a Burlinton garage than the dated music put to disc a couple decades ago. Underneath all that sound were some more than decent songs. And let me tell you...they're looking good as well. Gordon Deppe was in fine voice but it was Sandy Horne, on bass, who was surprisingly impressive. I got what I expected from Gordon, maybe more, but her work was stellar.
Highlights of the set were; Old Emotions, the silent gaps where the overlayed harmonies used to be do a better job conveying the passion in this song. Arias and Symphonies was an excellent opener and deserved a standing ovation. Romantic Traffic suffered from a failed attempt to get the crowd to sing-a-long. Nova Heart finally pulled 50 or 60 patrons out of their seats. It was nice to see the band get the response their performance deserved, at the final end, anyway.
Micky's set was nothing short of a gift. I've been seeing a lot of acts lately who are in the twilight of their careers. Some are performing at close to their best; Springsteen, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen among them. Others are giving a more-than-respectable account of themselves, artists like Lesley Gore, Timm Finn and Joe Jackson. Some are proving that maybe it's time to pack it in; Dylan and George Jones come to mind. Micky's out there giving a good accounting of himself.
Of course Micky's talents preceed and exceed his fortuitous involvement with The Monkees. His versatility, (he's had jobs in front of and behind the camera, worked onstage and off, and maintained a foot in the door of rock n roll), would likely have found him successful even if there was no Don Kirshner.
Even though he doesn't tour much (he's got about a half dozen concerts booked the rest of this year) he has obviously paid attention to the show he's put together. From the song selections to the onstage patter, he has an idea of who he is to his audience and who he was as a young man in those wild times. Much like he was the 'devil-may-care' character in his Monkees incarnation, he holds the same type of worldview now...a little more aged, but with that, a humility and gratefulness that shines through the good natured goofiness.
The show opens with the band onstage, singing the first verse of The Monkees Theme (Boyce/Hart). It cuts short and Micky appears onstage to launch into the apropos, That Was Then, This Is Now (V Brescia). Kind of sets the tone for the evening. We're gonna get something old...but a new look at it.
With no delay we're into the first song I remember being released as a single before it appeared on any album, A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You (N Diamond). In my young years this was the beginning of the end of my massive interest in the band. It's not that they didn't keep making great 60's pop songs but it got us past those first two great albums that were jammed with hits. It was nowhere near the end of their popularity as it became their 4th consecutive #1 hit on the CHUM Charts. They would have 4 more before their career wound down.
She (Boyce/Hart) follows quickly. I love this song, I really favour a lot of songs that never charted, album tracks that grew on me from repeated listenings to the LP's. I would watch the weekly TV shows hoping we'd get one of these lesser known tracks. Micky's starting to loosen up his vocal chords on this song. He's been a little tentative early, hitting his mark, his vocal styling distinct, but fully controlled. What a terrific hidden gem, a song of betrayal and longing, a real stinging assault, unlike most of the songs that were blanketing the airwaves in the Summer of Love.
Of course it wasn't unlike their subsequent summer hit, Words (Boyce/Hart), which charted at #1 in July of 1967. Micky's really hitting his stride at this point, good and warmed up, a handful of songs under his belt in rapid order.
He follows with a bit of a breather in the more moderately tempoed Sometime In The Morning (Goffin/King). His delivery here displays his stage experience as it's a very controlled projection of his voice that carries well, adding some punch to an otherwise somnabulant tune.
Micky takes a moment out to speak of the great songwriters who wrote tunes for The Monkees. Though he didn't make a special note of it I recollected seeing the Boyce/Hart name on more than a few of the tracks, and they've been featured already, with their biggest hits yet to come. It's quite an impressive array of writers and Micky's gratitude for being fed these songs is obvious and unabashedly heartfelt.
He follows that homage with the tune that started it all, Last Train To Clarksville (Boyce/Hart). Easy to say a fan favourite. And band favourite as there were smiles all around as they punched out a rocking version.
The talk breaks start coming a little quicker. Let's face it...I'm getting winded just watching. We get some insight into the audition for The Monkees as the band breaks into the tune that "got me the gig", a song he played regularly on the bar circuit when he fronted the cover-band Micky Dolenz and the One Nighters, Johnny B Goode (C Berry) .
Another talking break, which are beginning to follow the all out rockes, as Micky regales us with the absurb story of Jimi Hendrix opening for The Monkees. Turns out Micky had seen Hendrix perform at Montery Pop and thought he was 'theatrical'. He thought the Monkees theatrical as well and recommended the pairing. Unthinking industry people went along with it. The scene was...weird, as 10 & 12 year old girls sat in the arena's with their Mom's and got bombarded by Hendrix' sonic assault. He follows the tale with a blistering version of Purple Haze (J Hendrix).
