The Mike & Micky Show REVIEW
The Mike & Micky Show Presents The Monkees, Auckland Town Hall, Sunday June 9
GARY STEEL made his pilgrimage to see the Mike & Micky show based on a lifelong fandom, but left with a sour taste in his mouth
Quite a few of my fellow baby boomer, music-obsessed friends from California are struggling to survive at the moment. Several of them have resorted to repeat pledge funds just to cover their rent. Last year, 86-year-old former Mothers of Invention keyboardist Don Preston was just weeks away from finding himself on the street when a kindly fan offered him a fairly priced rental. A good friend of mine worked for 15 years in a boring administration job just to be able to retire with good medical cover, but when he died after waiting for a few months in hospital for a new heart, his cover had run out and his house and massive record collection had to be sold to defray expenses.
As a low-income music journalist, I cadged a free ticket to the Mike and Micky show, but it still cost me six hours of driving time and petrol, and the food I had to buy while away from home. I had also spent more than two days writing up the short phone interview I had been granted with Nesmith for an article that I wasn’t paid for. If I could turn back time, I’d spend that money – and time is money – on those Californian friends who are struggling week by week rather than the indulgent frippery of a faux-Monkees revival.
I justified it on the basis that I’ve always loved The Monkees music – or at least, a good proportion of it – and since the early 1970s have had a huge amount of admiration bordering on reverence for Mike Nesmith, whose achievements in popular culture are – quite apart from his time in The Monkees – unique. Nesmith always came across as one of the most intelligent and perceptive fellows in what we can loosely describe as pop music, and he’s written many darn fine songs and darn fine lyrics.
So in a way, the Mike & Micky show was my personal homage to Nesmith.
I wish, however, that I’d left my fandom in a box and just got on with life and ignored this Mike & Micky show, because it’s put a sour taste in my mouth and reminded me that sometimes, your heroes let you down.
Well, the backing band cranked.
Unfortunately, Mike and Micky tanked.
The eight-piece band (including pedal steel and keyboards and two backing singers) was tightly and professionally arranged and really didn’t put a foot wrong. Their professionalism contrasted badly with the shocking amateurism of Micky Dolenz and (especially) Mike Nesmith, whose behaviour crossed the barrier between eccentric to downright offensive.
Nesmith’s attitude was glib and self-satisfied, and he constantly forgot or fluffed his lines despite having a pretend auto-cue in the form of an iPad on his music stand. ‘The Nes’ seemed to spend just about as much time off stage as on and regularly shuffled off, leaving many in the audience wondering what the heck was going on. It may have been part of a bungled routine, but Dolenz seemed genuinely at a loss several times when Nesmith hadn’t made it back to the stage in time for the between-song banter.
Speaking of which, what little interaction there was between the two seemed forced or unintelligible, and there was a physical barrier between the two in the shape of some sort of table that didn’t exactly make it seem like the two mates were on the same page. While Nesmith’s between-song dialogue was mostly mercifully brief it also left us scratching our heads. Micky made a much more enthusiastic and amenable MC, but there were no small insights and the song selection was such a misfire that he struggled to fill the silent space after the clapping stopped too quickly.
In one of his pre-tour interviews Nesmith said that he’d left the song selection up to Dolenz, but someone should have challenged the playlist and it should have been road-tested with a private audience before taking it on tour. Many of the songs in the first set (yes, there was a 15-minute intermission) were obscure for a reason and it felt like ages before we got to any of the hits.
While it’s probably commendable that Dolenz was keen to hit us with songs that he thought worthy of exposure, that’s clearly not what tonight’s audience had come to hear, and some of them were simply duds. It was ambitious to attempt ‘Birth Of An Accidental Hipster’ – a Noel Gallagher/Paul Weller composition from the 2016 Monkees album, Good Times – but its surreal mix of Syd Barrett-style psychedelia was too demanding for the Auckland Town Hall’s rather discombobulated acoustics. Although the sound tonight was relatively clear in technical terms, the great hall’s room correction technology made the whole performance sound rather odd, and it was especially hard at times to hear the two vocalists against the music.
We did eventually get to hear quite a few of The Monkees’ pop classics – although there were obvious omissions like ‘Words’ and ‘She’ – but by the time they rolled around much of the impetus had been lost and the audience never built a real head of steam.
When they returned after the intermission they played a short ‘acoustic’ set which hardly livened things up, and that’s when Nesmith fluffed it badly while attempting the great ‘Tapioca Tundra’.
It felt to me that Nesmith considered he was just along for the ride and that the normal prerequisites of a professional performance – like rehearsing material – weren’t necessary for an audience of adoring nostalgists. While Dolenz at least mostly had the words right his voice was less than convincing, with the exception being the forceful, shouted exclamations of his great self-written song, ‘Randy Scouse Git’.
I don’t want to sound rude or disrespectful, but neither Micky nor Mike had any discernible charisma. Nesmith’s presence was compromised by his weird behaviour and glibness (and absences) while Dolenz (often left to carry the show vocally) resembled the guy at the office party who starts performing a show that no one wants to see or hear.
Maybe Micky needs the retirement money and Mike came on board to add a bit of ballast to an ailing ship now that the other Monkees are gone. (Speaking of which, where were the tender tributes to Davy and Peter?) I can’t think of another viable reason for this ailing enterprise, because it didn’t work as a gig in any sense of the word.
Writers and visual artists are often at the top of their game in their 60s and 70s, but the performative arts are different. It’s a difficult subject to negotiate, and there are exceptions to the rule (Leonard Cohen in his 70s was magnificent on stage) but too many aging pop musicians are performing poorly and selling their audiences short in the process.
All I could think of while I was driving home was how many of my Los Angeles friends could do with a slice of Nesmith’s fortune now that rents have gone sky high. But then, for all I know Nesmith is a major philanthropist. I hope so. But I wish I hadn’t gone to the show.