Someday I expect that I’ll regret missing Bob Dylan’s performance at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Thursday night. Normally that would’ve been a must-see, much like the last time he came to town.
But it turned out that before Dylan’s concert was announced, I had already bought a ticket for another concert on the same night: The Monkees at the Chumash Casino Resort, part of their 45th anniversary tour featuring Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork. Original Monkee Michael Nesmith (the one with the hat) is not part of the tour.
Although both Dylan and The Monkees had their heyday in the 1960s, the contrast between them is striking. Consider that in the same year that Dylan was turning people on with “Visions of Johanna,” The Monkees were singing “Gonna Buy Me a Dog.” OK, in their defense, The Monkees were also singing “Last Train to Clarksville,” which has aged much better. But Dylan, not The Monkees, was “the voice of a generation,” writing an amazing collection of songs about war, injustice, politics and other topics that were — and still are — immensely influential on folk, folk rock and rock music.
But comparing Dylan and The Monkees is not really fair, considering that The Monkees were at their essence a group manufactured for a TV show in an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of The Beatles, offering a fun, zany and sanitized take on the emerging youth culture. And, anyway, The Monkees certainly were influential in their own way, in particular showing how television and music could be successfully tied together.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about The Monkees is that their music has held up so well. Of course, it helps that most of their songs were written by top songwriters such as Neil Diamond (“I’m a Believer”), Gerry Goffin and Carole King (“Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “Porpoise Song”), John Stewart from The Kingston Trio (“Daydream Believer”), Harry Nilsson (“Cuddly Toy,” “Daddy’s Song”), David Gates who co-founded Bread (“Saturday’s Child”), Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil (“Shades of Gray”), Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart (”(Theme From) The Monkees”, “Last Train to Clarksville”, “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”), and Santa Barbara’s Jeff Barry (“She Hangs Out”), who also produced much of their second album.
All of these were performed at the concert, with “I’m a Believer” reprised at the end.
A personal highlight of the concert was hearing all the music from The Monkees’ 1968 surreal film Head with scenes from the movie projected behind the stage. Tork joked that the movie clips would “be confusing to those of you haven’t seen the movie,” and also would “be confusing to those of you who have seen” it. But we get it — it was The Sixties, man!
Particularly cool was the psychedelic video of mermaids visiting the underwater Dolenz for “Porpoise Song,” a song that would not have been out of place on The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour soundtrack. The tuxedoed Jones also did a playful live dance accompanied by the video of his younger self during “Daddy’s Song.”
Also included on the Head portion of the concert were some of the best songs written by The Monkees themselves, namely Nesmith’s rocking “Circle Sky” and Tork’s “Can You Dig It?” with a video of a harem of belly dancers, plus Tork’s psych-pop nugget “Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?”
Another notable Monkees-penned tune on the program was Dolenz’s “Randy Scouse Git,” which he wrote shortly after the “British Royal Family” known as The Beatles threw them a party (which Dolenz joked he heard he had a good time at) when they visited England.
The Monkees are still charming and funny after all these years. For example, Jones said that Justin Bieber stole his haircut and Axl Rose stole his dance, or each trying to be the last to leave the stage at the end of the show.
While critics will never take them as seriously as someone like Dylan, their songs still delight after all these years. And, hey, sometimes you just want to monkey around anyway, right?
(Theme From) The Monkees
I’m a Believer
Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)
The Girl I Knew Somewhere
When Love Comes Knocking
Randy Scouse Git
Papa Gene’s Blues
I Wanna Be Free
That Was Then, This Is Now
I Don’t Think You Know Me
All of Your Toys
Hard to Believe
What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round?
She Hangs Out
Sometime in the Morning
Can You Dig It?
As We Go Along
Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?
For Pete’s Sake
Shades of Gray
It’s Nice to Be With You
Your Auntie Grizelda
Last Train to Clarksville
A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You
(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone
Listen to the Band
Pleasant Valley Sunday
I’m a Believer (Reprise)
— Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.