The Monkees were in their new, post-Davy Jones configuration at the Fox Theatre Friday night, with Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork, joined at last by Mike Nesmith, the seemingly reluctant Monkee.
Losing a front man as dynamic as Jones -- he died in 2012, at 66-- would seem to be a tough obstacle for the group to overcome.
But there’s an interesting thing about the Monkees’ catalog. There’s a lot of Mike Nesmith music in it that hasn’t been played live in several decades. Forty-some years later, it sounds wonderful. Hearing songs like “The Kind of Girl I Could Love,” “Papa Gene’s Blues,” “Sunny Girlfriend” and “The Girl I Knew Somewhere,” with Nesmith in strong voice was a treat, and a good reminder of his songwriting skills. No wonder the Monkees mutineered against their TV producer keepers.
Nesmith seemed to be having fun with the Monkees’ fizzier hits as well, charging into the muscular guitar intro to “Pleasant Valley Sunday” with a smile.
It’s a pleasure to hear Micky Dolenz, one of the best male pop singers of the ‘60s, hitting every note live, with incredible power and joy. “I’m a Believer,” “I’m Not Your (Steppin’ Stone),” “She,” “Last Train to Clarksville,” “Mary, Mary” -- so many of the Monkees’ hits featured his bright tenor, and it’s quite a feat to replicate vocals one did as a 22-year-old.
Of the original three, Peter Tork moves around and pulls pranks most like his young self, but his quiet musicianship is fun to watch as he jumps from instrument to instrument, especially when he pulls the banjo out. When he jumps out front to perform “Auntie Grizelda,” the years and cares the group has endured peel away, and he’s zany Peter again.
The group performs against an effective video display of their young selves bouncing around as the Monkees. In many cases they are singing the same song that the group is performing live. Later, as they played songs from “Head,” the visuals are wonderfully trippy.
Images of Jones flashed on the screen often, but not too often -- enough to feel right, and each appearance drew cheers.
Toward the end of the show, when the group launched into “Daydream Believer,” Jones’ signature song, Dolenz walked over and sang the first few choruses softly, in unison, with Tork. Then Nesmith sang the next few lines.
The group dynamic and their quiet emotion was answered by the audience, who stood and sang each chorus back to them, swaying and waving hands. They may have started as a group put together “not entirely of our volition,” as Tork joked at one point. But, once flickering images on a TV set, now as a live group the Monkees evince the rare gift of emotional connection.