thu 11/08/2022

Michael Nesmith, Queen Elizabeth Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Michael Nesmith, Queen Elizabeth Hall

Michael Nesmith, Queen Elizabeth Hall

Talented ex-Monkee returns to UK after 35 years with an odd new direction

Nesmith: still experimenting at 69

Forty years ago Michael Nesmith was the tall, woolly-hatted Monkee people called “the talented one”. Faint praise maybe, but there was nothing mediocre about the country rock albums he went on to make. Nesmith had another advantage. His mother had invented Liquid Paper giving him the financial freedom to experiment as he pleased. He soon became a true renaissance man. But according to one newspaper, by 2011 he was also increasingly reclusive and eccentric.

Even the promoters billed last night’s concert as “rare and exclusive". With fans not knowing quite what to expect tickets had shifted quick.

It was to prove quite an odd night. When Papa Nez last played on this side of the pond 35 years ago, he looked handsome, bearded and benign. When he walked out on the QEH stage he’d gone from papa to patrician. Dressed in black, his silver hair was slick, his manner stately. To the left sat keyboard player Charlie Judge. On the right, on bass and additional synths, was Joe Chemay. Around them, perched on every surface and clipped to every stand, were a seemingly out-of-place selection of laptops and iPads.

It was still hard to begrudge Nesmith this musical flight of fancy

Things started off pretty normally. We were treated to a crisp, melodious reading of The Monkees’ “Papa Gene’s Blues”. Nesmith’s twangy baritone was as characterful as an oak-matured Bourbon and his 12-string guitar mixed high. But then Nez announced that was the end of conventional versions. His songs were his "children" and now he was going to show us what other lives they might have led. Some in the crowd looked anxious.

With assistance from all the Macbooks, Nez said he was going to try “create sonic landscapes and movies of the mind”. It seemed as if it might be interesting. The reality wasn't. Many songs sounded as if they were being played to an odd karaoke backing track. Equally misjudged was Nesmith’s decision to introduce each with what he called a little “vignette”. These were little fictional stories of possible characters intended to help visualise the lyrics. They just spoiled existing mental images.

Nesmith’s “children” put up varying degrees of resistance to the assault of the soggy electronic Muzak. “Joanne,” and “Some of Shelly’s Blues” came through with minor injuries, but “Different Drum” was completely defeated by the tinny synth sound. Nor was Nesmith’s voice helped by the inappropriate instrumentation. Anyone who has heard the superb 1992 Britt Festival recording (see below) will know how he sounds best: as part of a full band with a steel guitar and an eager sticksman. It was no coincidence then that the most fun had all night was on the final song, “Thanx for the Ride” in which the computers finally got close to re-creating that sound. It was also the moment when polite applause suddenly became heartfelt.

But for all that it was still hard to begrudge Nesmith this musical flight of fancy. Not just because he was so genial and enthusiastic.There was also one story he told which seemed to put it in context: the synopsis of the Prison concept album. This was a metaphysical allegory about freeing your mind and the occupational hazards of getting stuck while trying. It seemed particularly apt. As everyone there knew, Nez’s inventiveness has produced great country music, helped pioneer MTV, and found fruition in two novels. But where there is experimentation there are also failures. The good news, however, for those wanting to see a more conventional side to Nesmith is that he will be donning his bobble-hat (pictured above right) once more for a Monkees reunion starting in under a month’s time. The bad news is you’ll have to get over to America to catch it.

Michael Nesmith performs 'Some of Shelly's Blues' in 1992

Now he was going to show us what other lives his songs might have led. Some in the crowd looked anxious


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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Great review, this echoes my sentiments entirely. Nesmith's voice, which I have always found beautiful, unique and expressive, is sounding better than ever. The rare moments where it was just Nez and his guitar were wonderful and I wished the rest of the gig had gone down the same route. In my opinion, that voice requires only the most minimal accompaniment, if any. As it was, the electronically generated strings and beats made the whole experience rather cringe-worthy and turned those gently wistful songs into a full-blown cheese fest. I spent most of the evening secretly hoping that a trap door would open up in the stage floor and swallow up Judge and his synths (which he seemed to be wrestling with, rather than playing).

