Michael Nesmith seems like a happy man these days. The edgy Monkee who once punched a hole in a wall and then told a record executive, “That could have been your face, motherfu…!” is now playing music – his music – on the road at the age of 70 in a celebration of his career. The sold out crowd provided enthusiastic applause all evening, sometimes even seemingly taking the former knit-domed one aback with their support. Sporting Monkees t-shirts and bringing memorabilia that would go home unsigned, the audience response was a warm gesture of affection for the former student at Dallas’s Thomas Jefferson High School. The only negative aspect of the evening was the actual performance.
Billed as the “Movies of the Mind” tour, Nesmith gave extended vignettes to open each song, or sometimes a grouping of songs. It grew a bit tiresome, “A couple is having lunch at a noisy small café in Paris in 1932. A dog is pacing the sidewalk nervously. The young man, overbearing but painfully sincere in his affection, is thinking about their future. He does not know this will be their last meal together. She can no longer live this lie for she knows that her heart belongs to an aspiring socket distributor. This is the song ‘Mysterious Bacon’ from the album Incandescent Monkey Spleen.” But, that bit of pretentiousness is a minor quibble. Let’s look at the real problems.
Big problem number one – the vocals. Nesmith has never been a great singer and as he’s aged, the diminishing vocal strength is an issue. He couldn’t project over the sound of the band and really couldn’t sell any of the material. At times, it was like watching an aging boxer trying to hold on to the ropes to survive until the end of the round.
Big problem number two – the band. The unit didn’t jell, mainly because drummer Paul Leim must be thinking this gig is an audition for Rush. His desire to overwhelm the material with dramatic flourishes and unnecessary fills was a major distraction. Honestly, I wanted to break the guy’s wrists after about the third song. The standout performer was multi-instrumentalist Chris Scruggs (yep, the grandson of Earl Scruggs) who played fast blues guitar licks on “The Grand Ennui,” emulated Chuck Berry on “Listen to the Band,” and really shined when playing evocative steel guitar solos. The solos by Scruggs and by keyboardist Boh Cooper, who unleashed a church organ on acid barrage on “Rays,” were the highlights of the night. When the band tried to play a funk groove in “Dance” or a disco beat in “Tonight,” the results were abysmal. And, lastly….
Big problem number three – the songwriting. Nesmith songwriting strength is as a lyricist. There were no strong melodies to compensate for his weak singing. On “Different Drum,” one of his best known compositions, the arrangement was changed to a strange Parisian stroll. Otherwise, the songwriting is more competent than inspired.
And, there you have it. Not an awful performance all evening, but exceeding average throughout. As with many legends, I’m glad that I had the opportunity to see him. And I wouldn’t do it again.
Grade – C
Nine Times Blue
Little Red Rider
Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun to Care)
Tomorrow and Me
Some of Shelley’s Blues
Rising in Love
Listen to the Band
simultaneously self-effacing and egomaniacs
essentially a disco remix of “Rocket Man” featuring one of the the UK’s biggest stars…
“I literally really need you to jump up and down”
Friday night might kill us but Thursday evening is a blast
it just isn’t the triumph she needed after six years
an impressive sonic ride.
a high-spirited Post Pandemic anthem
a memorable band who were never better than here
almost Pink Floyd-esque