Friday, July 21, 2017

Micky Dolenz celebrates 'Good Times!' and great songs at The Coach House

Micky Dolenz performing at The
Coach House on July 15, 2017.
Photo: Bob Steshetz
The fun-filled title of the Monkees' celebrated 2016 album Good Times! could well have doubled as the theme of Micky Dolenz' upbeat concert at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on July 15, 2017.

Performing nearly two dozen songs over the course of 80 minutes, the Los Angeles native was backed by a terrific four-man band along with his sister Coco Dolenz, the latter whose soaring vocals and winning personality added additional dimension to the songs.

Micky Dolenz is one of only a handful of rock singers who first rose to prominence in the 1960s whose vocals are as strong as they were in their prime. Again and again throughout his Saturday night appearance in San Juan Capistrano, this reviewer was amazed how terrific Dolenz sounded. While many veteran singers push the microphone away when they get to high notes, Dolenz embraced the joy of singing. The incredible vocal gifts that helped define the Monkees from the time Dolenz was first heard as lead vocalist on the Monkees' first chart-topping hit "Last Train to Clarksville" in late 1966 were displayed in spades during the performance.

Micky Dolenz at The Coach House.
Photo: Bob Steshetz
But even the greatest singer would be wasting their time if they were not blessed with the tuneful and smart songs that filled Dolenz' set. Opening with the Michael Nesmith-penned "Mary, Mary," the version here was as energetic and infectious as the original 1966 recording featuring a much younger Dolenz backed by The Wrecking Crew (including top session musicians James Burton, Hal Blaine and Glen Campbell). Shaking maracas in rhythm while he sang and smiled, the intimate Coach House crowd was quickly transported back in time. 

And the highlights kept coming. Performances of "That Was Then, This Is Now" (a bona fide comeback hit for the Monkees in 1986), the wistful "Sometime in the Morning," garage rock-styled "She" and a honky tonk-tinged take on the Jerry Leiber-Mike Stoller classic "D.W. Washburn" displayed the uniformly strong, but engaging range of the Monkees' songbook as well as Dolenz' youthful approach and pure joy of music making.

Dolenz was obviously thrilled to reflect on the Monkees' 50th anniversary return via Good Times!, one of the strongest albums of 2016. He jokingly introduced one of the stellar tracks from that disc, the cheerful "You Bring The Summer," by asking: "We got any Monkees fans out there?...(audience cheers) We'll soon fix that." But that absolutely infectious power-pop song written by Andy Partridge (of XTC fame) afforded the crowd to bask in the pleasures of hearing a great song delivered by a favorite artist in an intimate setting. A few selections later, Dolenz revisited recent history again with the shimmering "She Makes Me Laugh," a Rivers Cuomo (Weezer) composition that fully captured the spirit of what made  and makes  the Monkees' sound so unique and timeless.

Guitarist Wayne Avers.
Dolenz was able to move beyond his own string of Monkees-related hits with credible tributes to both Chuck Berry (he auditioned for the hit NBC-TV show with a version of "Johnny B. Goode" that was a staple of his earlier rock group Micky and the One-Nighters and offered up the song here), and Jimi Hendrix (who Dolenz recruited to open for a string of dates with the Monkees in July 1967) with a blistering version of "Purple Haze" featuring lead guitarist Wayne Avers.

Likely every fan had their own favorites this night. I count a moving version of "Me and Magdalena" that he sang as a duet with Coco Dolenz, the rousing rocker "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone," soaring Beatles-styled "Pleasant Valley Sunday," moving tribute to late Monkees band mate Davy Jones with "Daydream Believer" and night-ending "I'm a Believer" among the other additional surefire moments I will long remember.

Kelly Bowlin at The Coach House.
Opening for Dolenz was the top-tier Americana troupe Kelly Bowlin and the Orphans. Describing their sound as "Dirty Country" early in the set, the six-man troupe unleased a 40-minute set of songs that fell amidst roughly the same sonic territory as Steve Earle (they performed a great cover of "Copperhead Road"), Tom Petty and the late alt-country pioneer Gram Parsons.  

Kelly Bowlin, singing and playing an octave mandolin, led the Orphans through some great originals too. The countrified rocker "Williamsburg" was adorned with nice harmonies, while the tender "Judas Kiss" was an affecting country-folk ballad that grew in power as it went along. The full-on rocker "Borderline" afforded another opportunity for the group to shine, earning big cheers from the big crowd on hand for the show.

A wonderful night of live music to be sure. 

Micky Dolenz celebrated his legacy at the Coach House
with a Monkees-filled set on Saturday, July 15, 2017.
Photo: Bob Steshetz

Micky Dolenz setlist at The Coach House on July 15, 2017:
Mary, Mary
That Was Then, This Is Now
Sometime in the Morning
D.W. Washburn
You Bring The Summer
A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You
She Makes Me Laugh
Last Train To Clarksville
Johnny B. Goode (Chuck Berry tribute)
Purple Haze (Jimi Hendrix tribute)
Me and Magdalena
Different Drum (featuring Coco Dolenz)
Let's Dance On
Kelly Bowlin and the Orphans at The Coach House.
For Pete's Sake
(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone
White Rabbit (featuring Coco Dolenz)
Goin' Down
Daydream Believer
Pleasant Valley Sunday
I'm a Believer

Review by Robert Kinsler

Photos courtesy of Bob Steshetz

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