Saturday, April 27, 2013

Mike Nesmith Brings His Songs to NYC

Reflections on Mike Nesmith at Town Hall, NYC on April 16, 2013.  It was the second to last stop (Washington DC) of his first Solo-ish tour in years.  He was backed by a bunch of familiar names that had been working with him since the 1980's, see the "video" of "The Busker", and a few of the characters were onstage that night.

The most striking element of the night, for me, was ironically, NOT the songs.  He chose to introduce each with a short story.  He described that he saw his music as mini-movies, which fits in with his early trajectory of the development of the music video.  And, interestingly, there was NO rear-screen video projector, as seen at ALL Monkee reunion tours, and innovated by Neil Diamond.  That is something to opt-into in terms of pure theatricality.  This evening was designed to be focused on music and the audiences' own imaginations.  Each song was tied to one of these stories, so we could finally understand the context that came from the writer's mind.  It was a way to tie art to the author in a highly specific way, catering to the *star* persona and answering questions about his obscure experimentation.  It was almost an evening of old-fashioned storytelling.

Mike stayed true to most of his original arrangements, so much so that during "Grand Ennui", the music onstage had the exact sound of an 80's video (which was perhaps the point).  During the encore "Thanx for the Ride", the band was able to incorporate a recording of a Red Rhodes' solo.  I own the Prison and am familiar with some of his Post-Monkee songs (Joanne, Rio, etc).  I was glad to hear his low-key versions of the evening.  The sound was consistent over the course of the whole night; not that all the songs sounded alike, but that we were invited into the mind of Nez, which seemed like sitting in a sunken living room on a shag rug with the fire going.  The overall evening didn't seem to have an actual narrative arc, from fast to slow songs, just a lovely smooth consistency.

It was interesting to hear how Mike had (or hadn't) grown with these songs that he's been focusing on since the late 1970's.  It is ALWAYS worth it to hear him performing live, and granted, the performance was subtle and muted. I'd actually LOVE to see him perform again and again, and to watch him get looser with the material.  Or even get a chance to see him in a smaller venue, although I would imagine he might not prefer to play a smaller room.  Or would consider it a come-down, or whatever.  If his live work could continue in a regular series of smaller but steady gigs, new (and old) fans could pay attention to the intricacies.  He could easily find himself as an elder statesman of music and successfully do the transition as a performer in his own right.  He has been absent from the concert stage for a long enough time to be fighting his own shadow of arrogance.  Honestly, despite his previous persona of being the "Leader", I sense that this is a shy performer, who needs encouragement to do tours.  This was him feeling the waters and giving his audience the benefit of the doubt.  Do people really want to see him?  YES.  Is he masterful on stage? YES.  Is this something he wants to do on a regular basis?  We don't know.

I will also admit to preferring an "intimate" (100 or fewer people) setting at a performance to a large hall.  The balcony at Town Hall was half full. However, the audience seemed very dedicated and die-hard.  You would think the guy had been touring regularly, the way the crowd cheered fiercely as soon as they heard a title or the first recognizable strains of a song.

Mike did perform "Papa Gene's Blues", in a slight variation.  And later, "Different Drum" with an additional verse which does not appear in the Linda Rondstat version.  Yet, I still sense that he is feeling his way around with these pieces.  It feels as if he may be playing these as close to the way he played them when he had first written them or did demos. To use Gladwell's 10,000 hour of practice-before-mastery rule, he still feels at the beginning of his acquaintance with these pieces.  I will admit up front that I have seen Peter perform with SSB a ridiculous number of times in the past couple years.   He has been doing The Blues for several years now, and incorporates that style of playing into various songs.   Some of the songs he incorporates into his sets have been with him for over 50 years and he will allow them to grow into another form, rather than twisting them for the sake of making them seem new.  "Last Train to Clarksville" comes across as a sad, slow tune and reveals the lyrics as a sad message of farewell, rather than the upbeat version we all all (over)familiar with.

My overall view was of watching a performer encased in amber, available for examination and encased in a beautiful medium.  He has a lot of growing and experimenting to do at this stage of his performing career.  Based on previous experience, he is ahead of the game in terms of artistry and willingness to take chances.  Let's hope this is the beginning of a whole new chapter in his performing life.

Other items of note:
Elvis Costello was in the audience (and sadly, did not "perform" or even join in onstage).  Apparently, Jessica is a big fan.  Her father had been interrogating her about why.  "What do you like about his music? Why?"  His daughter, who is a performer in her own right, was enthusiastically handling the merch table.  She recognized fans who had been at previous shows and is such a gregarious presence, I hope to see her perform in the future.  Christian Nesmith is also a performer (alongside Circe Link) and I would hope that the entire extended family will go on tour sometime in the future.  (See the talent-rich model of the Wainwright-Roche family)

A Naked Persimmon member was seen scooting backstage almost as soon as the performance was over.  She had posted pictures of her with Nesmith and again commented on Facebook.  I'm not so sure she had a *magic bracelet* for that night, but certainly had a *meet n greet* of her own.

The *magic bracelet* was a silver-cloth wristband which allowed 50 lucky audience members to meet Nez and get 1 Nez +1 Monkees item signed.  The process to get one was especially circuitous.  Announced on FB, you had to download a song and register at . Then you were told a date when the places would be announced, but the lucky email went out at 1am Pacific Time, which meant middle of the night everywhere else.  The link required you to HAVE a ticket to the show and pay an additional $50.  The system required a combination of persistence, luck, insomnia and money.  Many people complained about having to pay $30 to *meet* Peter or Micky at the Monkees Convention.  At least that was a matter of what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

For those who would like to read about Fred Velez's experience including the Set List from the evening, check out his blog at   I am still looking for recordings of all of his intros or transcriptions.  I tried to capture what I could, but my notes are far from complete.  More to come . . .

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