The Monkees haven't toured together in more than four decades, so it seemed only logical that at a recent rehearsal in North Hollywood, the band's three surviving members might not be in sync.
But days ahead of a short reunion tour that began Thursday in Escondido, Calif., Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork communicated in a secret language as if it were still 1969.
In the middle of a long jam, Nesmith, 69, took his hands off his vintage-style Gretsch guitar and began addressing Dolenz in an elaborate sequence of arm and hand signals (think of ground crew guiding a plane).
Dolenz, 67, quickly answered in similar body language from behind his gold metal-flake drum kit. Tork smiled.
Nesmith, who hasn't taken part in a full-fledged U.S. tour with the other Monkees since 1969, then translated.
"This means," he said haltingly as he continued gesturing, "chili ... dog ... with ... cheese."
You can take the man out of the Monkees, but ...
Humor is a key element in the camaraderie among these men, who along with the late singer Davy Jones vaulted to fame in 1966 with their hit TV show "The Monkees" and the string of recordings they made for each week's episode.
The reunion tour follows Jones' death this year of a heart attack. He'd toured periodically with Dolenz and Tork since the Monkees released their final album in 1970 and is being saluted in this round of shows through photos, film footage and recordings of some of his songs.
"Of course we miss Davy," Tork, 70, said, "and it's sad to be playing without him. But when Davy, Micky and I were touring, it was sad to play without Mike."
Over the years Nesmith skipped most of the Monkees reunions, citing commitments related to his solo career — including running the Pacific Arts music and video label he launched in the '70s, producing films (including "Repo Man") and writing two novels.
"This show, it's not about a loss, it's not a memorial," Nesmith said. "It's acknowledging the gain and the contribution that David made. At this time of our lives, we don't have illusions about what this is: It's about the good work we did."
The Monkees' career lasted barely four years but yielded four No. 1 albums, half a dozen Top 10 singles, three of which reached No. 1, a TV series that's become an Emmy-winning comedy classic that still airs around the world and the avant-garde 1968 film, "Head," which reflected the anarchic zeitgeist of the late-'60s while satirically relating the story of the Monkees' rise from creative puppets to masters of their own fate.
"There's no other story like it in entertainment," said music historian Andrew Sandoval, author of the 2005 career diary "The Monkees."
"They released their first single in August 1966, the show premiered in September, and by January they'd won their fight for artistic control. It's as if the contestants on 'American Idol' came in one day and said, 'Fire the judges and the producers, we're taking over.'"
That bit of pop history will underscore this tour, a portion of which will be devoted to their third album, 1967's "Headquarters," the first after the battle.
"It's the first album we were the musicians on, the first which we had creative control over," said Tork, who performs and records with his own band, Shoe Suede Blues, when he's not occupied with Monkees business. "We were very pleased with ourselves — rightly or wrongly — with that album."
Back in the day the Monkees' legitimacy was often questioned by those out of grade school, but it was never an issue for the band they were partly modeled after, the Beatles.
"The Beatles always got the whole Monkee thing," Dolenz said, adopting a Liverpudlian accent to quote John Lennon: "It was John who was the first one to say, 'It's like the Marx Brothers.'"
"The Monkees were in the mix with most of the lions of rock 'n' roll," Nesmith said, "but we got there by special permission because of the TV show. None of us are fooling ourselves into thinking we are one of the great classic-rock bands. We are kind of an iconic garage band, sort of the inmates taking over the asylum, and we have a lot of fun."