Being that we (us, being Allison Johnelle Boron and Rob Ross, respectively, both of Popdose) were at City Winery in New York on Sunday night (March 16th) to see the incomparable Michael Nesmith, we decided to compare notes on Mr. Nesmith’s performance. Having seen him last year at New York’s Town Hall, there are a great many similarities in the show – many of the same songs/song cycles and vignettes, which have been dubbed this year the “Movies Of The Mind” tour. But there were some marked differences with Sunday night’s show which was, first and foremost, in a much more intimate setting.
If you don’t know, what Michael Nesmith does is paint a word picture for each series of songs, settings that are visual; in another time and place and each touches an emotional range, thereby setting up the tryptichs or duos of songs performed.
RR: The descriptions or setting up of the songs seemed to rub a lot of people I know who saw last year’s show the wrong way. I enjoyed it, personally – on both occasions, since it gives you a chance to possibly interpret the songs differently that what you currently think they might mean or how you perceive them. Plus, it’s a cinematic way of hearing things.
Having said that, the music was dynamic and far more rockin’ as opposed to last year’s slightly more subdued evening.
AJB: Though Nez was backed by the same great group of pros as usual, the omission of Chris Scruggs, his lap steel/12-string guitar player, was sorely felt. Scruggs brings a sort of youthfully hipster, yet kickass quality to Nesmith’s music.
RR: Agreed. But the trade off was getting to see/hear Christian Nesmith (Mike’s eldest son) play like nobody’s business. He was tremendous.
AJB: Another puzzling element was why Nesmith didn’t wield a guitar the entire night, instead resigning those duties to Christian. Later, on his Facebook page, Nez said that the show, and the accompanying performances earlier in the weekend at Monkee-Con, were the first times in his career that he’s performed without a guitar. Even stranger, he says he plans to continue.
RR: True – I thought it was odd, sure; it felt though – in a good way – he was really being a performer and didn’t have to hide himself with a guitar. He had the complete control of the audience, looked comfortable and in his element, so why not try something new? There were points that he seemed so relaxed that he was showing some dance moves…
AJB: Though there was talk of a more Monkee-heavy set, Nez stuck to his typical fare, spanning his eclectic solo career. Not that that’s a bad thing; he’s truly picked a thorough group of songs that ably represents him both as a songwriter and artist. Of course, that includes “Different Drum,” a song plebians credit to Linda Ronstadt. After writing it in the ’60s, Nez himself recorded it in the ’70s and gives it a fair treatment in his live performances.
RR: Remember, he opened the show last year with “Papa Gene’s Blues”, which I don’t think anyone expected – this year, he closed it with that barnstorming version of “Listen To The Band”, so at least there is the Monkees acknowledgment there. He has enough of a deep musical canon that he doesn’t really need to dip into his Monkees pool – although I personally would love to see him do “Tapioca Tundra”. Plus, I’m forgetting he did during Sunday’s show, a beautiful and warm version of “Nine Times Blue” – did you ever think you’d hear that one? Man, if he’d only done “Carlisle Wheeling”…
But think about this – last year’s set seemed more geared towards the RCA years – this year’s more the later Pacific Arts period – and that makes it a bit more interesting and dynamic.
AJB: An always-surprising moment is when Nez breaks out a handful of tunes from the “Elephant Parts” era, especially “Cruisin’,” the most un-Nesmith Nesmith song ever.
RR: It was, undoubtedly, one of the highlights of the night – and Christian’s on-the-one riffing was perfect. Jesus, what a guitar player. But all those songs – from that period – whether it’s “Cruisin'” or “Tonight” or “Rio” or “Dancin'” or especially “Casablanca Moonlight” – those were stellar moments from the show. Of course, it would have been funnier if he’d broken into a version of “Rodan”…
AJB: Special mention has to be given for the inclusion of “Light” from both “Elephant Parts” and “Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma,” featuring Nez’s still stunning falsetto. He loves to back songs with other tunes he feels are related, and this particular song fades into “Rays,” the closest thing Nez has had to a hit in recent memory. Still a worthwhile set contribution.
RR: I’ll second that. There were no dips or lulls in the set. Nesmith and the band delivered. I did, slightly, miss “Thanx For The Ride” – the way they’d done it the last time, using the tape of Red Rhodes’ blistering pedal-steel solo, but okay. That blitz at the end of “Listen To The Band” more than made up for it. And I can always say it’s a great show when he does “The Grand Ennui” and “Propinquity” – those two songs are quintessential Nesmith right there.
VERDICT: another fantastic show courtesy of Michael Nesmith.
All photos by Rob Ross