Thanx For The Ride - An Evening with Michael Nesmith & The First National Band Redux


On Monday, September 17, 2018 I had the privilege of seeing one of my absolute favorite singer/songwriters of all time.  While it wasn’t my first time seeing him (it was my 3rd), I think this might have been the most meaningful.

But first, a (not so) little back story…

If you know me, you’ll know that I’m a huge Monkees fan. I’ve been covering Monkees songs as long as I’ve been playing live.  In doing so, I’d always found myself favoring the songs sung (and mostly written) by Michael Nesmith. Contrary to popular belief, Mike was not the only musician in the Monkees. He was however, the most prolific songwriter of the group. For the most part, his lyrics always seemed more natural than the other songwriters for the Monkees. More personal and heartfelt. I don’t know how to really explain it. His music just always seemed to resonate with me. In recent years, his solo work has affected me even more so. While I’ve been a fan of almost all of his solo output, his first 6 solo albums released on RCA between 1970-1973 are outstanding. Of those, the first 3 are the primary focus here.

The First National Band Trilogy "Magnetic South" (c), "Loose Salute" (l), and "Nevada Fighter" (r)






Michael Nesmith (Guitar & Vocals), along with John London (Bass), John Ware (Drums), and Orville J. “Red” Rhodes Jr. (Pedal Steel Guitar) released 3 albums; “Magnetic South”, “Loose Salute” and “Nevada Fighter” under the moniker, “Michael Nesmith and the First National Band”.  The albums were semi well-received by critics. But sold poorly. Apparently at the time, there wasn’t much commercial viability in being an Ex-Monkee. (although the song “Joanne” did peak on the Billboard singles charts at #21, making Mike the only member of the Monkees to have a hit single as a solo artist). The First National Band trilogy has given Michael credit as being a pioneer of “Country Rock”, giving way to bands like the Eagles, and others. Before becoming a Monkee, Mike was the host of the “Hootenannies” (Open Mic nights) at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. After the Monkees, he returned to the Troubadour with the FNB. The band toured before breaking up in 1971.

In late 2017 Michael decided to revisit the music from the RCA years, specifically the First National Band albums. He reached out to drummer John Ware, who in turn asked his friends and followers on social media if there was any interest in seeing him play with his former bandmate. Despite an overwhelmingly positive response, Ware declined the offer. That’s when Mike decided recreate the First National Band.

On January 25, 2018, fifty years after first setting foot on their stage, Michael Nesmith returned to the Troubadour with his brand new band:

("Live at The Troubadour", released August 3, 2018 on 7a Records)


Christened “The First National Band Redux”, Christian Nesmith (Guitar & Vocals), Jonathan Nesmith (Guitar & Vocals), Jason Chesney (Bass), Christopher Allis (Drums & Vocals), Circe Link (Backing Vocals), Amy Spear (Backing Vocals), Pete Finney (Pedal Steel Guitar) and Jim Cox (Keyboards) played a small run of dates in California, appearing before sold out houses. His solo material was finally getting the recognition it so rightly deserved. The shows were recorded, and the album “Live at The Troubadour” was released on 7a Records (an indie label based out of London, specializing in Monkees-related titles) that August. Shortly thereafter Nez decided to take the FNBR on a short trek across the USA. The tour was booked for September… and then the unthinkable happened.

While nearing the end of a summer tour with Micky Dolenz, Michael took ill. The only official word was “due to illness, the remaining dates of the tour have been cancelled”.  Other than that, all official sources were silent.  It wasn’t until after he was in the process of healing and recovery that we’d found out that Nez was in congestive heart failure, and underwent quadruple bypass surgery.  Word came out that he was doing well, and was going to go out on the road for those September dates.

