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The Monkees at Hammersmith Apollo, review: ‘full of heart’

Originally published by the Daily Telegraph.

Moments before The Monkees’ Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz walked on to the stage, a 2011 soundbite taken from comedian Whoopi Goldberg’s panel show The View was played. “Before there was Bieber, there were The Monkees, baby.”

Goldberg’s right. Half a century ago, The Monkees began their career as a made-for-TV boy band in the States to rival The Beatles. Their scripted narrative soon became a reality, and in 1967 they outsold both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined. The manufactured foursome paved the way for every boy band that followed, from the Bay City Rollers all the way to One Direction, who reinterpreted the Monkees’ wholesome hijinks for the iPhone generation.

Now performing as a duo (backed by a five-piece touring band including Dolenz’s sister, Coco), The Monkees’ first UK concert in four years found them delving deep into their catalogue against a backdrop of footage from their glory days. If this new show didn’t carry the same poignancy as 2012’s reunion tour (sole British member Davy Jones had died earlier that year), it was nevertheless full of heart despite Mike Nesmith’s decision to stop touring.

Dolenz has always been the band’s strongest vocalist, but when he ebbs, Tork is on hand with some well-timed comedy. Shortly after his rousing performance of Last Train to Clarksville, he attempts a spinning trick with his microphone stand, only to miss the trick and rebound to the side of the stage. True to form, Tork responds like a circus clown, mimicking the action of crying, but the price to pay for lightheartedness was a set that ran the gamut of quality.

Mary Mary saw the band lock tightly into its groove, only to have it unraveled by a ramshackle acoustic segment that had one Carole King cover too many. Most surprising was an outing of Porpoise Song, from the band’s 1968 surrealist film (and soundtrack) Head, which was an attempt to kill their pristine image. The film was a flop but here, in the same week that the UK launched its first Official Progressive Albums Chart, the theme’s psychedelic textures now felt particularly potent.

I’m A Believer received the strongest crowd reaction. To this day it remains a pop rock standard, and is strong enough evidence to suggest that the band deserve a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “Remember, I sang this long before Shrek,” Dolenz joked. He shouldn’t worry – we remember.

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