The agony and ecstasy of witnessing the remnants of the Monkees.
Everything about The Monkees show at the Auckland Town Hall on a recent Sunday evening was an agony of suffering. I don't think I've
ever witnessed anything so bad, so sad, so deathly. Gosh it was awful. You should have seen it.
They made great records and a happy TV show in their 60s pomp, and there were inevitable reunions over the years before and after two of them died. The two living, Micky Dolenz (74) and Mike Nesmith (77), shuffled on to the stage in Auckland, and gave every impression their mortal coil was about to shuffle off in the other direction. It was shocking and momentous. It was two hours of horror.
Correction: two hours and five minutes. The show began at 8 sharp, and ended at 10.05pm. There was also an intermission. The audience wandered around the lobby for 15 minutes and sucked on Kapiti ice creams bought at the Town Hall bar. I wandered around sucking on a Kapiti ice cream. All of us elderly, all of us wandering in circles with ice creams in our old, dry paws, come to see an act from golden childhood – we were all like Bette Davis in the famous last scene from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, when the poor, tragic hag dances on the beach at Malibu with an ice cream in each hand, reliving her distant youth.
Dolenz arrived onstage from the right, Nesmith from the left. They both wore black. They both approached with cautious little steps, their feet feeling out the ground. They both plucked at guitars, now and then, as little as possible, without enthusiasm, and they both seemed totally lost. You could see the questions floating in thought-bubbles above their heads. First: "Where am I?" Then: "Who am I?" Also: "What flavour are the ice creams?"
Both took absences of leave from the stage. Just walked off, and disappeared for a while. To do what? To sit, and wonder why? To sleep, perchance to dream? To eat deep from the fridge of Kapiti ice creams, the flavours ranging from boysenberry to white chocolate? Nesmith took the most frequent and longest absences. Anxiety began to set in that he might not return. The audience felt it; Dolenz felt it. "Earth to Michael," he appealed, alone onstage. "Earth to Nes." Nes eventually took his own sweet time to pad back on to stage with those cautious little steps.
And then there was the time he forgot the lyrics. Actually that was the whole show. Nesmith had to read lyrics to the Monkees' timeless song by looking at an iPad fixed to the mic stand – but it stopped working during one number and Nesmith yelped and yodelled sounds without language until a tec came on and fixed the goddamned thing.
As for Dolenz, he was animated, at ease, gave it his best shot. It wasn't a very good shot. He looked as though he were swallowing his dentures. Dolenz sang lead on a lot of The Monkees best hits – he was perfect on the satirical Pleasant Valley Sunday, and (I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone, later covered by the Sex Pistols – and yet he was never the frontman or star. That was the adorable and romantic Davy Jones, who died in 2012. I've read that at a show not long afterwards, Dolenz paid Jones a moving tribute. It wasn't quite like that in Auckland. We heard about him once. "David," said Dolenz, mentioning his name in passing.
But he said nice things about Peter Tork, who died in February, and there was dancing in the aisles at the encore. The band was good. Hits like Mary Mary sounded good. It wasn't all terrible. It was only terrible for most of the time and it gave the show its dark power. It was in the long silences in the audience and onstage between songs. It was in the exits and reluctant entrances, Dolenz and Nesmith as those sad clowns trapped in existential torment, Vladimir and Estragon from Waiting for Godot.
What were they waiting for, exactly? If the audience were Baby Jane, the gaga character played by Bette Davis, then the last of The Monkees were both playing Jane's sister Blanche in the final scene of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane – a crone in bright sunshine, washed up on a beach, dying in public. It was gothic and haunting. It was one hell of a show; it was Hell.