Micky Dolenz Christmas Show Review
With all due respect to Christmas, Micky Dolenz’s concert Friday at Musikfest Café at ArtsQuest in Bethlehem would have been better without it.
Dolenz, former lead singer of the 1960s television band The Monkees, performed Micky’s Monkees Christmas, a show scheduled after he postponed his July 31 show at the venue because it was too close to The Monkees’ May 27 show at nearby Sands Bethlehem Event Center.
The 85-minute show meshed nine (or 10; more about that later) Monkees hits with a dozen Christmas songs. But The Monkees songs were by far and away the best of the set – and clearly the reason the crowd of nearly 400 was there.
It was amazing the sway the show still holds over fans 45 years after it was canceled. The rowdy response to Monkees songs prompted Dolenz to at one point respond, “Thanks, mom!” and a 10-minute question-and-answer session (also more about that later) reduced women to giggling girl fans.
It wasn’t that the Christmas songs were bad. At 69, Dolenz still has a nicely distinctive voice in The Monkees context, but it didn’t do anything special for the holiday songs – which, in fact, were mostly toss-offs that included too much, well, monkeying around.
The show started with five Christmas songs, led off by a ragged “Jingle Bell Rock” and including a version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” sung by Dolenz’s sister Coco, who’s actually a good singer.
Dolenz also sang Chuck Berry’s “Run Run Rudolph,” noting that Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” – the song with which he auditioned for The Monkees. Dolenz sang it noticeably better, making an obvious effort.
But “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” the first Monkees song of the night, was just far better, and the crowd was noticeably more enthused. And the 1986 Monkees reunion hit “That Was Then, This is Now” was even better.
And Dolenz explained, after singing the slow, gentler, lessor-known Monkees song “Sometime in the Morning,” why those Monkees songs are so good. He said the group was blessed to have great songwriters, such as Carole King, Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka, Paul Williams and Boyce and Hart.
The Monkees first hit, “Last Train to Clarksville,” also showed just how well-written the songs were, and Dolenz’s five-man band did them justice.
Another run of Christmas songs, with Coco singing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” led into that audience question-and-answer session (he answered eight) – which actually was informative.
Dolenz then sang two Monkees songs originally sung by the late Davy Jones – “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You,” perhaps the best of the night with a nice sax, and “Daydream Believer,” on which he had the crowd sing along – which they gladly, and enthusiastically, did.
Dolenz then sang a cover of “Sugar Sugar,” the 1969 hit by The Archies, saying it was set to be The Monkees next single until the group protested it wanted to start doing its own material — another interesting revelation. Dolenz sang the pop song slow and loung-y – and very un-Monkees-esque.
Four more Christmas songs – including “Jingle Bells” and “Santa Baby” sung by Coco – took the show to The Monkees song that ended the main set – 1967’s “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” It was the one song on which the band didn’t measure up to the original’s simmering undercurrent, but Dolenz sang it well.
The obvious encore – “I expect you know what it is,” Dolenz told the crowd – was “I’m a Believer,” the group’s biggest hit, and the crowd clapped and sang along.
And if Dolenz was concerned about simply making it more than a Monkees show, he could have sung something from Aida – the Broadway show that he noted he was with longer than he was with The Monkees.
Christmas and The Monkees merged at the show when Dolenz and his backup singers and band gathered to sing, six voices a cappella, the Spanish holiday chant “Riu Chiu,” which The Monkees performed on the show’s Christmas episode.
Dolenz said it was the first time he had performed the song in public in more than 40 years.
It got a big response, and would have been plenty of Christmas for the night.