Turn on, tune in, and can you, please, valet my car? (Is that how it went?)
Sorry, hippies and hipsters, it’s been a while since anybody took that last train to Clarksville. But for fans of classic 1960s pop, the next three weeks will be a retro-feast. The Rascals, Zombies and Monkees – in separate shows — will make rare appearances in the Boston area. And each group is taking a different approach upon reentry. Here’s what to expect when the lights go down.
The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream
How does a group that split up for 40 years work together again? “Don’t talk to each other,” laughs Eddie Brigati, the singer and writer who left the Rascals in 1970 after five years with the Jersey-born purveyors of white-boy soul.
He’s only half joking. That advice, he says, came from Steven Van Zandt, comrade of Springsteen, actor and Rascals fanatic who was finally able to reunite Brigati, singer/keyboardist Felix Cavaliere, guitarist Gene Cornish, and drummer Dino Danelli. The Rascals fought for years, sued each other, but the offers to reform were always there because of the band’s rich catalog, with includes songs such as “Good Lovin’,” “How Can I Be Sure?,” “Groovin’,” and “It’s a Beautiful Morning.”
“We had the biggest promoters in New York and California throwing money at us for years,” says Cornish. “It was a matter of the right person putting it together.”
It wasn’t until 2010 that the Rascals reunited to play a cancer benefit organized by Van Zandt and his wife. That led to the idea for the show, “Once Upon a Dream.” Named after the band’s 1968 record, a creative high point, the reunion would be more than an oldies tour. Instead, Van Zandt wrote a script charting the group’s rise and collapse.
The Rascals stage show, which blends the original band live with moments of the band’s history re-created on film by actors and also archival films, played a 15-show run on Broadway earlier this year. Reviews were strong, as were ticket sales, with the show grossing more than $2 million. That led to the current tour, which hits the Opera House for four performances starting Tuesday night.
“It’s not an oldies show at all,” says Dinelli. “Stevie likes to call it a bio-concert.”
Van Zandt said the key to reviving the group was doing what he could to keep them from reviving old feuds.
“I said to them, ‘Listen, we’re not going to fix the past,’” he recounts. “We’re not going to discuss it, we’re not going to argue about it. It is what it was. And let’s move on. Is everybody ready to move on and be in the present tense and be in the future tense?”
They agreed. Brigati quit smoking. Cavaliere, with the most active solo career of the Rascals, said he wasn’t about to hold out. So far, so good.
“It’s sort of like a working relationship,” Cavaliere said. “For me, it’s interesting, after all these years, to see how these guys are responding to being back to stage and working again. And they love it. And I would tell these guys over the years, you guys are missing out on something.”
“I don’t think either Rod or myself would want to get involved in a project where we just play old material,” says singer Colin Blunstone, explaining why the Zombies reformed a decade ago.
He and Rod Argent, the band’s organist and lead writer, are the lone remaining Zombies in the group. But they’re also arguably the most important members. Blunstone’s voice still retains its distinctive glow and range.
But even if they take pride in remaining a working band, the Zombies haven’t forgotten their curious history. They had just three certified hits – “She’s Not There,” Tell Her No,” and “Time of the Season” – and their biggest creative peak was recognized only decades after it was actually released after their breakup.
“Odessey and Oracle,” one of the great records of the decade, blends a pop baroque sound, literate songwriting – which other ’60s British group wrote a piano ballad inspired by William Faulkner? — with Blunstone’s majestic voice. By the time of the album’s release in 1968, the Zombies were no more. Over the years, though, the record has been accorded legendary status, placed in the top 100 albums of all time by Rolling Stone, NME, Mojo, and the Guardian.
“I thought this was an album and we were going to continue,” says Blunstone. “But that wasn’t the way it worked out. I look back and think it’s a bit crazy but that’s in fact what happened.”
Argent led his own group, named after him and most famous for their hit, “Hold Your Head Up,” and Blunstone released solo albums and also sang for other groups, including the Alan Parsons Project.