Of course, that means another little catch-your-breath chat. Still giving credit to the songwriters he highlights the talents of fellow band member, Mike Nesmith, with a rendition of, The Girl I Knew Somewhere (M Nesmith). Kind of in the mold of the syrupy Sometime In the Morning we got earlier.
Nesmith is highlighted again as Micky's sister, Coco, takes the lead on The Stone Pony's hit, Different Drum.
Mega-hit (I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone (Boyce/Hart) is next and the band is really plowing through this stuff, this ain't no half-assed Oldies effort.
Highlight of the evening is next. Another 'rare' tune, the B-side to Daydream Believer, the runaway-train, band-penned tune, Goin' Down (The Monkees) . This was a real treat to discover back in those heady days at the end of the '60's. It's Micky at his manic best. Machine-gun fast delivery of a story of rejection and salvation. And it's got nothing to do with God...it's a river-ride to New Orleans.
Micky leaves the stage for a well-deserved breather as Coco moves to the center to cover White Rabbit (G Slick). This is followed by another brief talk where Micky tells us something about his entertainment industry upbringing and he duets with Coco on the first song they ever sung, a lovely harmonic (Acapulco)(g) version of Bye Bye Blackbird (trad).
The introduction to the next song includes the story of meeting the Beatles during the Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band sessions. John called Micky "Monkee-Man", and knowing John's penchant for sarcastic and biting humour, it may not have been good-natured. Turns out Micky was overdressed in his paisley-tie-dye-Nehru jacket and sandals outfit. The boys were sitting around in jeans and tees, laying down tracks, one of which we get tonight in the powerful version of Oh Darling (Lennon/McCartney).
It's like the show has become a love-in for all the great songwriters of the '60's. Even Leiber and Stoller get a few moments before the band launches into the stage-number D W Washburn (Leiber/Stoller) . Even Micky was surprised to hear this song when he attended a stage performance of Smoky Joes Cafe, a Tony award winning revue filled with classic rhythm 'n blues. Micky's stage experience shines on this peculiar song, it's really his forte, all this rock n roll is just for fun. Unfortunately, the release of this song marked the beginning of the end for the phenomenom that was The Monkees. After 8 #1 songs this was the second consecutive release that failed to scale those heights. Their next single, the ironically titled, It's Nice To Be With You, would be their swan-song from the Top 40 charts. But that's ok, 'cause it was quite a run.
We're still not done thanking the giants on whose shoulders The Monkees stood. Former Kingston Trio, recently deceased John Stewart is remembered through a cover of Davey Jones' Daydream Believer (J Stewart) . Micky tosses in a gratuitous 'short joke' by adjusting the mic stand to knee level before undertaking the song. The audience giggles.
Carole King gets another nod, she created a sh*t-load of great pop songs through the years, with the wonderfully sardonic Pleasant Valley Sunday (Goffin/King) .
A rather loose version of Gimme Some Lovin' (Spencer Davis Group) opens the encore and the show ends, after a brief comment to the kids about Shrek, with the title song of the evening, I'm A Believer (N Diamond) .
All in all, an excellent show. Musically, it rocked, much more than I'd anticipated. The show itself is so well put together with just the proper spacing of hits among the lesser-known songs, a good mix of rock and pop, and a great sense that we're all fortunate to be able to take a couple hours out to tap our feet and remember when life was simple...and so were we.
Complete set list. * designates mp3 download
Track 01 Intro/Monkees Theme (Boyce/Hart)
Track 02 That Was Then, This Is Now (V Brescia)
Track 03 A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You (N Diamond)
Track 05 Words (Boyce/Hart)
Track 06 Sometime In The Morning (Goffin/King)
Track 07 talk - thanks to the great songwriters
Track 09 talk - Monkees audition
Track 10 Johnny B Goode (C Berry)
Track 11 talk - Hendrix opening for The Monkees
Track 12 Purple Haze (J Hendrix)
Track 13 The Girl I Knew Somewhere(M Nesmith)
Track 14 Different Drum (M Nesmith) Vocals by sister Coco
Track 17 *White Rabbit (G Slick) Vocals by sister Coco
Track 18 talk - Coco and Micky
Track 19 Bye Bye Blackbird (trad)
Track 20 talk - Meet the Beatles
Track 22 talk - Leiber/Stoller
Track 23 D W Washburn (Leiber/Stoller)
Track 24 Daydream Believer (J Stewart)
Track 25 Pleasant Valley Sunday (Goffin/King)
Track 26 encore
Track 27 Gimme Some Lovin' (Spencer Davis Group)
Track 28 I'm A Believer (N Diamond)