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KELLY A. SWIFT, FOR THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Michael Nesmith of the Monkees performs at the Greek Theatre in front of a screen showing archival footage of the group.
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More serious Monkees return to the Greek

FOR THE REGISTER

What a difference 16 months can make.

In July 2011, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Davy Jones performed a fast-paced summer concert as part of the Monkees' 45th anniversary tour in front of a capacity crowd at the Greek Theatre. In my review of that show I even noted: "I can't remember a concert that was as much fun as the Monkees' nostalgic trip down memory lane."

With the sudden death of Jones on Feb. 29 it seemed that tour might serve as the final chapter in a series of infrequent reunions that have been staged since the group disbanded in 1971.

But fast forward to a chilly November night in 2012 and once again the Monkees were performing before a packed house of fans at the same venue. This show found Dolenz and Tork joined by Michael Nesmith, the fourth member of the band. Before embarking on this tour last week, Nesmith had not toured as a member of the Monkees since 1997 (and that was only on a European trek).

There were plenty of smiles and good vibes this time around as well capturing the youthful cheerfulness of the Monkees' 1960s TV show and timeless hits, but it was ultimately a more somber and determined Monkees who performed for just under two hours on Saturday night.

Almost all of the performances came while cascading footage from the group's TV show and 1968 film "Head" were projected on big screens. But rather than distract from the performances of the stage, the retro images served to fully connect the audience with the era that gave rise to the group and its songs.

When Jones was with the band he brought a light-hearted quality to the show. Nesmith, always recognized as the most serious member of the troupe, brought his sharp wit, which added another dimension to the performance ("Hi. Hey. Cold," he said in greeting the audience after the Monkees opened with "Last Train to Clarksville").

Nesmith also brought his well-known baritone vocals and potent country-styled tunes to the set in a successful expansion stretching the night's sound well beyond the group's better-known power-pop hits. "Sweet Young Thing" and, later in the night, "You Told Me" featured Nesmith singing while playing 12-string guitar; on both of those songs Tork impressed with his banjo skills. Indeed, one of the strongest performances of the night came at the end of the regular set when Nesmith sang "What Am I Doing Hangin' Round," with Dolenz' sterling harmonies and Tork's fluid banjo playing providing an especially lush rendering of the alt-country tune.

Tork added some well-timed humor with his vocals and exaggerated expressions on "Your Auntie Grizelda." On "Can You Dig It?" he sang and played some fiery lead guitar licks to boot. Dolenz, always the band's best singer, handled a myriad of material including "I'm a Believer," "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" and "Randy Scouse Git." Perhaps his greatest single turn came in a powerful vocal performance of the psychedelic "Porpoise Song" (the theme from "Head") where he also played the drums artfully as the song drew to a dazzling close.

The memory of Jones was never far off in the minds of the band and audience. Early there was a video projected with images of Jones as one of his well-known ballads "I Wanna Be Free" was played.

A more impressive tribute came when the Monkees' outstanding seven-member band (including Dolenz' sister Coco assisting with backing vocals and Nesmith's son Christian playing electric guitar) provided the musical backup to Jones, whose voice and video came alive on the big screen during "Daddy's Song."

The performance of Jones' signature hit "Daydream Believer" was an emotional one. Dolenz explained that Nesmith had suggested that while all three surviving members of the Monkees had previously sung the song, "We can never sing this song again, but you (the audience) can." Dolenz than brought a woman up from the audience and shared his mic with her while leading the audience in a gigantic sing-along of the irresistible crowd favorite.

In the end the night was a fitting tribute not only to Jones and his band mates, but to the unique and enduring phenomenon of the Monkees.

The Monkees setlist at the Greek Theatre, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012:

Last Train to Clarksville / Papa Gene's Blues / Your Auntie Grizelda / She / Sweet Young Thing / I'm a Believer / (I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone / I Wanna Be Free (video featuring Davy Jones) / You Told Me / Sunny Girlfriend / You Just May Be the One / Mary, Mary / The Girl I Knew Somewhere / For Pete's Sake / Early Morning Blues and Greens / Randy Scouse Git / Daily Nightly / Tapioca Tundra / Goin' Down / Porpoise Song (theme from "Head") / Daddy's Song / Can You Dig It? / Circle Sky / Do I Have to Do This All Over Again? / Daydream Believer / What Am I Doing Hangin' Round?

Encore: Listen to the Band / Pleasant Valley Sunday


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