Chastain Park in Atlanta is a perfect venue to see any concert, and I’ve never had a bad experience there. Of course, the concert experience is almost unrecognizable from my early years. On the positive side, it’s a scene that engenders no hesitation whatsoever about allowing children to participate. On the negative side, it’s become completely sanitized. Clothing is casual without being at all transgressive. Concessions are outrageously expensive. It’s a serious hike up to the one small area where smoking – of cigarettes – is still allowed. Next they’ll ban drinking. People in line were being told that their tables and lawn chairs didn’t meet the new measurement rules…
But live music is live music and it was a hot summer night in Atlanta. The small outdoor arena swarmed with fireflies, and the mood was hopeful. As you might expect, the Monkees drew an audience of young and old alike, but heavy on fairly well-preserved couples in their 40′s to 60′s. We stood in line with a dreamy-eyed woman in her early 40′s, escorting her two young daughters. Right next to us was a Garcia-looking dad with a Wiccan-looking wife, who had brought their enthusiastic daughter, a rare happy Goth. To one side, a small group of middle-aged women dressed young danced in moves reminiscent of the early 60′s.
At one point, John and I were doing the Twist. It wasn’t John Travolta and Uma Thurman, but it wasn’t bad (grin).
I wondered why only three of the Monkees were touring – what happened to the fourth? No need, with all that moolah from his mom’s invention of Liquid Paper? Were they going to be able to this pull it off? They had to be in their mid-sixties, and they hadn’t toured in at least a decade. I hadn’t realized that this was the first date of the tour, and I suspected that it was probably going to take them a few concerts to get back into the swing. Still – I love the Monkees, and they didn’t have to do much to meet my expectation bar.
I just wanted to get a good look at them, and hear my favorite songs: “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone), “She,” “Listen to the Band,” “Last Train to Clarksville,” “I’m a Believer,” “Valleri,” “Words,” “You Just May Be the One,” and “Daydream Believer.” I was also hoping they would still have that goofy feel. Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork each have characteristics that I enjoy, and even without Michael Nesmith rounding out the resonant quaternary, I was hoping that it would be campy and light. The trinity, like all trinities, was unstable, but they could have compensated with some better comedy. The things they did – such as the “intervention” when Micky wouldn’t stop playing the drums – weren’t in that off-hand style that made them adorable. It’s unlikely that it was a mistake when they said “hello” to Detroit instead of Atlanta, but it went flat. Things that might seem cute and endearing when you’re young end up sounding a bit odd later. I kept thinking of that somewhat ‘off’ optimism that one sees in people like William Shatner or Ringo Starr. It didn’t help that Davy Jones is starting to look a little like Tom Jones. There was a kind of sad dreariness to it, but that’s all superficial. I was there for the happy feeling that their music gives me.
This was Ben’s first concert, and he wasn’t pleased when the concert didn’t start at 8 as advertised, but I explained that you just never know with concerts…
A big screen was up the whole time showing bits of the show, and various other video. At first I felt really happy to see these clips. At first. Then I started noticing things. There were more issues about multitudes of girls, and the evident difficulty of choosing among them, than in “Fellini’s 8-1/2.” Girls mooning, girls chasing them, girls dancing for them (even what looked like an actual harem), girls with animated shiny stars in their eyes. Even the actress that played Cat Woman on “Batman” was there! A paternalistic idealization and objectification of women, ran alongside with an undercurrent of resentment. Well, I suppose that went with the time; the show aired from 1966 to 1968. I was only a little kid and must just have seen them in reruns. I also hadn’t remembered the incorporation of advertising into the show itself. I do prefer the Monkees to that horrible Cool Aid pitcher monster, and Kellogg’s cereals must have been a better choice than some others, but it was odd.
“Valleri” was perfect, and it got the best response from the audience, too.
They used “Listen to the Band” to introduce everyone that was playing for them, and that was well-done too.
There were a couple of good songs that I hadn’t known before, and there was a special treat. I didn’t know that “Different Drum” was written by Mike Nesmith for Linda Ronstadt! I wish that I had caught the name of the woman who sang it at the concert. She was fantastic!!! Older, heavy-built, with a perfect delivery that somehow made more sense coming from an older, experienced woman. She only sang the one song, but I wished she would have done more. Please comment with her name if you have it!
Everyone knows that the Monkees were a made-up band, but they did sing some great songs. What I didn’t know was that they had some really bad songs, too. They played too many of them. Things turned bad after the intermission, and there was a run of songs that were truly tedious.
I kept waiting for Micky to remember how to use a microphone. He has a lot of style, but there is wide variation in his voice. When he was belting things out, he held the mike too close, and when he went softer, he held it too far away. Whoever was mixing needs to be told to let the voices blend more – and take advantage of the harmonies. None of these are solo singers – they work better together. The voice mikes were drowning out the band, and it was increasingly unpleasant on the sinuses. People were holding their foreheads like Felix Unger. Not since I heard Flock of Seagulls at a beach concert had I heard such bad mixing. If they would have just fixed that, we would have waited for the last part of the set.
Ben said he couldn’t take it any more, and John and I had to agree. So I don’t know if they performed the songs I was really longing to hear: “(I’m Not Your) Not Your Steppin’ Stone,” “She” and “Last Train to Clarksville.” I didn’t know if they were even going to sing them, and it wasn’t much fun anymore.
So I picked up my tee-shirt, and followed my menfolk to the car. Maybe I’ll go ahead and pick up a copy of the movie Head. I never saw it, and I’ll bet it would seem even more surreal now. Jack Nicholson? Terri Garr?
(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone
Last Train to Clarksville