Michael Nesmith Live in California: Review

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Michael Nesmith at the Coach House, January 2019 (Photo by Thomas K. Arnold, used with permission)

A year after he brought a reconstituted First National Band to the Coach House, Michael Nesmith returned to the nearly 40-year-old San Capistrano, Calif., roadhouse with just pedal steel player Pete Finney.

Nesmith, 76, had come to perform his 1972 album And The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, which also featured the pop sensation-turned-country rock pioneer accompanied only by a pedal steel sideman, the late O.J. “Red” Rhodes.

The Jan. 24 Coach House concert came after a tumultuous year for Nesmith: first a brief tour with a full band, followed by a Monkees hit parade with singer Micky Dolenz as “The Monkees Present: The Mike and Micky Show” that was cut short last June by what was reported as a “minor health scare.” Later, it was revealed Nesmith had spent more than a month in the hospital after quadruple bypass surgery.

Judging by his appearance at the Coach House, Nesmith has fully recovered—and then some. At an age when most rock stars are either retired or embarking on “farewell” tours, Nesmith still beamed with the youthful exuberance and playful goofiness that marked his years on The Monkees TV show, cracking jokes and carefully stepping onto the stage in a nod to the near-tumble he took the last time he played the Coach House.

Related: The Monkees celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2016

Nesmith and Finney, whose playing was nothing short of remarkable, played most of the songs on And the Hits Just Keep On Comin’, including “Tomorrow  and Me,” “Two Different Roads,” the beautiful “Harmony Constant” and “Different Drum,” a hit for Linda Ronstadt and a neat summation of Nesmith’s career. Nesmith was already an established singer and songwriter on the burgeoning Los Angeles folk scene when he auditioned for, and got, a spot in the made-for-TV band after answering an ad in the Hollywood trade paper Variety for “4 insane boys.”

Michael Nesmith at the Coach House, January 2019 (Photo by Thomas K. Arnold, used with permission)

While most of the Monkees’ hits were written by Brill Building hit machines like Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, and Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Nesmith did manage to place several of his own songs on Monkees albums, and some became minor hits, including “The Girl I Knew Somewhere,” “Mary, Mary” and “Listen to the Band.”

At the Coach House, Nesmith performed just one of his Monkees songs, “Papa Gene’s Blues,” the only song on the album written by a band member and Nesmith’s first venture into the country-rock genre he would later help define on such albums as Magnetic South and Loose Salute, both with the original First National Band.

Watch Nesmith and Finney perform “Papa Gene’s Blues” a few days’ earlier

As is often the case when there’s not a full band, Nesmith’s Coach House show was liberally sprinkled with stories. He paid a touching tribute to the First National Band’s Rhodes, telling the audience he was a chain smoker who often talked about quitting, but couldn’t. “They got me,” Rhodes used to say. When Nesmith introduced him to marijuana, he told the audience, Rhodes said he couldn’t smoke a joint because it hurt his throat. So he told him to eat it. Rhodes wound up dumping a big heap of marijuana into a jar of peanut butter, swirling it around until it “got this chartreuse hue,” and then gulping it down with a spoon. “From that point on,” Nesmith said, “he always played high.” (Rhodes died in August 1995 at 64.)

Another story came as an introduction to “Joanne,” the biggest hit of Nesmith’s solo career, which peaked at #21 in Billboard in October 1970. He said a fan came up to him after a show and said, “That’s the greatest song you ever wrote,” and went on and on about how he and his wife courted to “Joanne” and even played it at their wedding. “I wanted to ask him, ‘Have you ever listened to the lyrics?’” Nesmith said. “I just couldn’t tell him it was a lament….”

Watch Nesmith perform “Joanne” at the Coach House

At the time, Nesmith said, he had a penchant for “writing these songs that had a certain quality of lament, but what I tried to do was to put within that quality of lament a quality of redemption, the way it comes back and digs us all back out.”

He then segued into another song from And the Hits Just Keep On Comin’, “The Upside of Good-bye,” which aptly reflected what he had just said: “Then the thing that struck me strangely/Was the feeling that I had when she was gone/The few that left before had left me empty/But she left me with a fullness to lean on.”

Set list, according to Monkees Live Almanac
Two Different Roads
Tomorrow & Me
Some of Shelly’s Blues
Keys to the Car
Listening
The Upside of Goodbye
Papa Gene’s Blues
Keep On
Continuing
Marie’s Theme
Joanne
Harmony Constant
Lady Love
The Candidate
Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun to Care)
Nine Times Blue
Different Drum
Roll With The Flow
Silver Moon

The Monkees Present: The Mike and Micky Show performances resume in March. Tickets are available here.

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Thomas K. Arnold

Thomas K. Arnold is publisher and editorial director of Media Play News, a home entertainment trade publication. Before venturing into home video, he spent more than a decade writing about music. He was rock critic and columnist for the San Diego County Edition of the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Magazine, and contributed reviews, features and interviews to Billboard, the Los Angeles Times, Goldmine, Relix and other music publications. In 1979 he founded Kicks: San Diego’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, which he turned over to an associate two years later to engineer the comeback for Gary Puckett and the Union Gap.
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  1. Guy Smiley
    #1 Guy Smiley 28 January, 2019, 22:48

    “Papa Gene” is NOT the only Nez composition on the first Monkees album: The pounding country-rocker “Sweet Young Thing” was a Nez-written song too,

    One more minor hit Nez contributed: The trippy “Tapioca Tundra” is perhaps one of the oddest (But also one of the coolest) Top 40 hits ever.

    It should also be noted that last year’s “Micky & Mike Show” (Which is hitting the road again later this summer) is way more than just “the hits.” Specifically, the show is offering loads of Monkees deep tracks, including songs they never played live — Such the surreal “Auntie’s Municipal Court.” Those shows are about the aongs and the music, not the multimedia spectacle of an actual Monkees show.

    Anyhow, nice review! Would’ve loved to seen this show, or last year’s FNB tour.

    Reply this comment
  2. Guy Smiley
    #2 Guy Smiley 28 January, 2019, 22:54

    OK… Apparently Nez co-wrote “Sweet Young Thing” with The great Goffin-King songwriting duo. That still counts for something though, right?

    Reply this comment

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