Michael Nesmith/ photo by Alexandra Battaglia
A few thoughts about Michael Nesmith’s soldout concert Friday at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul:
• The theater was filled with lots of rabid, geeky Monkees fans who came with LPs and other memorabilia in hand, hoping to get an autograph from the Prefab Four’s most reclusive member. (This was his first solo tour in more than two decades.)
• Nesmith performed only one Monkees song, “Papa Gene’s Blues,” to start his set and then the rest of his material was gleaned from his various solo projects.
• To introduce each song, Nesmith described a scenario – year, place, characters and their issues – that enhanced the appreciation for every song. His introductions were like a screenwriter’s description of a scene. Very clever and very effective, especially when recasting “Different Drum” as a 1950s French café tune.
• Nesmith is a better songwriter than a singer. He has soft folkie’s voice. It’s serviceable but not very assertive, and his backup quartet often smothered his gentle singing.
• Almost all his songs in the 100-minute set were in the folk/country-rock vein. Highlights: “Silver Moon,” which suggested “Spanish Harlem” done by the Eagles; the dark, moody “Casablanca Moonlight”; and the rocking “Running from the Grand Ennui” (what a great Frank Zappa title), which sounded like true country-rock, complete with smokin’ slide guitar solo by Chris Scruggs.
• Nesmith always been an experimenter, and some of his stuff doesn’t play effectively now, especially the trio of songs he did for his 1974 short story “The Prison.” One piece sounded like “Gentle on My Mind” meets “Lucille,” and another came across like a meandering Neil Young acid-trip fantasy.
• Using Red Rhodes’ pedal steel guitar parts from the original recording on the closing “Thanks for the Ride” did not mesh sonically. This bit was more effective when Nesmith presented it on the three Monkees’ reunion tour in 2012 at the State Theatre in Minneapolis. The sentiment was fitting, though, on Friday.
• Always one to explore new technology, Nesmith had an iPad affixed to his microphone stand. It served as a lyric sheet and crib sheet for his vignettes. He even explained all that.
• With no stocking cap, Nesmith, 70, generally bore little resemblance to the guy we watched on “The Monkees.” In fact, he looked more like Twin Cities newscaster Don Shelby. He barely mentioned the Monkees -- maybe once in passing.