- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 23, 2004

Former Monkees bassist Peter Tork does indeed play his own instruments. The problem is that he still does his own singing.

Mr. Tork displayed proficiency, if not wizardry, playing an acoustic guitar, banjo and piano during a three-plus hour set at Vienna’s Jammin’ Java cafe along with longtime pal James Lee Stanley.

Musical versatility, alas, does not a frontman make. Mr. Tork, the fourth lead singing option in the Prefab Four, wasn’t consigned to that position by accident. The right key routinely eludes him in concert, although when singing within his limited range his voice contains a sweetness that belies his uncertain control.

It hasn’t stopped him from touring consistently with Mr. Stanley as well as his side band, Shoe Suede Blues.

Mr. Tork did his best to minimize his Monkees past, lobbing but a few of the quartet’s hits into the set list. Only hard-core fans would recognize two of those tracks. Rare is the casual Monkees follower who prefers the band’s 1968 film soundtrack “Head” over “Last Train to Clarksville” or “I’m a Believer.”

The ex-Monkee’s once sandy mop is a bit muddier these days, but he’s as lean as the lad who answered that Variety ad years ago for “four insane boys, ages 17-21” for a Beatles-esque television series.

The young Mr. Tork, squeezed into the show’s sweet but dim character nearly 40 years ago, never quite fit that bill. His taste in music is eclectic, something that was no secret to anyone who heard the few Monkees songs he was allowed to pen.

He and Michael Nesmith were the “musicians” of the foursome. Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz entered the project with more acting and musical theater than musicianship on their resume.

The permanent hangover from his Monkees heyday continues to shadow Mr. Tork. His television past lets him mine humor from the mundane, like his pantomiming along with a microphone arm that had a mind of its own. But his constant mugging and inability to hold back his non sequiturs showed a lack of discipline.

Even during the various Monkees reunions, the onstage Mr. Tork hasn’t quite learned to balance performing as a mature musician with the Marx Brothers-style high jinks of his youthful television persona.

If only he set aside the shtick and shared some stories from his Monkees heyday, a time teeming with flower-power excesses. That’s a spoken-word tour we’d pay to see. Instead, we’re left with Mr. Tork’s tributes to his musical predecessors and flailing attempts at the blues.

Mr. Stanley, whose biggest claim to fame is having played a variety of aliens on five seasons of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” is the sturdier soloist of the two. His reedy but resonant voice wrapped around a number of engaging originals, some of which tapped into his gleefully anti-Bush ramblings.

The pair first met 41 years ago on the folkie touring scene traveling through Virginia, Mr. Stanley recalled. Onstage, they appear as comfortable as cousins, and their harmonizing toward the show’s conclusion ended the evening on a higher note.

By the time they paired to sing “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” the Monkees’ sneaky swipe at suburbia, even the staunchest Monkees fans were glad to see Mr. Stanley help his friend fill in the musical gaps.

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