The last time the surviving Monkees came to Minnesota in 2012, they arrived just eight months past the death of one of their own, Davy Jones. This time, they rolled in less than a month after losing another beloved bandmate, Peter Tork.
With that kind of emotional backdrop, all the bittersweet nostalgia and youthful innocence that permeated Thursday night’s nearly sold-out concert by Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith at Mystic Lake Casino hit the right notes. Never mind that Dolenz and especially Nesmith didn’t always hit their notes, or that the two-hour performance sometimes dragged and occasionally derailed.
To their credit, the remaining duo didn’t officially bill their current tour as the Monkees, but rather “The Monkees Present: The Mike and Micky Show.” The trek had been booked months before Tork’s Feb. 21 death from cancer at age 77.
Another reason to applaud the remaining duo: They didn’t just play a breezy hits-filled set, but instead dug deep and challenged themselves and the audience. This is one Monkees tour that might have been better off in a small performance hall or even a supper club instead of a casino.
Dolenz and Nesmith predictably did their part to honor their late bandmates, too.
After the banjo-laced tune “You Told Me” early in the set, Dolenz mentioned Tork’s affinity for the rugged string instrument — which he honed while studying in Minnesota at Carleton College before heading off to Hollywood in time for his 1965 TV audition for “The Monkees.”
“Our dearly departed Pete was the first to bring [banjo] into the Monkees, and one of the first in all of pop and rock music,” Dolenz bragged.
Their sprawling nine-piece band then launched into “For Pete’s Sake” while photos of Tork scrolled across the video screens. Even better — one of the best moments of the night, in fact — the 15-minute intermission began with a recently filmed video of Tork performing the until-next-time-themed Mills Brothers tune “Till Then” while kicked back on a couch.
Near the end of the show, Jones also got his tribute. Dolenz delivered “Daydream Believer” while old footage of the band’s resident Brit rolled across the screen.
The Monkee most at the center of Thursday’s concert, however, was actually Nesmith, who seemed to be making up for lost time after turning down most of the quartet’s reunion outings prior to 2012.
Thursday’s set list was heavily spiked with songs ol’ Nez wrote in and out of the Monkees, from 1967’s “Sunny Girlfriend” to his solo epic “Joanne.” The set fittingly opened with his twangy nugget “Good Clean Fun,” in which he smirkingly sang, “I told you I’d come back, and here I am.”
At times, it was all too apparent Nesmith had spent decades off the road, though. He read lyrics off an iPad all night and botched the opening moments of a few songs. He and Dolenz shrugged off the mistakes, though, and showed chemistry in the recent “Me & Magdalena” — written by indie-rocker Ben Gibbard — and “Circle Sky,” pulled from the quartet’s infamously hippie-dippie 1968 movie “Head.”
“Anybody know what that movie’s about? Because I don’t,” Dolenz quipped before “The Porpoise Song.”
While Nesmith got to brag of writing most of his songs, Dolenz at least could lay claim to singing all of the night’s biggest hits, including the Carole King-penned “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and Neil Diamond’s “I’m a Believer” (saved for the encore finale). He sang those old rockers with decent gusto, too, also including “Last Train to Clarksville” and “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone.”
Without Jones and Tork, the canned comedic aspects of past Monkees tours was largely absent. Even with the tinge of sadness behind it, though, this wasn’t a heavy-hearted show by any means, either. Nobody would ever want to see that from the Monkees.