What do you do when the singer on half your hit records dies? When your guitarist apparently would rather be dead than join you on stage? Or maybe not. After all, the show must go on.
The pre-fab four are now the pre-fab two but, still calling themselves The Monkees, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork took the stage at RBC Ottawa Bluesfest Thursday night.
I was expecting a huge dose of nostalgia, and that there certainly was, but not in the way I expected. Davy Jones and Mike Nesmith were front and centre without ever taking the stage.
Throughout the hour-long set, the screen above the band ran a continuous clip of The Monkees television show from their heyday in the 1960s. It was an interesting appeal to the past.
John Fogarty used vintage footage to augment his performance on Sunday, but those were video clips I had not seen. Like pretty much everyone else in my generation I have seen those old Monkees shows dozens of times, though it must be 30 years since I last watched an episode. Still, they made it feel like Mike and Davy were still part of the band, especially when they turned the lead vocals over to the videotaped version of the late Mr. Jones on “Daydream Believer.”
Given that the second record I ever bought was a Monkees single (I was very young), I thought the show would connect with me deeply and take me back to my childhood. That didn’t happen. It was a pleasant hour, and I’m glad I saw them, but once is enough.
I won’t get into the whole Monkees history and the various controversies that surrounded them and their struggle for respect. You can look that up.
The impression I had though is that they must feel they have earned the right to be more than a group just pumping out 50-year old hits. There were some less well known album tracks, some new songs and some, but certainly not all of the hits. I guess letting dead Davy sing is a gimmick you can only use once in the set. Mike apparently is on the new record and does sometimes tour with the band, so I guess he has come to terms with its past also.
Micky Dolenz still sounds like himself, though the voice is obviously older. Peter Tork, the band’s bassist in the ’60s, was handling the guitar duties. Their backup band, never introduced, were competent but not exceptional.
The audience was very young, full of teenage girls. I couldn’t see what the appeal was. Then I realized they weren’t there for The Monkees; they wanted to be in position for Sam Hunt who would be on the same stage 90 minutes later.
There were enough hits to keep the fans happy: “Last Train to Clarksville,” Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “A Little Bit Me,” “She” and of course “I’m A Believer.”
I have to admit though that while it felt pleasant enough it just wasn’t inspiring. Maybe I was never really a Monkees fan, but I was too young to realize it.