Review: In Clearwater, The Monkees’ Micky Dolenz remembers bandmates and takes to ‘Headquarters’

Another pleasant valley Sunday.

click to enlarge Micky Dolenz - Photo by Josh Bradley
Photo by Josh Bradley
Micky Dolenz
A little less than halfway through Micky Dolenz’s cover-to-cover performance of The Monkees’ groundbreaking 1967 album Headquarters, pianist Alex Jules launched into “Shades of Gray,” a track centered around how life was so much better and simpler as a child. While a bit odd that the original boy band already felt so old in their early-20s, the song gave the mostly jangly, upbeat Headquarters—the first album on which The Monkees were actually allowed to play instruments on—a solemn moment that made you pause and really think about life.

When the song began at the Bilheimer Capitol Theatre on Sunday night, it held the same purpose, but since this was Dolenz’s first show back in Clearwater—a celebration of his fallen bandmates—as the sole surviving Monkee, it held a deeper, darker meaning. And just when you thought that hearing the song would be the saddest part of the evening, its key was dropped from C to B flat.

Let’s be real here: Many of us had a lingering feeling that we were saying goodbye to Michael Nesmith in more ways than one during The Monkees’ farewell tour in 2021. His death that December, while heartbreaking, was not too much of a shock, considering recent health issues.

Micky still had it, though. He didn’t look ready to retire, and we basically knew he’d be back in town.

Just before 8 p.m. on Sunday night, Dolenz, sporting a black vest over a floppy, white button-down shirt, and his trademark medium-brimmed fedora, came in one beat late on “Last Train to Clarksville.” I don't know if it was the compact stage, or the fact that he turned 78 last month, but he has definitely slowed down. But by the time he was through with “Take a Giant Step” and the Nesmith-penned “Papa Gene’s Blues” (all three having appeared on The Monkees’ 1966 debut album), Micky was warmed up and ready for anything.

He started by not-too-specifically shouting out everyone originally involved with The Monkees franchise, from producers and directors of the TV show, to songwriters such as Carole King, Harry Nilsson, and Neil Diamond, just to jump into the latter’s “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You.”

“There were just so many people, and there were the four of us. Mike, David [Jones], and Peter [Tork], God love ‘em.” Dolenz recalled. “I’d like to think that we had something to do with it.”

Not that anyone doubted the cheeky Monkee, but he proved himself right the second he launched into “The Girl I Knew Somewhere,” followed by the seldom-performed “All of Your Toys.” Dolenz apparently decided to pair those two together because they were the first songs that the boys ever recorded with their own instruments, which lead him to introduce the Headquarters segment, the first album fully recorded with the Monkees' own instruments, and an early example of bands and artists telling the higher-ups to suck it.
click to enlarge Micky Dolenz - Photo by Josh Bradley
Photo by Josh Bradley
Micky Dolenz
“It was on the charts for a year, and went to number one, but got kicked out of the number one place by this obscure group with some album called ‘Sgt. Something,’” he joked. (And no, The Monkees never actually outsold The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined, dummy.)

It was a bit off-putting hearing Dolenz sing leads on Nesmith’s “You Told Me,” but he did it justice anyway, then moving into the sweet, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart-written “I’ll Spend My Life with You.”

While guitarist and backing vocalist Emeen Zarookian took on lead vocals for “Forget That Girl,” Micky was perched on an amp stage right next to Alex Jules, with whom he would share backing vocals. And as with “You Told Me,” it was low-key emotional to not hear Nesmith sing “You Just May Be the One.”

That isn’t to say that Dolenz didn’t do the bulk of the album’s leads justice, though. Other than “Forget That Girl,” Dolenz made sure to make everything he had a lead vocal on a bit more memorable. While he didn’t drape himself in a poncho, he still bangs on a timpani for “Randy Scouse Git,” and he laughed his way through “Mr. Webster.” “I always thought that would make a great movie,” he chuckled.

Following an intermission, the Mickala came back out and did “Porpoise Song (Theme from ‘Head’),” with only Jules’ piano at first, just to have drummer Rich Dart lead the whole band in following the first chorus. Also dusted off during the second set was The Birds, The Bees, and the Monkees album track “I’ll Be Back Up on My Feet,” and “Valleri,” which has mostly remained untouched following Davy Jones’ death.

During certain songs, Dolenz would show off unreleased, heavily watermarked clips of his fallen brothers just hanging out. And though many had been seen by the public, among the most poignant were a trio of five-or-so-minute tribute compilation videos, each one giving a nod to Davy Jones, Peter Tork, and Michael Nesmith, respectively.
click to enlarge Micky Dolenz - Photo by Josh Bradley
Photo by Josh Bradley
Micky Dolenz
Dolenz recalled how him and Davy had so much in common—including both being child actors—and how his 2012 passing was a shock. He also described Peter Tork—who died of cancer in 2019—as a “straaaange dude,” but incredibly intelligent, despite his character’s blockish demeanor on the TV show. “He was the only one on the show who actually had to play a character,” Dolenz explained.

Then, there was ol’ Papa Nez.

Dolenz didn’t have any beef with anyone in The Monkees, really. But Nesmith’s death hit him so hard, he still didn’t quite have the words, other than looking back on his last tour with him. “How many of you guys saw the last tour?” Dolenz asked, to which about half the crowd raised hands. “What a great trooper. He sure hung in there, didn’t he?”

He did. And let’s hope that Micky does the same.