2011 Concert Season: The Monkees 45th Anniversary Tour

An Evening with The Monkees: The 45th Anniversary Tour at Stage AE
Pittsburgh, PA – June 22, 2011

Hey hey, they’re The Monkees and they came to my town this summer!

The Monkees are celebrating their 45th anniversary this year by touring the United Kingdom and North America for the first time in ten years.  As soon as I heard Pittsburgh was a stop on the reunion tour, I immediately made plans to go.  It’s been ten years since the first time I saw Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork perform together at the South Park Fairgrounds during their Monkeemania Tour.  Unfortunately, I’ve never gotten the chance to see Mike Nesmith, since the last time he reunited with the other Monkees was for a string of UK tour dates in 1997.

Not only did Davy, Micky and Peter deliver a fantastic and entertaining show, but I ended up standing so close to the stage I could have reached out and pulled Davy into our little mosh pit of fan girls.  Don’t worry, I refrained!

When The Monkees put together the 37-song set list for their tour (no that’s not a typo), they catered to their fans.  From what I’ve read and heard, the majority of fans were thrilled about the mixture of classic hits and deep cuts in the set list.  I know I was – we heard the best of both worlds.  Some uninformed critics may not speak very highly of these deep cuts, but I don’t think you can scoff at the song-writing talents of giants such as Neil Diamond, Carole King/Gerry Goffin, Neil Sedaka, Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart… or Mike Nesmith.

Along with the expected classics such as “I’m a Believer,” “Last Train to Clarksville” and my favorite, “Pleasant Valley Sunday,”  The Monkees treated us to some awesome deep cuts – delving into the soundtrack from their 1968 cult classic film Head (“The Porpoise Song,” “As We Go Along”) , some Nesmith-penned tunes (“Listen to the Band,” “Mary, Mary”) and tracks from their 1967l album Headquarters where they asserted greater creative control in the studio (“All of Your Toys,” “Shades of Gray”).

It was great to hear Micky’s powerful pipes still in full force, belting out “Randy Scouse Git” and scatting on “Goin’ Down.”  I honestly think he has one of the best and most underrated voices  in pop music.  I loved watching Peter bounce back and forth between the guitar, keyboard, french horn and banjo – what an amazing musician!  Davy exuded so much energy on stage and still flashed those stars in his eyes as he crooned those love songs.  I remembered much I was enamored with him!

I feel like that many fans of The Monkees have to resort to “rescue criticism” when discussing the band’s significance in popular music.  There are a lot of preconceived notions about the band because of their origins and their television show.  However, when you actually study their careers, musical backgrounds and their groundbreaking accomplishments on their television show and albums, you can hardly dismiss their influence on pop culture and popular music.   I especially have a problem with the “Monkees didn’t play their own instruments” nonsense.  It’s a fact that they did.  Also, many groups and producers back in the 1960s used and shared session musicians like the famed Wrecking Crew  to record albums, The Monkees were no different than The Beach Boys or The Mamas and the Papas, for example.

Between Mike’s song-writing, Peter’s musicianship, Micky’s rock star vocals and Davy’s charisma, you have a legitimate band who held their own against other contemporary pop groups of their day.   Although we were missing Nez that evening, the three Monkees celebrated the youthfulness and joy of their music on that stage.

Setlist

  1. I’m a Believer
  2. Mary, Mary
  3. Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)
  4. The Girl I Knew Somewhere
  5. When Love Comes Knockin’ (At Your Door)
  6. Randy Scouse Git
  7. Valleri
  8. Papa Gene’s Blues
  9. Saturday’s Child
  10. I Wanna be Free
  11. That Was Then, This is Now
  12. I Don’t Think You Know Me
  13. All of Your Toys
  14. What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round?
  15.  She Hangs Out
  16. Sometime in the Morning
  17. Someday Man
  18. Can You Dig It?
  19.  As We Go Along
  20. Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again?
  21.  The Porpoise Song
  22. Daddy’s Song
  23. For Pete’s Sake
  24. Cuddly Toy
  25. Words
  26. She
  27. Shades of Gray
  28. Goin’ Down
  29. It’s Nice To Be With You
  30. Your Auntie Grizelda
  31. Last Train to Clarksville
  32. A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You
  33.  (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone
  34. Daydream Believer
    Encore
  35. Listen to the Band
  36. Pleasant Valley Sunday
  37. I’m a Believer (Reprise)

