Listen to the band! When the Monkees slayed Jacksonville’s Florida Theatre

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“But today there is no day or night, today there is no dark or light, today there is no black or white, only shades of gray:” Peter Tork, Davy Jones, and Micky Dolenz join forces for an emotion-laced rendition of the Barry Mann / Cynthia Weil “Headquarters” linchpin on June 6, 2011, at the Florida Theatre. Jacksonville was the Monkees’ fourth stop on the North American leg of their “An Evening with The Monkees: The 45th Anniversary Tour” and marked Jones’ final shows with the Pre-Fab Four before a severe heart attack eight months later. Photography by Jeremy Roberts

The Monkees dropped a dose of good clean fun for over two and a half hours on June 6, 2011, at the Florida Theatre in Jacksonville. Comprising Broadway-endorsing heartthrob Davy Jones on vocals, percussion, and acoustic guitar, scintillating multi-instrumentalist Peter Tork on lead electric guitar, bass, banjo, keyboards, and French horn, balls to the wall tune belter Micky Dolenz on drums, acoustic guitar, and co-lead vocals, in addition to an eight-piece backing ensemble mostly pulled from Jones’ solo band, the North Florida show was the fourth stop on the USA leg of the 36-date “An Evening with the Monkees—The 45th Anniversary Tour.”

The entertainers were previously onstage at the theatre assigned to the National Register of Historic Places list in 2001. Mere days before disembarking in Jacksonville, the band completed a two-week, 10-city trial run in the United Kingdom at notable venues such as Liverpool’s Echo Arena and London’s Royal Albert Hall. Being their first tour in 10 years, reviews were ecstatic with solid box office.

All of the band’s greatest hits were on display in Florida. “Last Train To Clarksville,” “I’m A Believer” [revived by Smash Mouth in the animated blockbuster Shrek], “Daydream Believer,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” and “Valleri” are sixties sunshine pop masterpieces. Sequenced by Jones, album cuts and lowly charting A-sides were even part of the setlist. Deep fans rejoiced at the decision to tackle the complete Head soundtrack for the first time in concert. In spite of the 1968 cult film being co-written by future As Good As It Gets Oscar winner Jack Nicholson, debunking the Monkees’ cooker-cutter image, confusing teenyboppers, and doing dismally at the box office, it is now an authority-snubbing cult classic. At 40 songs and a 20-minute intermission, there was something for everybody as evidenced by joyful interpretations of “What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round,” “Listen to the Band,” “Goin’ Down,” “For Pete’s Sake,” “Mary, Mary,” and “I Wanna Be Free.”

Michael Nesmith, known affectionately as Nez, characteristically sat out the 45th anniversary. Fifteen years previously he did temporarily rejoin for Justus, which as the title implies, was a 12-song album written, performed, and produced by the quartet without any outside interference. The result? Tepid sales. A March 1997 30th anniversary tour of the UK ensued unaccompanied by supporting musicians, but after select dates and some stinging press, Nesmith decided to hang up his Monkee shoes for nearly two decades until Jones’ shocking demise played a pivotal role in his change of heart. Unfortunately, the Monkees chose not to commemorate their 40th anniversary over internal squabbling. That and troubling rumors of Jones’ brother-in-law and personal manager Joseph Pacheco extracting cash payments from promoters in advance of Monkee concerts led to 10 additional “45th Anniversary” dates being scuttled. On July 23, 2011, at the Marcus Amphitheater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Jones entertained his last Monkee audience.

The group has always fought for respect ever since Nesmith proclaimed the band was frustrated that they were not permitted to play on their first two long players in a January 1967 interview with the Saturday Evening Post [in a couple of Nesmith-produced 1966 sessions, he finagled Tork on rhythm guitar]. That all changed with the arrival of Headquarters later that summer, as the band had wrestled control from bloviating record impresario Don Kirshner. They played and wrote the majority of the songs on Headquarters and continued to do so, albeit sporadically after the brilliant follow-up Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, and Jones Ltd., until they broke up in late 1970.

Critics used that revelation as further ammunition in their Monkee disdain, and the band is still not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Yet their influence is indisputable. They outsold both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in the same year that psychedelic game changers Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Their Satanic Majesties Request were unleashed.

The Monkees’ eponymous television show won two Emmys during its two-year NBC run. Their comedic, manic, non sequitur, improv humor was unheard of in the swingin’ sixties. They broke the fourth wall by speaking directly to the camera. And Nesmith planted the seeds for MTV’s formation when he dropped the “Rio” music video in 1977.

The Monkees were Moog synthesizer innovators, courtesy of Dolenz on “Daily Nightly,” Nesmith’s oblique account of the Sunset Strip hippie riots. Along with Rick Nelson and the Byrds, the band embraced and subsequently gave country music crossover appeal. Punk bands covered “[I’m Not Your] Steppin’ Stone” and “She.” Jimi Hendrix was spotted by Dolenz at the Monterey Pop Festival and given an opening slot touring with the Monkees until teenyboppers booed him off the stage one time too many.

Jones’ heart gave out eight months after the Florida Theatre, while Tork emerged victorious over a rare form of tongue cancer for a decade until succumbing to the disease in February 2019. Only Dolenz and Nesmith are still standing. A seven-date continuation of the acclaimed “The Monkees Present: The Mike Nesmith & Micky Dolenz Show” will tour Australia in June. Having faced sobering quadruple bypass heart surgery in June 2018 while on the road with Dolenz, not taking into account his longstanding mercurial streak, it is uncertain how much longer Nesmith will deliver jewels from the Monkees’ treasure chest onstage. See them while you can.

[Author’s Note: Elvis Presley was threatened with an unsigned warrant for arrest in 1956. Learn all about the police’s efforts to derail his titillating stage movements via “The Deep Heritage of Jacksonville’s Florida Theatre…And That Time Elvis Presley Could Only Move His Little Finger on ‘Hound Dog’”].

© Jeremy Roberts, 2011, 2019. All rights reserved. To touch base, email jeremylr@windstream.net and mention which story led you my way. I appreciate it sincerely.

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Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ someone fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: jeremylr@windstream.net

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