And that brings us back to NOW…

At 7:30pm, the First National Band Redux, with the change in lineup of Alex Jules (replacing Jim Cox on Keyboards) took to the stage at the Birchmere nightclub in Alexandria, Virginia. A few moments later, Christian announced, “Ladies & Gentlemen, Michael Nesmith!”. The crowd roared to life as 75-year old, Michael Nesmith walked up the small set of steps, and made his way to the center of the stage.  Michael is a 6-foot tall Texan, and has always looked every bit the part. As he walked onstage, and I saw him from the profile, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Wow… he really looks old and frail. Much differently from when I saw (and met) him in 2013 and 2014. The last 5 years must have been a bit rough.” In between 2012 and now, he did 4 cross-country Monkees tours, a small UK Solo tour, 2 cross country Solo tours, and 2 small West Coast Solo tours. Plus, he made several convention appearances, recorded tracks for the Monkees’ 50th Anniversary album “Good Times”, and wrote a book. He’s been incredibly busy. And then once again, I remembered that he just had major heart surgery less than 4 months ago. The fact that he’s even on stage is just an amazing thing to behold. It’s truly a miracle that he’s still with us. So, my thoughts of his frailty immediately disappeared from my head.

For the next 90 minutes I sat transfixed as Papa Nez and band played song after song, paying tribute to the early days of Mike’s solo career. Playing these old songs, but with a fire and passion that made them timeless. As vibrant and valid today as they were when first written and recorded. Michael may have been sitting or leaning on a chair. He sings a bit quieter than he did in years past. But he commands and captures the audience, and we hung on his every word. He joked, and we laughed with him. He talked about his first wife, Phyllis a lot. He got emotional, and we cried with him. He sang, and we sang with him. In fact, when he played “Papa Gene’s Blues” (the only Monkees song-but in an entirely different arrangement), we sang FOR him. He was visibly moved by this, and for the first time of the night, his voice failed him. So, he just let us keep singing. And we did. There was so much give and take of love between Nez and the audience. He was so appreciative of us being there for him, and for his music. We were so appreciative of him giving his music, his voice, his emotions to us. The events of the past 4-5 months were obviously weighing on his mind. To be honest, they were weighing on my mind as well. There was a moment towards the end of the show, after the band played an instrumental that Red Rhodes wrote as a lullaby called “Rene”, Mike stared to talk about Phyllis again. After a moment, he became overwhelmed with emotion, and his voice failed him again. He simply pointed to his son Jonathan on his right, then to his other son Christian on his left, and through tears and shaky voice, he croaked “This is what she left me.” I cried for and with him.  In that moment we all shared in the knowledge that we all have regrets that sometimes remain unresolved because life is fragile. Life is fleeting, and it can be gone in an instant. But for the 90 minutes in a club in Alexandria, VA, time stood still. And the words & music of Michael Nesmith & The First National Band Redux transcended everything, held us in a cradle, and gently rocked us together until we were one. It was honest. It was pure, and it was magical.

Because life is so temporary, moments like these may never happen again. If this is so, to everyone on that stage, I say “Thanks for the ride, and thank you for letting me share your magic”


The Setlist:
01 – Nevada Fighter
02 – Calico Girlfriend
03 – Nine Times Blue
04 – Little Red Rider
05 – The Crippled Lion
06 – Joanne
07 – Dedicated Friend
08 – Marie’s Theme
09 – Grand Ennui
10 – Lady Of The Valley
11 – Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun To Care)
12 – Different Drum
13 – Papa Gene’s Blue
14 – Rene
15 – Some Of Shelly’s Blues
16 – Sliver Moon
17 – Thanx For The Ride

(Me with Michael Nesmith in Philadelphia, PA April 15, 2013)


Comments

  1. Thank you for writing that lovely piece on Nez, a heartfelt tribute, and his effect on you, and others. There is something about Nez that is difficult to convey to those who don't get it, when I read pieces like yours it helps me, to know that others get it too. I had hoped to see Nez in the UK a year or so ago, but sadly the tour was cancelled. I also tried to see at least one show on this tour, but sadly that wasn't to be either, but I've still got his music, his excellent bio., and his humour to give me a regular Nez fix. Best wishes mate from an English Nez fan, currently living in Illinois. Mark

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    1. Thank you so much. So glad you enjoyed my thoughts

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  2. Very nice. Music at its finest when it touches us like that.

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