The revival began in 1997 with the release of a four-disc box set, “Zombie Heaven,” and the eventual relaunching of the group, in 2004, with Blunstone and Argent. They don’t play big gigs – the Regent seats 500 – but the band aspires to be more than an oldies act, with their 2011 album, “Breathe Out, Breathe In,” getting strong reviews.
Turning 68 this week, Blunstone takes great pride in the fact that the Zombies perform their songs in their original keys. That’s not always easy – he points to the quiet, piano-driven “A Rose for Emily” as particularly challenging.
“Of course, many of these challenged me when I was 18 or 19,” says Blunstone.
Does he get frustrated knowing other groups from his era, groups perhaps less acclaimed, are filling bigger halls or getting paid more?
“If you think the places we’re playing now are small,” Blunstone says, “you should have seen the places we were playing when we first got back together. ”
They were mocked as a band manufactured for a TV show – which they technically were – but the Monkees grew to write their own music, play their own instruments, and develop their own sound.
Reunions have come often, but seldom with guitarist Michael Nesmith.
“Nez,” as he likes to be called, is on board for this swing. That’s notable because Davy Jones, the British-born singer known for his lead on “Daydream Believer,” died of a heart attack last year.
Singer Micky Dolenz and guitarist Peter Tork round out the trio.
Do not expect a reggae version of “Pleasant Valley Sunday” or an eight-minute drum solo during “I’m a Believer.” The band won’t play anything recorded after 1968.
Andrew Sandoval, the musician and archivist producing the tour, thinks it’s important to focus on the original arrangements.
“We actually sit and listen to the records together before we go into rehearsals,” says Sandoval. “What do the fans really want? Do they want us to show how great we’ve become or how we can pull off a cool solo in the song that wasn’t there? No, they want us to honor the songs as we did them then.”
Micky Dolenz relates his own experience seeing the Everly Brothers reunite in England in the 1980s.
“I remember thinking, ‘God, I hope they do all those hits. ‘Cathy’s Clown’ and ‘Wake Up Little Susie,’ ” remembers Dolenz. “And I got there and I was blown away. They played everything as I remembered it and I was singing and standing up there and crying and I remember thinking, if I ever get asked to get back and sing some of those Monkees tunes, I’m going to sing them like I remember.”
Dolenz goes so far as to say that the Monkees don’t really own their songs anymore. They belong to the fans, many of whom he says were ridiculed for loving a group assembled by a group of producers to play a band in a television show.
“They called us manufactured,” he says. “It’s just inaccurate. It’s like saying, ‘Is “Glee’’ manufactured.’ They go out and do concerts. The Monkees were a television show about this rock ’n’ roll band that didn’t exist. So when we get back together, this is more like the cast of a show or like a Broadway show getting together to have a revival of the show.”
Why is Nesmith back? He had actually started talking to his former bandmates just before Jones died about doing a tour with them. Last year, the trio played a string of shows, but didn’t get to Boston.
“The best reason I can give is because it is so much fun – and maturing may have something to do with it – but not because I fear it will be the last time around,” Nesmith writes in an e-mail.
“Part of the fun of growing up is not having to act any certain way — and Monkees fans always traveled their own path,” he continues. “They stayed fans while their contemporaries ridiculed them and they are still fans. So to play live for the codger boppers while the new fans discover the music and silliness and share it is a lot of genuine fun — and that’s hard to come by.”
At: Payomet Performing Arts Center, North Truro, July 3, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $35-100. 508-487-5400, www.payomet.org; and at the Regent Theatre, Arlington, July 7, 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $45-55. Regent Theatre, Arlington. 781-646-4849, www.regenttheatre.com
A MIDSUMMER’S NIGHT WITH THE MONKEES
At: Citi Wang Theatre, July 16, 8 p.m. Tickets; $59.75- 119.75. www.citicenter.org