Review: A night of Monkees business at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater 

When one thinks of The Monkees — the zany madcap comedic quartet that sold a boatload of records in the 1960's and starred in their own television sitcom — an image of the adorable, wide-eyed pint-sized lead singer Davy Jones comes to mind. Sadly, for the first time since the group's formation, The Monkees are out on the road as a touring band minus the aid of their British frontman. Jones' untimely death in 2012 left a massive hole in the spirit of the band and the true test of the band's tenacity lies in their ability to pull off their current tour without the charisma he always brought to the stage and to the screen.

As for the 1,900 fans who filled most of the available seats on Sunday night at Ruth Eckerd Hall, the realization of a night of Monkees hits and memories was alleviated slightly by the welcomed return of Mike Nesmith to the stage. Nesmith, the long tall Texan who brought an air of country-rock and pure pop to the band's sound in their heyday has, for the most part, stayed away from live performance and comeback tours. Instead, he's charted on a solo career, garnering plenty of critical acclaim and a batch of clever, ambitious albums.

But, for now, Nesmith has returned to the fold with his old band mates, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork — decked out in an all-white suit and rhinestone encrusted shoes, Nesmith looked cool and slick from his perch stage left — and the three, accompanied by an impressive nine-piece band of musicians, are doing a mighty fine job of keeping the spirit of the band alive without Davy Jones.

Opening promptly at 7:30 p.m., a massive video screen beaming images and quirky clips of the band got the vocal crowd riled up and anxious for the band to take the stage. A crystal clear montage of clips referencing the band's existence from sources as diverse as popular TV series Mad Men to Martin Scorsese's 1982 dark comedy After Hours flashed on the screen before the band launched into it's 1966 debut single, "Last Train to Clarksville" and were greeted with a spontaneous standing ovation.

Alternating between a series of video clips and interludes, the band and their three back-up singers alternated lead vocal duties as they sailed through a solid program of hits and deeper, more obscure album cuts. Those who came specifically to see and hear Mike Nesmith for the very first time in concert (myself included) were treated to a barrage of his spectacular compositions delivered in his still distinctive and smooth Southern twang. Hearing Nesmith sing and play his 12-string Gretsch guitar to gems like "You Told Me" and "The Kind of Girl I Could Love" was enough to make this more than a memorable night.

While Dolenz took lead vocals on the lion's share of the band's biggest hits ("I'm A Believer," "Words") his leadership and showmanship helped to designate him as the undisputed leader of the current incarnation of the band. Tork got his turn at the mic too; his "Auntie Grizelda" delivered the comedic relief he always brings to the stage and to the band.

In a segment that featured a series of selections from the band's 1968 cult classic film Head, each Monkee had his turn under the spotlight. In a tasteful nod to Jones, his dazzling dance sequence from the film to the tune of vaudevillian-flavored "Daddy's Song" beamed loudly and proudly in its entirety as to make his presence still felt and enjoyed. Nesmith's chugging freight train rocker "Circle Sky" from the film and its corresponding soundtrack album was the personal highlight of the evening for me. A long-standing favorite of many Monkees diehards, the opportunity to hear it performed live for the first time was alone worth the price of admission.

And, in another tasteful nod to Davy's absence, Dolenz plucked a fan out of the front row to come onstage to croon the band's most well-known smash and a Jones signature number, "Daydream Believer." The anxious audience member delivered the feel-good sing-along number with gusto and showed off some pretty fine vocal chops.

The nearly two-hour show was filled with plenty of highlights and laughs, and came to a close with a rousing encore: a spirited version of Nesmith's rallying cry "Listen to the Band" and the Carole King-penned observation of suburbia, "Pleasant Valley Sunday."

All three Monkees delivered spirited, heartfelt performances and were in fine vocal shape all night long. Despite the band's decision to forge ahead minus the irreplaceable Davy Jones, they more than went out of their way to treat fans to an unforgettable night of good memories and great tunes.

Setlist

Last Train to Clarksville
Papa Gene's Blues
Your Auntie Grizelda
The Kind of Girl I Could Love
She
Sweet Young Thing
I'm a Believer
(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone
You Told Me
Sunny Girlfriend
You Just May Be the One
Mary, Mary
The Girl I Knew Somewhere
Early Morning Blues and Greens
Randy Scouse Git
For Pete's Sake
No Time
Words
Tapioca Tundra
Goin' Down
Porpoise Song
Can You Dig It?
Circle Sky
As We Go Along
Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?
Daddy's Song (video)
Daydream Believer
What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round?
Encore:
Listen to the Band
Pleasant Valley Sunday

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