On Friday, Sept. 16, four days after the 50th anniversary of the Monkees’ groundbreaking, Emmy-winning television show, on/off band member Mike Nesmith joined his fellow Monkee men Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork for what he said would his last-ever Monkees concert — fittingly in Hollywood, where it all began for the TV band, at the 2,700 seat Pantages Theatre, just down the street from the Monkees’ Hollywood Blvd. Walk of Fame star.
Dolenz and Tork have been on tour since June promoting their first album in 20 years, Good Times!, which features a mix of unearthed, unheard vintage recordings and new tracks written by Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, Oasis’s Noel Gallagher, the Jam’s Paul Weller, XTC’s Andy Partridge, Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, and Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger. (The album debuted at #14 on the Billboard 200 and #1 on the Billboard Vinyl Albums chart, making it their highest-charting U.S. release since 1967.) However, Nesmith has sat out most of the Good Times! tour dates. He did appear in New York via Skype for one song, and once in person for a four-song encore in Monterey, Calif.; then, the night before their swan-song L.A. concert, he sat in for Tork at a show in Mesa, Ariz., while Tork attended to a family emergency. But the Pantages date would be the official final time that all three surviving Monkees would play a full show together.
Wearing a white dinner jacket (but no signature woolly hat) and strumming his beloved Gretsch guitar, on Friday night the Nez joined the Monkees for 19 of their setlist’s 32 songs, singing lead on the rarely played classics “Papa Gene’s Blues,” “The Girl I Knew Somewhere,” “What Am I Doing Hanging ‘Round,” “Sometime in the Morning,” “Listen to the Band,” “Circle Sky,” “Sunny Girlfriend,” “You Just May Be the One,” and “You Told Me.” He also sang on a pair of Good Times! tunes — the lovely, lilting, Gibbard-penned “Me and Magdalena” (a harmonic duet with Dolenz) and groovy, psych-rockin’ Gallagher/Weller composition “Birth of an Accidental Hipster” — which were the two best-received new songs of the night.
A poignant full-circle moment came when Nesmith performed a stripped-down solo version of “Tapioca Tundra,” which he told the Pantages audience he wrote almost 50 years ago on the night of the Monkees’ first concert, which took place in Hawaii. “It was the first time we’d ever played together as a band in front of a concert audience like that. When we got out onstage, the crowd roared their approval, and there was something different about what happened that night, in my mind,” he reminisced. “We talked about it when we got offstage, and decided that there was another presence up there with us… So I went [back to the hotel] that night, and I wrote a song about it.”
The night offered a few other emotional moments, particularly when the group paid tribute to their late bandmate Davy Jones (who passed away in 2012) with their melancholy ballad “Shades of Grey,” featuring a recording of Jones’s sweet circa-’67 lead vocals. But Friday was a mostly cheerful affair. When the group closed the show with the pre-encore Jones number “Daydream Believer,” it quickly turned into a buoyant audience singalong.
Last month, Nesmith — who has only sporadically participated in the Monkees reunions that have taken place since the mid-’80s — took to Facebook to announce his decision to play one last Monkees concert. “I expect it will be fun, and a great way for me to sign out. I see the specter of the multiple Sinatra retirement/farewells — and this seems like the perfect time for me to step off, sit down and shut up,” he wrote. “What a long strange trip it’s been said TGD [the Grateful Dead] — and it looks like I’ve made it to the end.”