For the uninitiated, Google-search-informed observer, the name Michael Nesmith might conjure up such identity stereotypes as the “smart Monkey” and heir to the Liquid Paper fortune. Neither of those glaring factoids was on display when Nesmith played at the Lobero with his First National Band last week. Instead, what the smallish but appreciative crowd got was an affirmation of his formidable power of song, which has made him a cult hero in proto-Americana circles.
In an often fascinating, sometimes quirky and wobbly 90-minute set, the 76-year-old showed his durable artistry up through a roster of strong new songs. In concert, Nesmith boasted a sturdy foundation in his seven-piece band, including his two guitarist sons and ace pedal-steel player, Pete Finney.
Mostly dodging his fame-inducing Monkees chapter — apart from the obscure “Papa Gene’s Blues” — Nesmith did nod to his vintage years by playing his timeless “Different Drum,” an early hit for Linda Ronstadt. He gave an amusing set-up for his own bittersweet almost-hit “Joanne,” which did score chart action in Australia. Other savory song highlights included “Calico Girlfriend,” “Grand Ennui,” and the chromatically shifty and inventive “Thanks for the Ride” as a sly finale.
Things occasionally went slightly off the rails, as when the boss forgot his background singer’s name and muddied a few song structures, with the band following his errant lead. But after his son adjusted his dad’s in-ear monitors — which Finney chalked up to “a technical difficulty with comical overtones” — all was well.
Nesmith’s Lobero show was a refreshingly rough-and-ready, absurdist, witty celebration of an underrated song veteran, and it was anything but show business as usual.