Life as a Monkee has always been a balancing act between the pre-fab fame of the band’s Emmy-winning 1960s TV show and their more organic and independent creative impulses, famously illustrated in the psychedelic 1968 cinematic cri de coeur “Head.”
Both constituencies will be served Saturday night, when the band’s A Midsummer’s Night With the Monkees tour hits the Mizner Park Amphitheatre in Boca Raton. But this particular performance brings its own tightrope walk, as it tries to celebrate the band’s upbeat fan favorites while also honoring the memory of the late South Florida resident Davy Jones.
This will be the Monkees’ first South Florida performance since Jones died of a heart attack in Indiantown in February 2012 at age 66.
For drummer and vocalist Micky Dolenz, playing the hits is the best way to remember the band’s former singer and frontman. He has been introducing the signature “Daydream Believer” by asking fans to provide the vocals once handled by Jones. “This song belongs to you now,” he says.
The Broadway-trained Jones was a believer in giving the people what they want, Dolenz says.
“Once these songs become ingrained as part of the culture and part of people’s lives, the song doesn’t belong to the band anymore,” Dolenz says. “The song belongs to the fans.”
Recalling his own moment of adoration, singing along to “Cathy’s Clown” in the front row at an Everly Brothers reunion show in London, Dolenz says he is sensitive to the transportive influence of a song. “[A fan’s] attitude is, ‘I came here to have this moment in my life, this memory.’ It’s an unspoken contract you have with the fans. It doesn’t mean you have to sit there and do only the hits, but you have to respect that.”
Speaking from his home in the hills above California’s San Fernando Valley, Dolenz says Jones’ death got him, Peter Tork and the elusive Mike Nesmith to talk about performing together again at a Los Angeles memorial. A 12-city fall tour, with Nesmith making his first appearances with the Monkees in 15 years, was so successful, that they kept going this summer.
“Davy was a lovely man, a real kick to hang out with, always had a joke to tell,” says Dolenz, who was in London working on a musical when he was awakened by his wife’s call with the news. “It’s still a shocker.”
Fans have been showing up to the concert with signs and Davy Jones photos and T-shirts they want signed, Dolenz says. Jones is a prominent part of the video montage that plays during the performance.
“We do quite a nice homage to him,” Dolenz says. “But it’s respectful. We certainly don’t want to be seen as exploiting him.”
Along with classic hits such as “Last Train to Clarksville,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “I’m a Believer,” Dolenz says the Monkees will perform “some really wonderful deep album cuts.” This includes “Tapioca Tundra,” a song from the 1968 album “The Birds, the Bees & the Monkees” and a B-side to the hit single “Valleri.” “Tapioca Tundra” is among the songs on the set list written by Nesmith.
Dolenz says it’s “fantastic” to be performing again with Nesmith, who for years has chosen his production company work over invitations for a Monkees reunion tour. “I always loved playing with Mike, and I think he’s been revitalized. I think he’s having a great time. And touring is not easy. As the saying goes: They pay me to travel. I sing for free.”
For true Monkees fans, the band also performs nearly the entire “Headquarters” album, the first to include substantive playing and songwriting from a band most associated with the prerecorded music-by-numbers jingles on the eponymous TV show. The album, a double-platinum No. 1 release, came out in 1967, a year the Monkees outsold the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
Dolenz, who sang in several Los Angeles bands before he performed the Chuck Berry classic “Johnny B. Goode” at his “Monkees” audition, says the ambitions of the band and the show were underappreciated from the beginning.
“Ask most people what the show was about, and all they’ll remember is ‘that band that ran around in circles.’ But it was really about a band that wanted to be the Beatles, but never made it. It was about that struggling for success,” Dolenz says. “One of the reasons kids responded to it was they were in their living rooms and their garages trying to be a band. They could relate to that struggle.”
Saturday’s set list will include a song that may be familiar to fans who’ve never seen the TV show. “The Porpoise Song” — probably the most memorable number on the soundtrack to the movie “Head,” a messy and surreal homage to artistic freedom written by Jack Nicholson — recently turned up on an episode of the TV hit “Mad Men.”
Dolenz says he understands why a young TV producer would want to use the song on a show set during the ‘60s, even if he still doesn’t quite get the meaning of “Head.” “The Porpoise Song” plays during a scene in which the Monkees jump from a bridge, the ultimate act of independence.
“I’ve always seen it as a deconstruction movie, not only of the Monkees myth, but Hollywood, transitioning from the classic Hollywood studio tradition to a new breed of independent filmmaking,” Dolenz says. “It’s metaphorical. But if you really want to know, you’ll have to ask Jack Nicholson what it was about.”
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Mizner Park Amphitheater, 590 Plaza Real, Boca Raton
Contact: 561-544-8600 or Ticketmaster.com