Videos

Kick ass medley from Head featuring “Can You Dig It,” “As We Go Along,” “Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again,” “Porpoise Song” and “Daddy’s Song.”

Here’s a YouTube video featuring Micky nailing “Goin’ Down.”

Micky busted out the timpani on “Randy Scouse Git.”

I waited until the encore for my favorite song: “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”

We can’t forget “Last Train to Clarksville.”

Headquarters was well represented with “All of Your Toys” and “Shades of Gray.”

Summer Sleuthing

Looking back, the last two months have been an exceptionally busy yet fruitful time for me as a freelance writer.  Besides my usual local government and school board meetings, I worked on more features than I have in the past.  I sometimes struggle with what I perceive as living a double life; it’s stressful to juggle a freelance writing career along with a full time job.  Yet I somehow managed to succeed as a history detective.

I seem to have fallen into a military history niche, with articles about two renowned Ligonier Valley veterans: Kenneth R. Craig, the only Ligonier native to reach the high rank of brigadier general, and John C. Ewing, one of two Medal of Honor recipients from the Ligonier Valley, who was commended for capturing a Confederate flag in an assault on Petersburg, VA at the end of the Civil War.  In addition, I  wrote an article on Valley Veterans Park and the Blue Star Memorial Marker in Ligonier Borough, which won a National Garden Clubs, Inc. state award this past spring.

These articles were challenges for several reasons (some self-inflicted).  Not only did I have to learn about military hierarchy and jargon, but I encountered frustrating discrepancies in military records (particularly with dates).  At one point, I even found myself literally yelling at information that didn’t make sense.  However, I was able to resolve some of my quandaries by pressing on in my research.   Despite the pressure as I put on myself to write accurate and compelling articles, I really enjoyed my investigations.  I spoke with these soldiers’ living relatives and descendants (some of whom I already knew – small world!) and consulted various state and local agencies and research sources.   I even took a spontaneous trip to the Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg to find information on John C. Ewing.  I knew it would be a long shot to find details about his heroic deed, but sometimes the point isn’t the end result, but the journey along the way.

One feature near and dear to my heart was a summary of the early history of the Ligonier Valley Library.  While the current building celebrates its 65th anniversary this year, a library presence in Ligonier stretches back to the late 19th century.  The library, as it’s incorporated today, actually began as a Woman’s Club reading circle in 1930.  The library – especially the Pennsylvania Room – has been an important refuge and resource for me.

Another really fun article was a feature on a 90-year old zinc public drinking fountain near the bandstand on the Ligonier Diamond.  The Village of Babylon, New York borrowed the Ligonier fountain – an exact match to their own drinking fountain removed and lost in 1917 – in order to make a replica of their landmark.  The replica was unveiled at a dedication ceremony on Memorial Day.

In addition, I covered a children’s bike rally sponsored by the Ligonier Valley Recreation Board, who is trying to promote Ligonier as a bike friendly community and expand amenities in both the township and borough with the Ligonier Valley Trail.  Yet another featured celebrated the 10th anniversary of St. Clair Grove – a revitalized public commons area in Ligonier Borough named after the Revolutionary War general Arthur St. Clair.

I have to give a shout out to many very kind people who helped me along the way: Shirley Iscrupe at the Ligonier Valley Library, Helen and Skeeter Craig, Lisa Hayes at the Westmoreland County Historical Society, Carla Baldwin, Brad Craig, Richard Saylor at the PA State Archives, Michael Kraus at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Military Museum, Tracy Chernault at the Petersburg National Battlefield, Paul Fry, Janet Hudson at the Ligonier Valley Library, Vernie West, Drew Banas, Patti Campbell, Liane Uliano-Smith, Angela McDonnell, Angela Raitano, Rose Stepnick and Elizabeth McCall.

