Review of July 10, 2011 concert at Mountain Winery, Saratoga, Ca.

By Paul Freeman

In the ‘60s, Monkees concerts were frenzied, scream-taculars that proved the lads were indeed capable of generating great pop-rock sans session players.

Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Davy Jones reunited for a 20th Anniversary Tour in the ‘80s. And they attracted not only their original fans, many now moms, but also a whole new generation, courtesy of MTV rerunning the TV series. They still exhibited boundless energy, zaniness and musical zest.

But here we are in 2011. What would the three have left for a 45th Anniversary Tour? The answer? Plenty. Oh, sure, Peter’s boyish countenance could use a little ironing, Micky needs a hat to keep his head warm and Davy’s paunch may intrude a bit on his Shing-A-Ling. But they can still deliver the goods.

The three burst on stage to the bouncy opening notes of “I’m A Believer.” They served up not only all the hits, but deep album cuts that showed their stylistic diversity. Davy, with his legit voice, sang ditties that recalled British music hall and Broadway panache, such as Harry Nilsson’s “Cuddly Toy.”

Micky handled the commercial rockers, as well as his earnest version of soul. He scatted exuberantly on the rousing “Goin’ Down” and his own composition “Randy Scouse Git.” On the latter, Dolenz also offered an amusing, Beatle-related anecdote about the song’s origin. His vocals can be a bit over the top, but you’ve got to like Micky’s unflagging enthusiasm.

In addition to Monkees tunes for which Peter is known, like the wonderfully mad ‘Auntie Grizelda,” Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil’s poignant “Shades of Grey” and “For Pete’s Sake” (which served as the TV show’s closing theme during the second season), Tork ably filled in for the, as usual, missing Monkee, Michael Nesmith, on such songs as “Papa Gene’s Blues” and the rarely heard gem, “I Don’t Think You Know Me.” Tork was in strong voice, though he should have been higher in the mix to maximize the effectiveness. He added a sparkling folk-rock sensibility, echoing The Byrds and Beau Brummels. Known as the band’s bass player, Tork showed he was quite proficient at guitar, keyboard, banjo and even French horn.

The Monkees were backed by a tight, eight-piece combo that augmented harmonies, sometimes creating lush sounds reminiscent of The Association and The Beach Boys. An extra drummer allowed Micky to saunter back and forth from his kit. The horn section stirred some R&B excitement into “She Hangs Out.”

Other unexpected musical delights included “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow),” Goffin & King’s lovely “Sometime in the Morning” and Boyce & Hart’s edgy “She.”

The video screen offered appropriate clips from the TV series. The visuals were particularly enhancing during an extended segment from “Head,” the band’s psychedelic movie, co-written by Jack Nicholson. A bomb at the time, it has become a cult favorite. And several of the songs The Monkees performed from the film proved revelatory, including “Can You Dig It,” “Circle Sky” and “The Porpoise Song.”

Of course, The Monkees peppered the show with plenty of humor, including jokes even older than the audience’s eldest members. Davy cracked that Justin Bieber had stolen his haircut.

The crowd at Saratoga’s Mountain Winery included not only grandmas, but thirtysomethings who were nostalgic for the ‘80s and even a smattering of fresh Monkee blood - today’s teens and prepubescents. They appreciatively applauded throughout the two-hour-plus set and then went totally ape as the group brought the evening to a bubbly crescendo with a string of smashes: the catchy, Neil Diamond-penned “Little Bit Me, Little Bit You,” the iconic garage band number “(I’m Not) Your Steppin’ Stone,” the ultimate sing-along tune “Daydream Believer,” the anthemic “Listen to the Band,” the socially relevant “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (another Goffin & King classic) and a reprise of “I’m A Believer.”

Dolenz, Jones and Tork demonstrated once again that they have been under-appreciated for the quality of their music. The crowd filed out with satisfied grins and warm memories, probably hoping to return for The Monkees 50th Anniversary Tour.

We’re never too old to Monkee around!