Shows I’ll Never Forget: Michael Nesmith, April 6, 2013

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At the Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago: Michael Nesmith’s appearance was not just a concert — it was an evening with a raconteur, an artist weaving stories with words and music. For almost two hours, Nesmith led the enthusiastic audience on a tour through his long career, from his Monkees days to his years with the First National Band and beyond.

In fine voice, Nesmith strummed the acoustic guitar in front of his four-piece band, clearly eager to celebrate his 50 years of songwriting.

He began the show with his nod to the Monkees era, “Papa Gene’s Blues.” Stressing the song’s country roots, Nesmith smiled as the audience sang along with the memorable chorus: “I have no more than I did before, but now I’ve got all that I need.” As he segued into the next song, he announced that he writes tunes by envisioning “mini-movies” in his head. Thus before each song, he would describe the characters, settings, and plots inherent in the words. For example, “Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun to Care)” tells the story of longtime lovers who frequently meet in secret over a period of years. Each anecdote gave the songs additional meaning and resonance.

While Nesmith played familiar tunes, he rearranged them in creative ways. “Different Drum” became a trip through Paris, with Nesmith’s country drawl accented by slide guitar and a simulated accordion sound. Occasionally he combined two songs for a mini-medley, linked thematically or stylistically.

“Joanne” and “Silver Moon” both featured Nesmith’s slight yodeling, although the latter track received a calypso makeover. Only Nesmith could marry tropical and country elements and make them fit together seamlessly.

The slide guitar solo and Nesmith’s soaring voice made “Silver Moon” a standout. “Rio” and “Casablanca Moonlight” were fused together through their dreamlike lyrics and tropical feel. Nesmith smirked, letting his dry wit surface while saying the lines “And I probably won’t fly down to Rio — but then again, I just might.” His voice gained more power for “Casablanca Moonlight,” demonstrating that his vocals have changed little since the 1960s.

His wit was on further display on songs such as “Grand Ennui” and “Cruisin,” the latter enticing the crowd to sing along (or, in this case, almost rapping). Indulging his passion for futuristic imagery, he performed “Rays” complete with laser gun-like sound effects. Although recorded in 1974, his book with a soundtrack project The Prison retains its ultramodern quality. Nesmith chose three songs: “Opening Theme (Life, the Unsuspecting Captive),” “Marie’s Theme,” and “Closing Theme (Lamppost).” While challenging, the tracks gained new depth through Nesmith’s heartfelt performance.

By the next-to-last song, “Laugh Kills Lonesome,” Nesmith appeared relaxed, enjoying revisiting his catalog. His backing band proved versatile, spanning several musical genres with ease. Rather than ending the concert with such a good-time vibe, Nesmith chose the introspective “Thanx for the Ride.”

A track from his landmark country rock album Loose Salute, it originally featured the slide guitar work of First National Band member Red Rhodes. Paying tribute to his friend, Nesmith included a sample of Rhodes’ solo within the live version. In 2013, the lyrics now contain additional weight, as they are sung by a veteran singer/songwriter who has lived through a great deal in his long career. “Remembered smiles, I’ll just mosey on — thanks for the ride,” he crooned.

At the concert’s conclusion, it was evident that Nesmith intended to lead the audience on a journey through his musical life and provide a peek into the creative process. To paraphrase the final song, it was indeed quite a ride.

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole is a lifelong music enthusiast who maintains a stand-alone music blog called Listen to the Band. In addition, she is the internet columnist and a contributing editor for Beatlefan magazine. She also holds an Ed.D. in Instructional Technology. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Kit O'Toole
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