The Monkees, Royal Albert Hall, London
Wednesday 25 May 2011
The second, semi-ironic burst of Monkeemania, caused by the reformation of the "Prefab Four" in 1986, is itself a nostalgic memory now. These days, Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork get back together every few years on some pretext or other – the band's 45th anniversary this time. (Mike Nesmith, the richest, most talented ex-Monkee, appeared in 1996 and then left them to it.) All the contradictions in their strange career play out precisely tonight.
Affection for the Monkees rests less on their music than on the proto-MTV kids' show in which they were cast in in 1966. Clips duly play on a big screen. During "She", I forget Dolenz is singing as the young, beautiful Monkees romance women in charmingly goofy style. Blue Californian skies combine with "Last Train to Clarksville" on stage to produce a feeling of dazzling promise from a faraway land. The Monkees' shows beamed eye-popping fun into the lives of 1970s kids like me, too.
The first half of this performance kicks off with the group's first UK No 1, "I'm a Believer", but it soon bogs down. This is a two-hour show, plus interval, but there are only four lasting hits, making the show feel like a classic 1960s pop album – all filler and some killer, eventually. The band rattle through songs with the relentless, airless professionalism of the modern era's package tours.
The unnatural fit of the band-members is also obvious. Jones, a Mancunian Beatle-substitute, was always the ringer next to two embarrassed folkies, Tork and Nesmith, and he carries on like the sort of cabaret crooner he would have become without the TV show. Tork gets his banjo out, and Dolenz shows off a powerful baritone suited to the group's more baroque West Coast ballads.
The second half of the show exactly replays the great Head conundrum, in which Bob Rafelson made the 1968 movie of that name with the Monkees acting as a Trojan horse, to open Hollywood to the counter-culture. The band were mostly willing accomplices, blowing their packaged career open and up. Head clips play over "Circle Sky"'s raw and exciting country-rock. The big hits – including the Sex Pistols favourite "I'm Not Your Stepping Stone" – are played perfunctorily, as if the Monkees don't quite believe in them any more, finishing an instructive ride through one of pop's weirder tales.
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