Even after the death of Davy Jones last year, the remaining members of The Monkees know what it takes to entertain: giving the people what they want, but also being smart enough to intuit what they really do want. Armed with that understanding, they embarked on a triumphant tour last year, and returned for a second run that brought them to the Ryman last Wednesday night.
A video montage of clips from the original TV show and later appearances through the years (including an '80s MTV logo — a reminder of how a second generation was introduced to the group) segued into an opening set pulled from the band's first two albums. From the opening notes of their first hit, "Last Train to Clarksville," it was evident that The Monkees were indeed a band. Though the surviving trio was backed by a seven-piece outfit (that included Michael Nesmith's son Christian, Mickey Dolenz's sister Coco and two Nashville residents, Wayne Avers and John Billings), "backed" was the operative word. The main Monkees were front and center, the leaders and focus of the night's music. The set included more early hits, like "I'm a Believer" and "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone," as well as slightly more obscure fan favorites like "Papa Gene's Blues," "Your Auntie Grizelda" and a crowd-raising rendition of "She."
After their crowd-pleasing appetizer, The Monkees got down to real business in an astounding second set that focused on their 1967 landmark album Headquarters, playing seven of the album's 14 tracks. Nesmith's legacy as a songwriter was the primary focus for the set as the band roared through five of his compositions in a row, including "You Told Me," "You Just May Be the One" and "Sunny Girlfriend," one of the greatest "shoulda been" hits in the history of pop music. Nesmith also included the non-Headquarters tracks "Mary, Mary" and "The Girl I Knew Somewhere."
The spotlight swung back to the other Monkees as Peter Tork delivered a moving rendition of the moody rocker "Early Morning Blues and Greens," a song originally given voice by the departed Jones. Dolenz then donned his trademark flowery, fringy poncho from the TV show to pound on the tympani as he led the band through his oddball classic "Randy Scouse Git," and Tork took center-stage for his classic anthem of flower-power optimism, "For Pete's Sake," which led into the rowdy rocker "No Time." The rest of the show was filled with big hits and lesser-known treasures from the group's later LPs, including "Words," "Daily Nightly," "Tapioca Tundra" and Dolenz's psychedelic scat "Goin' Down."
But perhaps the greatest set piece was the six-song condensation of the group's 1968 feature film Head. The set included all six of the original songs from the film's soundtrack, including the rousing "Circle Sky" and "Do I Have to Do It All Over Again," along with spot-on performances by Dolenz on the sublime "Porpoise Song" and "As We Go Along." Footage from the songs' appearances in the film provided the backdrop without distracting from the live performances. To close the set, the remaining Monkees gave it over to Davy Jones, showing the complete movie clip of his brilliant rendition of the Harry Nilsson-written "Daddy's Song." It was a tribute that made the case for the talent, charm and show-biz acumen of the missing Monkee far better than any spoken eulogy could have. The tribute continued by giving the performance of Jones' signature hit "Daydream Believer" to the audience. Led by a woman pulled from the crowd, it was a worthy tribute and a poignant moment.
Bringing the show to a close with two classic Nesmith songs ("What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round" and "Listen to the Band") and one of their great all-time garage rockers, "Pleasant Valley Sunday," The Monkees provided a powerful reminder of their success as a rare instance when varied and disparate threads of pop culture old and new came together to create something truly special. For a short period in the mid-'60s, The Monkees were four guys with the greatest job in the world. Needless to say, 45 years later, they've still got it pretty good and haven't forgotten how to share that joy with their fans.
Our plan to top off a sweltering summer weekend with some tasty heavy psych nuggets was going well until the bottom fell out a block from Belmont-neighboring house-show spot The Other Basement Saturday night. We made a grumbling dash through the rain to the door, thankful for our trusty umbrella. Inside, we found genial hosts and a cozy, graffiti-adorned pad whose cleanliness was a cut above many basement spaces we've rocked in our time. In the corner adjacent to the drum riser, the tiny PA bumped hip-hop from its cinder-block shelf, David Shamban busied himself setting up the overhead projector for the Dig Deep light show, and a couple dozen fresh-faced youngsters nursed tallboys while the air thickened up from body heat.
We've had the ladies of Churchyard on our to-see list since we heard their three-track debut in June, and our first meeting didn't disappoint. Wringing out dripping hair, they kicked off the set with a well-timed song about pumping gas in the rain, with frontwomen Alice Buchanan and Meghan D'Amico locking together nostalgia-laced guitar-monies, propelled along by Rachel Warrick and Rebecca Cholewa in the rhythm section. Building on a base of spare and wistful pop, the quartet escalated into a wash of growling, dark and surf-infused rock, eventually leading to an impromptu mosh pit. Churchyard covered Bikini Kill's "Rebel Girl" with as much intensity and more technical proficiency than the original, pointing up their own skill as well as how the song helped level the alt-rock playing field by never sounding "girly" to begin with. There's much in their catalog that feels familiar, but with surprises around every corner, we're stoked to have them on the radar.
Soon it was time to put in the earplugs and warm up our head-banging muscles for Electric Citizen. The Cincinnati quartet delivered the promised "witchy '70s metal" with just the right kind of polish. The tones and rhythms might have been copped from Black Sabbath's Master of Reality, but there was more fury and fuzz-covered joy in this riffage than the last half-dozen Sabbath reunions put together. Singer Laura Dolan's words were lost in the wash of guitar, bass and drums — surprisingly well balanced, considering how large the amps were and how small the room was — but her commanding presence and delivery compensated easily. Awash in Dig Deep's liquid glow, guitar man Ross Dolan kept the reins on his impressive chops: Always finding the right lick, he never stepped so far out in front as to diminish the group's full-bodied impact. Hair flipped, invisible oranges were hoisted, and we were highly impressed as we retreated for a breath of fresh air.
Around 12:30 a.m., a pulsing drone alerted us that space ambassadors Ttotals (the first T is silent) were taking off, so we hustled back inside. Guitarist Brian Miles and one-man rhythm section Marty Linville refer to their thick and trance-inducing tunes as "outer blues." As rock historian Byron Coley noted in his recent review of their 7-inch "Spectrums of Light" for the U.K. pub The Wire, this label is a little misleading, but it doesn't matter much. The duo's ability to turn any kind of noise into a syrupy drone is intriguing on its own, but it becomes a memorable spectacle when used as the backbone for their ominous Doors-meets-Spacemen 3 explorations. Several new songs were on tap, whose hazy memories will tide us over until their next appearance.
The crowd had thinned a little by the end, but The Other Basement was at capacity for most of the evening, which we took as a favorable sign for continued diversity in the scene. We're looking forward to seeing different audiences merge together a little more, though — that's when ideas will start to fuse and turn into something new. Satisfied and dripping with sweat, we made our way to the Spin-mobile and peaced out.
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