Former Monkee Michael Nesmith doesn’t tour often. But he recently played with the other surviving Monkees, and now, he’s playing his solo music in concert for the first time in two decades. The tour brought him to Chicago for a show on Saturday at the Old Town School of Folk Music — a rare opportunity to hear Nesmith performing the “cosmic” country-rock tunes that he recorded in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Those songs sounded beguiling in concert, with a skilled band (including guitarist Chris Scruggs) providing the accompaniment to Nesmith’s low-key vocals and 12-string guitar strumming. His later solo music hasn’t aged as well; Nesmith and his band missed an opportunity to strip away some of the ’80s sheen from those songs.
After noting that he thinks of his songs like movies in his head, Nesmith proceeded to recite reciting narrative introductions before nearly every song, “setting the scene” for his lyrics with vignettes that usually involved a romantic couple. A handful of excessively exuberant fans couldn’t resist shouting at Nesmith at a few points, shattering the sense of intimacy. Nesmith handled the interruptions with aplomb, mostly ignoring them and carrying on with his unorthodox mix of storytelling and songcraft.
SET LIST: Papa Gene’s Blues / Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun to Care) / Tomorrow and Me / Different Drum / Joanne / Silver Moon / Some of Shelly’s Blues / Rio / Casablanca Moonlight / Grand Ennui / Cruisin’ / Rays / three songs from The Prison: Opening Theme (Life, the Unsuspecting Captive) / Marie’s Theme / Closing Theme (Lampost) / Laugh Kills Lonesome / ENCORE: Thanx for the Ride