'Once upon a time" - as Peter Tork once succinctly narrated the Monkees' story - "four lads got together, not entirely by their own choice."
Over the course of nearly 50 years, the Monkees have evolved from a thrown-together sitcom cash-in on the mop-topped bands of the 1960s to pop icons on a par with those classic rockers.
The reunion of Tork, Micky Dolenz, and Michael Nesmith at the Keswick on Thursday marked Nesmith's first U.S. tour with the band since 1969. Plans took shape after the sudden death of Davy Jones in February.
The diminutive Brit was not entirely absent, however. Clips of Jones singing "I Wanna Be Free" from the band's TV series, and "Daddy's Song" from their trippy 1968 film, Head, played on a large video screen behind the stage, prompting an audible "aww" from the sold-out audience.
The trio were supported by an able seven-member band that included Nesmith's son Christian on guitar and Dolenz's sister Coco on backing vocals.
Despite the somber circumstances, the two-hour show never felt like a wake.
The surviving trio teased and joked, appearing genuinely to enjoy being back in one another's company. The one major concession to Jones' loss was their performance of his signature song, "Daydream Believer." Describing the quandary the band faced when attempting to decide who would sing it, Dolenz told the crowd that "we don't own this song anymore - you do," and selected a man from the audience to join him on stage and lead a singalong.
The loudest responses of the night were reserved for Nesmith, who hasn't made an appearance anywhere with the other Monkees since 1997. While Dolenz, Tork, and Jones reunited regularly over the decades, Nesmith joined them only sporadically. He preferred instead to concentrate on his eccentric solo work, which included pioneering efforts in music video and country-rock fusion.
That country twang was evident in many of the songs the band performed, including "What Am I Doing Hanging 'Round?" and "Tapioca Tundra." Nesmith, a month shy of 70 and bald where he once sported his trademark wool cap, was in good voice as he strummed a 12-string guitar. Tork showed off his versatility, playing guitar, bass, keyboard, and banjo. He indulged in a bit of clowning while singing his novelty tune "Your Auntie Grizelda."
Dolenz played master of ceremonies, sporting a fedora and shades and occasionally taking his place at the drum set. His voice showed a bit of wear, especially during the soaring "Porpoise Song" from Head. And the trio were backed throughout by those images of their younger selves on video.