An enjoyable evening overall......what did you expect from Nez, who never travels the predictable road !........a slightly less synthy approach would have done for me , but it's good to see that he is still trying new approaches to his song which are as good as they ever were. Thanks for coming to GB and thanks for letting us hear your lovely songs again.

We agree with the comments made in the review . Mike Nesmith had a great country rock voice. However this was totally lost in tinny synths. They made the music sound like it was being backed by a poor mans Bread . Very disappointing . The assertion that this was a new and ground breaking approach is also sadly wrong. Mike himself should recall he was using a moog in 67 for the monkees star collector. I recently had the pleasure of seeing Roger Mcguinn of the Byrds fame. He simply came out alone with his 12 string and treated the audience to a musical history of the blues and folk rock. Mike should take heed and avoid over complicating good music and turning it into Muzak . Finally the stories inbetween the songs were dreary and served only to confuse . Mike got a good reception because of what he has done rather than what he served up last night. Mike if you read this go back to your roots for the rest of the tour.

Saw him in Glasgow thought it was a great way of doing the songs and as with us all things can improve with age. Well done Nez a great night out

We saw Mike last night in Manchester, and can only echo the observations above. I thought the scene-setting vignettes before each song were a novel way of shedding new light on old favourites. But these are songs that will stand up very well with just a guitar and Nesmith's distinctive voice, so the addition, high in the mix, of clattering synthetic percussion and random 'atmospheric' noises, against which that voice was often fighting a losing battle, were an unnecessary distraction. Nothing at all would have been lost, and (musically) a great deal gained by leaving Charlie Judge and his digital arsenal at home and employing the services of a live drummer and a more straightforward keyboardist. I've nothing at all against the use of electronics and samples, but this was poorly done and performed a disservice to both Nesmith and his songs.

We saw him at QE and Manchester. We enjoyed every second of both. The way he presented himself and his music was perhaps too deep for some as they were obviously expecting a Monkees type concert. Those who have followed his music for many many years knew that this wasn't going to be the case. At Manchester particularly, he received standing ovation twice and huge applause as he performed his music in exactly the way his true fans would expect. I personally liked the vignettes and particularly loved the way he told the (shortened) story of Prison. I wasn't impressed by the inclusion of the synth, however, isn't that what music is all about? Testing, stretching, trying new things, and waiting for the public opinion? We had been looking forward to seeing him for months and weren't disappointed in any way at all. Quite the contrary.

We are both big fans of Mike's solo stuff, have been since vinyl days, so were not in any way expecting a 'Monkees style' show. Being a musician myself, and well aware of what is possible with electronics and samples these days, I have nothing against their use - when it works. For this show though, It just didn't (for me). The band had in-ear monitors, so they were probably not hearing the mix that we were. Maybe it was just down to a poor front-of-house mix that those tinny Casio beats were so predominant. To my mind Charlie Judge was doing more to spoil the songs than enhance them. A classic case of "all the gear and no idea"...

Hummm, ok so what did you expect from this loon? I mean I like the guy but his verbal vomit and mindset are that of an eccentric always has been. Not to be able to see it himself is the sorry part of it. Somewhat like Dolenz on his new CD you cannot go back and reshuffle classics (only eric clapton could pull this off and only once), you have to deliver them the way they were delivered. After all even though they are approaching a half century old how often does anyone hear them live? I can understand being miffed hearing "Your Song" in an Elton John show because he tours incessantly and who that want to haven't seen him 20 times if they want but Nesmith who has been in hiding for decades come on Mike play the songs just like they were made to try and make them grow up is something that should be reserved for an artist that has played the hell out of a tune and for lack of anything but boredom needs to address the repetitiveness of them.....but not yours. The guy has been aloof and elusive and too bad because I think at approaching 70 it's a little too little too late you should have had your epiphany 25-30 years ago. He's avoided the Monkees like a plague and never gave them, the show or anything related much credit over the years yet if not for the Monkees there would be no Mike Nesmith. Just a shame in my opinion, so much to offer yet ignored the components that were right in front of his face that could have made the past 4 decades a lot more fun for fans of Nesmith and the Monkees.

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