Teen sensation with the Monkees, country-rock pioneer, music-video groundbreaker, musical iconoclast — Michael Nesmith has covered a lot of ground in his 50-year career. He covered a bit of it Saturday night at the Somerville Theatre, with a focus on what, post-prefab-Four, he’s best known for, the string of records he released in the 1970s before his attention was diverted to other endeavors.
Now 70, Nesmith is currently touring on his own for the first time in two decades. Saturday’s show was part of his “Nez solo” tour, the “solo” indicating not that he's performing without a band, but what the tenor of his performance would be.
He kicked things off with a nice reading of one of his Monkees songs, “Papa Gene's Blues.” That acknowledged his beginnings and introduced a more-or-less chronological sampling of his catalog spanning the country-rock records he made at the dawn of the 1970s and those that followed during the rest of that decade, with a dip here and there (“Rays,” the propulsive “Laugh Kills Lonesome”) into his later work. And by playing “Propinquity,” “Joanne,” “Different Drum” (a version with marvelous, gypsy-accordion feel), “Some of Shelly's Blues,” “Silver Moon,” “Rio,” and “Grand Ennui,” he gave the people (to their loudly- expressed delight) what they came to hear.
He coupled chronology with scene-setting; his songs, Nesmith said, play like “little movies” in his mind, so he decided to share those settings by providing a brief narrative introduction (typically playing off the lyrics of the song in question, and typically involving a couple) for each song.
In a sense, combining narrative and song isn’t a new idea for Nesmith; in 1974, he took a left turn from what he had been doing by releasing “The Prison,” which combined a Nesmith short story with what was essentially a soundtrack suite. Saturday, he broke his chronological approach by doubling back to that record to play three of its songs.
He made another return to close the show (“I'm really glad you called me back so I could play this song,” he deadpanned). He acknowledged Red Rhodes, the pedal steel guitarist whose sound contributed so much to his early work, by combining his band's live playing on the song “Thanx for the Ride” with the wondrous, slurring, sliding solo that Rhodes contributed to the recorded version. That nod, and that song, came across as a fitting cap to Nesmith's return.
Stuart Munro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.