Michael Nesmith, who is better known as a former member of the Monkees than for his amazing body of original work, nevertheless inspires enormous loyalty and affection in his fans.
The man had not toured in 20 years when he appeared last year in a short solo tour in the U.K. and a Monkees reunion with the other surviving members of the band (Davy Jones died in 2012). The tour that has been going on since March 21 of this year is the first extended solo tour in 21 years.
Waiting in line, I met a couple that’s been married for 30 years and who each had a birthday yesterday. They celebrated by driving to Atlanta from Knoxville, TN to see Nesmith for the 4th time in a year, including the Monkees’ reunion tour and this one. The people sitting behind us were from North Carolina.
The show contained no songs from the Monkees era but only songs that Nesmith has written over the years.The set list included some numbers best known by other artists, such as “Different Drum,” which was a big hit for Linda Ronstadt that was a much harder and faster version than Nesmith sang last night, and “Some of Shelley’s Blues,” which was a popular number for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
But most of the songs were tunes Nesmith recorded with The First National Band, which he formed after The Monkees ended, and numbers he has recorded solo. Songs from the First National Band era included “Joanne,” “Silver Moon,” “Propinquity,” “Grand Ennui” and “Thanks for the Ride.” Nesmith also performed songs from his albums And the Hits Just Keep on Comin’, From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing and Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma, as well as (video collection) Elephant Parts, Tropical Campfires, The Prison, and his new album, Rays.
I confess that many of the songs were completely new to me, but the packed audience at The Variety Playhouse knew all of them and responded to every title and performance with wild enthusiasm. It was easy to see why. Nesmith combines country, tropical sounds, calypso and other dance rhythms, and vivid storytelling to create marvelous songs.
The tour is titled “Movies of the Mind” and Nesmith introduced each song with a short vignette explaining what story each song conjures in his mind. These ranged from the 1880s to the days of early film to the International Space Station today. He than sang songs either as sets of two or three or singly to match the scenes. It was quite effective.
Nesmith is 70 years old now and sometimes he faltered on a high note or his voice weakened for a moment, but it did not matter. He was surrounded by a fantastic band, consisting of Boh Cooper (Rascal Flatts, Peter Cetera) on keys, Chris Scruggs (M. Ward, Justin Townes Earl) on mandolin, steel and six-string guitar, Paul Leim (Kenny Chesney, Whitney Houston) on drums, and Joe Chemay (Elton John, Pink Floyd) on bass. The singer was performing in front of people for whom he obviously shares a real affection. While the women in the audience (who were mainly aged 40 and up) were appreciative, it was the men who kept calling out “We love you, Mike!” “Good job, Mike!” and you could see the pleasure in Nesmith’s face each time.
It was a great night of superior music, camaraderie, and general good feeling all around. I highly recommend that you catch Nesmith when he comes near your town.