For a long time, I couldn’t figure out why I got sad every time I listened to The Monkees’ song “For Pete’s Sake” which happened to be the closing theme to their popular TV series. One day, it came to me: As a youngster, the song meant that my favorite show was over for the week, and it’d make me sad. Wow, what an impression The Monkees have made on me!
Davy, Peter, Mickey, and Mike were a music industry invention supported by the best pop writers and players of the day. There was no denying, however, their own individual talents with Mike Nesmith standing out as the finest musician in the bunch. He brought a respectable singer-songwriter sensibility to the band in contrast to their bubble-gum poppy side. In fact, he sang two of my favorite Monkees’ tunes: “You Just May Be the One” (which he wrote) and “What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round?” Nesmith was the only one to have a successful post-Monkee solo career.
Tonight’s show at the intimate, ornate, and newly-renovated Franklin Theatre would be the first night of Nesmith’s 17-date Spring 2013 Tour. Other than a short reunion tour with the remaining Monkees following Davy Jones’ untimely death, Nesmith shied away from their other reunions. So, like many others in the crowd this night, I, too, would be completing my “set” of seeing all four Monkees live and in person.
Woefully, the only Monkees song of the evening was its first, “Papa Gene’s Blues,” a down-tempo version of a “Nez” composition from their first record. The rest of the show took us on a near-chronological journey through Nesmith’s solo career, one which influenced the genesis of country-rock in the 70’s. To that end, his band included the musical talents of young Nashville multi-instrumentalist, Chris Scruggs, whose stellar playing was unfortunately mostly hidden from view by misplaced music stands. Overall, the band fared well for an opening night despite their need for sheet music and the occasional technical flub.
The evening’s format consisted of Nesmith reading from a teleprompter atop his mike stand a prelude to each song (or couplet). These introductions read like pages from a novel with each providing a fictional setting for what would follow musically. While the literary images were created to blend with the original versions of the songs, with “Different Drum,” Nesmith did sort of the opposite. Starting with a tale set in Paris, he then reworked this composition which put young Linda Ronstadt on the map. Nesmith gave it a Parisian-sounding overtone and also chose to sing it in a safe, almost spoken-word vocal. For most of the evening, though, his voice was familiar-sounding, strong, and rarely weak.
The lack of Monkee’s hits didn’t seem to faze the polite and enthusiastic audience who recognized and favorably acknowledged every number. The exception was the trio of songs from his obscure 1974 collection, The Prison, which managed to excite only one loudly cheering fan.
Nesmith has always been at the forefront of technology and innovation, notably as a pioneer in the world of music video. Tonight, he exhibited his studio skills during the closing encore song, “Thanx for the Ride.” Extracting a pedal steel guitar solo from the multi-track tapes, Nesmith brought back to life his long-time band member, O.J. “Red” Rhodes. It was a nice tribute to the late great player.
These days most artists of Nesmith’s tenure do the customary “meet and greet” after the show at the merch table. Tonight, regrettably, a meeting with Nez required an extra $50 advance purchase ticket of which yours truly passed. Nonetheless, the 90-minute set with no opening act was certainly enjoyable in its own right.
- Papa Gene’s Blues
- Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun To Care)
- Tomorrow and Me
- Different Drum
- Silver Moon
- Some of Shelly’s Blues
- Casablanca Moonlight
- Grand Ennui
- Songs from The Prison: Opening Theme (Life, the Unsuspecting Captive) / Marie’s Theme / Closing Theme (Lamppost)
- Laugh Kills Lonesome
- Thanx for the Ride
Michael Nesmith – lead vocals and acoustic guitar
Chris Scruggs – pedal steel, guitar and mandolin
Joe Chemay – bass
Bob Cooper – keyboards
Paul Leim – drums