When Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith announced the lengthily-titled The Monkees Present: The Mike & Micky Show (A Very Special Musical Journey from “Last Train to Clarksville” to “Me & Magdalena”) tour in 2018, the exclusion of the Monkees’ then-remaining living member, Peter Tork, did not seem unusual. (Singer Davy Jones died in 2012.)
Despite rumors of Tork’s health problems keeping him off the road, the live legacy of the Monkees — teen pop’s first made-up band and multi-platform sensation — has been piecemeal since the 1965-born quartet began splintering in 1968. Countless Monkees reunions with varying permutations of its membership occurred since the 1990s, with only Nesmith — an accomplished country-tinged composer and performer — sitting things out until 2012 and the passing of Jones.
In June 2018, “The Mike & Micky Show” was set to hit Glenside’s Keswick Theatre, only to be thwarted during sound check by Nesmith’s chest pains. That show and the rest of the tour were canceled, and Nesmith underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery. After the rescheduled March 6 date for the Keswick was sold out, Tork died of cancer on Feb. 21.
Wednesday night’s show, then became a tribute to Tork and yet remained a lively presentation that refused to ruminate on nostalgia or sorrow. With a 10-piece ensemble behind them, “Mike & Micky” sounded fresh and even brash for guys in their 70s. Mostly, though, the Mike & Micky team sounded like kings of power pop, joyful and content. “It’s ‘great’ to be back here, as in the first part of ‘grateful,' ” said Nesmith, before stating that he was renaming “Last Train to Clarksville” “The Keswick Blues.” For his part, Dolenz accepted the premature well wishes of the Glenside crowd for his 74th birthday (March 8) with a wide grin.
Commencing with the one-two, pop punch of “Good Clean Fun” (sung by a raspy Nesmith with his Texas-born twang intact) and “Clarksville” (a cocksure Dolenz vocal classic), the band raved through a nearly 30-song set of beloved hits (“I’m a Believer”), softly psychedelic new songs ("Birth of an Accidental Hipster,” written for the Monkees by Oasis’ Noel Gallagher and the Jam’s Paul Weller) and rarities such as a country-punkish “St. Matthew” and “Circle Sky,” the latter track coming from Fabricated Four’s 1968 film, Head.
A cosmopolitan country lilt crept over a handful of Mike’s Monkees tracks throughout the concert with “Papa Gene’s Blues” and the ringing “You Just May Be the One,” both benefiting from dynamic arrangements featuring pedal steel and banjo, a country-western sound in tune with Nesmith’s other recently reignited project the First National Band. While Nesmith performed his sung-spoken early solo hit, the teen angst-driven “Different Drum,” as well as his yearning First National Band ballad “Joanne” (a tour debut for the latter), Dolenz got his best, most humorous solo spotlight with his jazzy scatting, “Goin’ Down” and the quaintly psychedelic “Randy Scouse Git.”
For all the solo bits and smashes, it was particularly cool to see these two remaining Monkees singing together, whether it was the caustic ode to suburbia that was “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” or the brushed, acoustic “Me & Magdalena.” That latter track, a pastoral hillbilly tune penned for the Monkees by Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, featuring a gorgeous harmony between the two men intoning elegiac lyrics such as “the sun is slowly sinking,” for an elegant, near-denouement to the evening.
For anyone who still holds a grudge that the Monkees were once a manufactured band (we’re looking at you, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominators) wise up: Mike & Micky played their hearts out.