The last time I saw Michael Nesmith, it was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania back in April. Since then, the show seems to have changed a little bit for the better. Perhaps it was the seating arrangements (the Carnegie show had more of an auditorium feel, whereas The Magic Bag is a relaxed, jazz club feel in an intimate setting), or maybe it was Nesmith's level of comfort with performing his songs live again, but either way, it was incredible to see that these shows are getting even better.
The Magic Bag alternates between being a concert venue and a light dinner theater, so seating was mostly at tables and many people in the audience had popcorn. The lighting was low, but the stage was very visible. Nesmith and his band took the stage around eight-thirty and after a brief introduction of the band, Nesmith also introduced the concept that he built for the shows. Much as he did during his last tour, Nesmith built the setlist and atmosphere of the show by introducing a song or series of songs with a "setting," hence the tour title "Movies of the Mind."
Nesmith's artistry with words does create a terrific atmosphere, which I will try not to spoil for you when I say that the set started with a story that prefaced "Calico Girlfriend," "Nine Times Blue," and "Little Red Rider." Although it seems like an unlikely opener, "Calico Girlfriend" had much more energy than the recorded versions. After only a short pause, "Calico Girlfriend" became a heartfelt and rockier version of "Nine Times Blue." "Little Red Rider" closed the series of songs, and Nesmith created the setting for the next song, which I immediately realized was going to be one of my favorite of his compositions, "Propinquity (I've Just Begun to Care)." The word propinquity means "the state of being close to someone," and the song is a gentle tune about falling in love with someone you'd formerly taken for granted. In this live performance however, the lyrics and music were both only small players, outshone by Nesmith's voice, which sounds just as good as ever. His voice seems to have more or less the same range, but it seems to have gained a new level of depth as he's matured. Another lyrically masterful Nesmith track followed: a slowed-down version of "Tomorrow and Me," which really captured the emotions the lyrics seem to convey more so than the original recorded version.
The next vignette took place in Paris, and led into a version of "Different Drum" which featured mandolin and synthesized accordion. "Different Drum" was followed by "Some of Shelly's Blues." Another elaborate visual description set the stage for "Joanne" and "Silver Moon," while yet another still led into "Rio" and "Casablanca Moonlight." While I prefer the album version of "Rio," the live "Casablanca Moonlight" seems far more engaging than the album version.
The set continued with "Yellow Butterfly" and then "Light" and "Rays" played consecutively. My favorite part of both shows I've attended is a trio of songs beginning with an updated "Cruisin,'" and continuing with "Dance" and "Tonite," all from Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma. That trio of songs works amazingly live, and stands out as the best group of tracks amongst many other great songs. The set closed with "Running From the Grand Ennui."
There was a pleasantly brief pause before the band returned to the stage for an encore of "Rising in Love" and an upbeat "Listen to the Band," during which, Nesmith introduced his actual band again, with solos from each of the talented band members.
Michael Nesmith and his band put on an incredibly good live show, with plenty of life and energy, and ripe with musical talent. Even if you're unfamiliar with some of his work, but you still enjoy a good "classic" rock show, Nesmith and co. provide. It's a relaxed journey, and well worth the ride.