On September 10, 2019, Marcia and I went to see a favorite band, King Crimson, in a favorite venue, Chicago’s Auditorium Theater. I wrote about the experience in effusive terms here. We knew that the show would mark a transition point for us, as it was the last one we saw together in Chicago before relocating back to Des Moines, and then on to Sedona. We knew that we’d have far fewer opportunities to see live music after departing the Windy City, but we had no idea that that particular concert would be the last one we’d see for over two years, as COVID changed everything a few months later, and we’re still not quite back to normal, by a large margin.
That said, we did finally have another live music experience last night, two years and nine days after that gig by The Mighty Crim. We went down to the Phoenix metro area yesterday, which marketing geniuses have somehow managed to brand as “The Valley” over the years, though as a map and geology nerd, I struggle to understand exactly what’s Valley-like about the region, at all. And then we went out to the show on a Sunday night, and it was indeed quite pleasant. So when Mike Nesmith and Micky Dolenz, the surviving half of The Monkees, sang their Gerry Goffin-and-Carole King-penned hit, “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” at the end of their concert’s first set, it all seemed most fitting indeed for the time and the place. (The song’s lyrical concerns are also apt regarding Phoenix’s endless suburban sprawl).
The concert was technically billed as “The Monkees Present: Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith,” to pay proper homage to corporate law and intellectual property protections and suchlike (and also to obliquely honor the title of The Monkees’ eighth studio album). But the evening’s welcoming MC and the artists themselves referred to the event as “The Mike and Micky Show,” which feels a bit more personalized and apt. The duo have been publicly adamant that this tour (which has been delayed multiple times by COVID) will be the last one to go out under The Monkees’ moniker, so there was an elegiac element going into the proceedings as well.
Before offering praise for the experience that Micky and Mike offered us all, I do have to note for the record that COVID has not changed the fact that pop music concert audiences are still mostly jerks who still do not know how to behave in mass performance situations. Marcia and I actually left our pretty good seats and moved up closer to the rafters midway through the show, just to get away from the schmucks and putzes and their cellphone addictions who made it virtually impossible to focus on the music and the show while they indulged in their selfish behaviors. Examples: the nimrod right front of us spent most of his time in his seat endlessly scrolling through various social media sites on his brightly-lit screen (when he wasn’t stumbling over his row-mates to go get another beer at the bar, anyway), while a woman behind us felt entitled to film most of the show using her cellphone flashlight to brighten the scene. I certainly have missed live music over the past two years, but Holy Moly, I did not miss that sort of rude and idiotic behavior in public spaces. We also kept our masks on for most of the show; while everyone in the venue was supposed to present either a vaccination card or proof of a negative COVID test within 72 hours of entry, my Covidiot-radar was pinging at the behavior and attitudes of numerous people near us through the evening, so self-safety seemed warranted.
That all being said, things on the music front last night were much better, thankfully. The group’s two-set show was quite generous, offering an excellent mix of popular crowd-pleasers and deep cuts alike; here’s the roster of what they played. The backing band, featuring Mike’s son Christian Nesmith (who also produced the excellent recent Dolenz Sings Nesmith album) and Micky’s sister, Coco, was just crackerjack tight, doing a superb job bringing some of the group’s ornate studio arrangements to life. Micky was in great voice throughout the show, and I was frankly amazed to watch him effortlessly and powerfully breeze through tough vocal cuts like “Goin’ Down,” “The Porpoise Song,” and “Randy Scouse Git,” the latter of which also featured him offering some feisty tympani work.
Mike Nesmith, alas, was noticeably more frail last night than when Marcia and I saw him deliver a masterful show in Chicago about five years ago with his First National Band, featuring several of the same band members we saw last night, including Christian Nesmith. Mike used a cane to get to and around the stage, he sat through most of the show, he played no guitar, and his normally reedy voice was even more breathy than has been the case over the years, a situation not helped by the room’s sound-man apparently not being willing to turn his microphone level up, even for his solo spotlight numbers, so he was often drowned out by the band. But it was still wonderful to be in the room with Nez again (my fave Monkee, yeah), and I was really pleased to see him get so much love from a live audience.
Micky was also really supportive and loving toward Nez, which was wonderful to see. I suspect that this may be Mike’s “last hurrah” tour, though I would also expect Micky to soldier on in some fashion for years to come, based on what he was able to do last night. Micky and Mike paid tribute to their late band-mates David Jones and Peter Tork by offering a selection of the pair’s best-known/best-loved tunes, actually focusing more on Tork’s deep cuts than on Jones’ more popular fare. Which I was good with, as I always liked Peter’s rare vocal and songwriting contributions a lot. I guess if I was still in my former professional music critic mode, I would summarize the show thusly: “Micky Dolenz was in fine voice fronting a killer live band as they plowed through an excellently-curated selection of music from the Monkees’ large catalog, and it was truly wonderful that the best and most-influential songwriter Micky ever worked with, Michael Nesmith, came out to support him live one final tour with character-rich between-song stories and low-key backing vocals.”
When all was said and done, the evening was essentially a feel-good nostalgia show by a couple of artists who I quite love and admire. And, honestly, that was really quite okay, after two years have elapsed since my last concert experience, much of it filled with cultural, political, and medical dread. Music really is a powerful healer and force for emotional and psychological good, and the love and joy and positivity that washed off the stage last night made this a delightful show to end the longest concert hiatus of my adult life. Marcia and I have tickets to see Dead and Company, Lindsey Buckingham, and Sparks in the months ahead, and I expect all of those shows to be great, too, but Mike and Micky will remain memorable just for being the first step of this next phase of my concert-going life.
I offer a few low-quality snaps below (taken quickly and discretely in the aisle with a darkened phone screen, so as not to be a tool and bother the people seated around us)(not that they would have cared, apparently) to give you a sense of what it looked like. Here’s wishing you and yours some happy concert-going of your own, safely and soon!