The Monkees at Arena Theatre, 8/1/2013
Musically speaking, the Monkees are timeless. There's something about the sound of their big pop hits that is like an auditory time machine that takes you back to the first time you heard it. True, that time may have been sitting on the couch back when their show first hit the airwaves in 1966, being part of the generation that rediscovered them thanks to MTV and Nick at Nite, or having a rad older person clue you in on where that song in Shrek you like really came from, but the songs take you back.
So the group could have fully embraced the nostalgia angle and phoned Thursday's show. No one would have blamed them -- the median age of the group is 70, after all. If Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Michael Nesmith had decided to hit the road and just sing the hits, crowds still would have been happy.
But they don't. They go out. They play their instruments. They put on a show.
It's not about just blind nostalgia. It's about enjoying the music in the present.
It's a shame that in the grand scheme of things the Monkees are better-known for their history than for their music. Songs like "Daydream Believer" and "Last Train to Clarksville" will always be around, but so will that bit from The Simpsons where someone taunts Marge because the Monkees didn't play their own songs.
It's a shame, because they have a really strong catalog, and the trio, along with their backing band, rip through it effortlessly. From the pop classics ("I'm a Believer") and the country-rock of "What Am I Doing Hangin' Round?" to the psychedelic "Porpoise Song" and rockers like "Circle Sky," they manage to pull it all off and make it look easy in the process. Nesmith can still make a guitar sound great, Dolenz has a goofy charm that shines through no matter what he's playing, and Tork plays a mean banjo.
They played a version of "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" that was more rocking than anything I've seen live this year, most of those performances from bands whose members weren't even alive when the song was first released as a single.
True, the trio is older, but Dolenz and Tork remain performers at heart. They're funny without being kitschy, silly without being a joke. Nesmith comes off somewhat as serious musician first, performer second, but the man wrote "Mary, Mary," so he's allowed to be proud of his talents.