For all you “real” connoisseurs of pop culture who didn’t attend the recent Monkees reunion concert at the Chumash Casino, you should be ashamed of yourselves. What you missed was the most complicated confluence of American entertainment moral issues presented since the big party at Michael Jackson’s house during his trial. Sociological treatise topics were suggested right and left: the long range consumerist tendencies of baby boomers, the boy band phenomena in longitudinal modes, and, most baffling of all, the surprising birth of real artists that took place in the middle of some fairly cynical media manipulation.
Don’t laugh, because the nucleus of this surprisingly focused 34-song concert was a seven song cycle kicked off by music Van Morrison wrote for the boys back in the day. On “For Pete’s Sake,” a number that closed out many a Monkees episode, Peter Tork suggested that the song had probably soaked down into the audience’s DNA. And hearing it played out was a lot like discovering a lost 1960s treasure. But what came next was astounding: six songs from the movie Head, a failed psychedelic experiment that director Bob (Five Easy Pieces) Rafelson made at the end of the band’s artificially created pop band life. The film was too crazy for the fans, and too fannish for the crazies back then, but nowadays indie kids appreciate Head free from 1960s snobberies. And on Thursday Tork, Davey Jones, and Miky Dolenz played the songs with something that looked a hell of a lot like real conviction.
They were once, as Tork also observed, “a band that played covers of our own songs.” At times last week’s concert felt like that, too, though a lot of the show was very moving — especially the cream of these DNA-soaking confections, written by the likes of Boyce and Hart, Carole King, and the great Harry Nilsson. “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “I’m a Believer,” “She Hangs Out,” “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone,” and the Head masterpieces like “Dig It” and “Father Song” didn’t turn me into what you might call a believer. But I was too busy singing along to put anybody down.