In a way, the Monkees are known for all the wrong things.
Their TV show was fun, but it cast a shadow on them, especially their desire to be taken seriously as musicians. The tired storylines that they didn’t play their own instruments (they often did) or write their own songs (they did more than many ‘60s bands) also don’t help.
The power of their songs was on full display at Mystic Lake. Remaining members Mike Nesmith and Micky Dolenz, accompanied by an impressive nine-piece band, played a 25+ song set that showcased the quality and variety of their music.
Impressive Deep Cuts
Show opener “Good Clean Fun” set the tone. The title might make you think of the hijinks of the Monkees show, but the seriously good country rock song stands up with anything done by pioneers of the genre like Gram Parsons. Hardly a golden oldie radio hit – it only hit #82 on the Billboard chart – it was the first of many beneath-the-surface fan favorites that comprised much of the setlist.
If you want to understand just how good the Monkees were in their heyday, you have to listen to these tracks. They are unique even for the ‘60s, combining sunshine pop, rock, country, and folk.
Highlights in this vein included Headquarters opener “You Told Me,” Peter Tork tribute “For Pete’s Sake,” early Monkees album cut “Sweet Young Thing,” and Micky Dolenz standout “Randy Scouse Git” (which was transformed into a minor-key country song). Nesmith-penned “The Girl I Knew Somewhere,” which features just the right combination of folk and jangly ‘60s pop, perfectly showcased just how good the Monkees’ songs are and how much more attention they deserve.
The bands truly weird 1968 movie Head (“I have no idea what it’s about,” Dolenz said) was represented by two underrated songs, the epic ‘60s psychedelia of “Porpoise Song” and the reckless rock of “Circle Sky.” Other cool deep cuts included jazzy b-side “Goin’ Down” and pre-encore closing song “What Am I Doing Hanging Around,” a lovely country rock album track.
Delivering the Goods – From the ’60s to Today
Although there were many lesser-known selections, they still played a lot of hits. “Last Train to Clarksville,” “Mary Mary,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone,” “Daydream Believer,” and “I’m a Believer” were each delivered with varying degrees of enthusiasm (they understandably seemed a lot happier playing the less overplayed material). Only on lesser tracks like “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” and “Take a Giant Step” did it seem like they were merely going through the motions.
Perhaps surprisingly to some, songs from their newest album, 2016’s Good Times!, were among the shows best moments. “Birth of an Accidental Hipster,” written by Oasis’ Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller, touched on all the Monkees hallmarks (it led effortlessly into “St. Matthew,” another impressive unissued ‘60s track that they unearthed for the show). Nesmith and Dolenz’s harmonies were particularly moving on another track from Good Times!, beautiful “Me and Magdalena.”
Although Dolenz was in stronger voice than Nesmith for most of the evening, the latter stole the show on his solo masterpiece “Joanne.” He hit all the haunting high notes on his gorgeous country ballad perfectly. A truly remarkable performance.
More Than a TV Show
What made the Monkees show at Mystic Lake so successful is that it was an ideal balance of radio staples, lesser-known hits, deep cuts, and new tracks. The deep dive into their catalog showed just how impressive it is. When all is said and done, that is what they will be known for. Seeing them perform their best songs was an illuminating, eye-opening experience.