Also, thank you to everyone who complimented my articles.  It means a lot to me when my writing really makes an impact.

Now that these files are closed, I’ve got some open cases ready to be pursued, so here’s hoping my sleuthing will continue successfully the rest of the summer.  I could use a Watson… anybody interested?!

2011 Concert Season: Chicago

Chicago at Trib Total Media Amphitheater in Station Square
Pittsburgh, PA – May 24, 2011

I have really slacked off on my concert posts! Here’s hoping I can catch up and get back into the swing of things…

Watching the dark clouds loom over Pittsburgh from my office windows, I was pretty nervous about the spending the evening of May 24 exposed to the elements down at the Trib Total Media Amphitheater.  Fortunately, the clouds dispersed, leaving me to enjoy a gorgeous evening at the Station Square riverfront.

ChicagoTechnically, it wasn’t summer yet, but it sure felt like it, with the sticky Pittsburgh weather and the hot sounds of Chicago – that “rock and roll band with horns”-  entertaining us that evening.   Not even the freight trains speeding past the amphitheater could drown out the band’s classic hits as they heated up the the stage.

As the evening wore on, the weather eventually cooled down, but Chicago’s nine-member group never did, strutting and bouncing around the stage with their exuberant music.  All original members of the brass and woodwind section were out in full force – Lee Loughnane on trumpet, Walter Parazaider on sax and flute and Jimmy Pankow, the self-described “pelvis of the brass section,” on trombone.

When I hear Chicago’s music – classic hits such as “Beginnings,” “I’m a Man,” “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” –  I immediately picture myself driving down highway on a bright summer day, with windows open and music blasting, miles behind me and still many more miles to go.  The concert was a good way to welcome my impending summer chock full of fun plans.

The set list ranged from their earlier recognizable hits (“Saturday in the Park,” “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It is?”) to pop-infused love ballads from the Peter Cetera era, (“Baby What a Big Surprise,” “If You Leave Me Now”).  Bassist Jason Scheff nailed Cetera’s vocal range with ease.  I generally prefer the 70’s era in their catalog, but the live versions of these 80’s ballads really sounded fantastic live – not a bit cheesy.

The jubilant audience was on their feet and dancing during the final song – “25 or 6 to 4,”  It felt like we were all waiting for that jam to really let loose and celebrate.

The one song I was anticipating was “Beginnings” – my favorite Chicago song.   Taking a break from the keyboard, founding member Robert Lamm moved to center stage with acoustic guitar in hand, belting out the track from Chicago’s first album.  He voice was as deep, soulful and robust as ever.  These lyrics pretty much encapsulate how I feel about many experiences in my life, whether it’s when I have a crush, when my writing makes an impact on one of my readers, or when I’m simply enjoying a beautifully crafted piece of live music: “Only the beginning, of what I want to feel forever…”

Set List

1. Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon
2. Make Me Smile
3. So Much to Say, So Much to Give
4. Anxiety’s Moment
5. West Virginia Fantasies
6. Colour My World
7. To Be Free
8. Now More Than Ever
9. Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
10. Dialogue (Part I & II)
11. Alive Again
12. Call on Me
13. Old Days
14. Along Comes a Woman
15. If You Leave Me Now
16. Wake Up Sunshine
17. (I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long
18. Baby What a Big Surprise
19. Hard Habit to Break
20. You’re the Inspiration
21. Beginnings
22. I’m a Man
23. Just You ‘n Me
24. Saturday in the Park
25. Hard to Say I’m Sorry
26. Feelin’ Stronger Every Day
27. Free
28. 25 or 6 to 4

Videos

Here’s a YouTube video of “Saturday in the Park.”