Michael Nesmith at Bull Run Restaurant, Shirley, MA on November 10, 2013
Place: Bull Run Restaurant, Shirley, Massachusetts
The Bull Run Restaurant did not look at all how I expected it to. I was picturing a big country club all alone on a hill. I couldn’t see it too well in the dark, but it actually looked pretty small from the street, though it must have been quite big since there was another concert going on that night too.
It was an old building, and it had kind of a fancy cabin feel to it. The front room was small and had the stairs leading to the second floor. The room to the right was a gift shop, and the room to the left had a nice warm fireplace. That room led to a small dining room and a hallway. Down the hallway was the coat check and the merch table, and at the end of the hallway was a large dining room. A woman sitting at a table at the end of the hall checked our names for the concert.
Conversation reception passes
Back in September, when the reception passes went on sale, I ended up getting a pass for both the Bull Run show and the Narrows Center show. I contacted Videoranch to return one of the passes, but I didn’t hear back. I didn’t get an email about the Bull Run show reception either, so I was hoping they were going to refund the ticket. There was a silver wristband waiting for me at the show though, so I guess not.
I had decided back in September that even though I had two passes, I was not going to go to both receptions. There were lots of people who wanted to meet him, and only twenty passes per show, so I didn’t want to look like a jerk taking the opportunity away from someone else. It’s too bad I still had to pay for the pass I wasn’t going to use, but I would’ve paid $200 to see him if that was the price of one pass in the first place.
They didn’t check for cameras, but they made an announcement before the show that flash photography was not allowed. They didn’t say anything about non-flash photography, which meant I was free to use my big old camera to take pictures without flash.
However, when I tried to take a picture in auto mode, they were overexposed, and I didn’t want to spend time fooling around with the settings, so I only have a few bad photos from the show. I decided that the first night would just be a listening night, and then I could take lots of pictures the second night.
The concert room was a large dining room with a bar at the back. Our seats were at the first table to the left of the stage, which meant I had a really good view of Chris Scruggs and Boh Cooper, but I could only see Mike in profile (except a few times when he turned and played facing Chris or Boh). I couldn’t see Joe Chemay at all, and I wasn’t even sure what instrument he was playing.
Our table sat six people, my mom and I, two women and a man who seemed to be together, and another man who seemed to be alone. My seat and my mom’s were facing the stage, while three of the others at our table had to turn around to see the stage.
Almost show time
Before the concert started, someone came over to our table and told us that the band would be walking past our tables to the stage, and they are very nice people, but please do not touch or grab them. Knowing that, we guessed correctly that the band would be coming up from the stairs to the left of our table.
The lights went down, and the band walked past us and on to the stage. My mom looked down the stairs, and she could see Mike standing at the bottom. She saw him stop suddenly and thought that something was wrong, but he was just waiting for them to introduce him. The announcer introduced Mike, and he walked past our table to the stage. Someone at another table held up a sign that said something like “Damn, You’re Smooth!”.
The set list
- “Calico Girlfriend”
- “Nine Times Blue”
- “Little Red Rider”
- “Tomorrow & Me”
- “Different Drum”
- “Some of Shelly’s Blues”
- “Silver Moon”
- “Casablanca Moonlight”
- “Yellow Butterfly”
- “Grand Ennui”
- “Rising in Love”
- “Listen to the Band”
Mike introduced the band at the beginning of the show rather than at the end, so you would know who you were watching; I quite liked that.
- Boh Cooper - keyboards
- Chris Scruggs - “kind of… everything” (guitar, pedal steel guitar, mandolin)
- Paul Leim - drums
- Joe Chemay - bass guitar
Then Mike talked about the concept of Movies of the Mind. I don’t remember exactly how he worded it, but basically, the songs are all ones that he wrote, and they live in his mind not just as a song, but with a kind of movie scene to go along with it. The scenes are not necessarily what the song is about, but they provide a setting for the song. The songs are kind of like gemstones, and the scenes are like the band the gemstones are set in.
In this review, I’ll try to describe the scenes the way Mike did, but the descriptions will likely be influenced by the way I personally pictured the scenes as well.
“Calico Girlfriend”, “Nine Times Blue”, “Little Red Rider”
He introduced the first scene as taking place back in the 1880s—which he noted was recent for around here. There is a big barrel-chested man and a young slip of girl at a train station. After famine and flood, they are all that’s left of a family. The girl is going off to school. She gets on the train and waves goodbye until she can’t see her father anymore, and then he goes back to their ranch to start his life on his own. The songs are a triptych: “Calico Girlfriend”, “Nine Times Blue”, and “Little Red Rider”.
I don’t think he played these songs on the spring tour this year, and I’m quite fond of all three, so I was pleasantly surprised by their inclusion. There was a moment in “Nine Times Blue” where his voice was very twangy, and it was absolutely wonderful; he sounded just like he did back then. These were the only songs I couldn’t quite picture with the vignette, but that was probably because I was too excited (now that I think about it, “Little Red Rider” and the train makes sense).
The next scene took place in an apartment, a close community, lots of people coming and going. He sees her often; they are lovers. He watches her doing the dishes, and then he says this to her. The song: “Propinquity”, which Mike explained means “nearness”. This was my favourite song on both nights; I don’t think I’ve ever heard a better version. It was beautiful.
“Tomorrow & Me”
I picture the next scene as taking place outside the Little Horse Diner from The Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora, though he never explicitly stated anything like that. I had heard his description of the scene from the previous tour, so I probably read things into it that he didn’t mention that night. Anyway, he is standing in a gravel parking lot outside a diner. She drives off in a yellow convertible, oblivious to what she has lost. He gets in his car and drives off as well, but in the opposite direction. He is heading towards some mountains that he has never seen before. The closeness is gone, but the memories will not hurt him, because he will keep them in a safe place. The song: “Tomorrow & Me”.
I’m not a big fan of the original version of this song. During the show, the song was a bit more eerie and melancholy, which I didn’t care for either.
Now, we are in 1950s Paris. It looks like a painting by Renoir. Amongst the convivial crowd is a couple sitting at a cafe. She is a modern beauty, a scarf, dark glasses, sandals. He is dashing, but he has a look of concern on his face. She wants to be a mother, but he wants to be a lover. So there is a sadness, a tristesse. Before they can love each other, they must love the same things. The song: “Different Drum”.
I liked the style change for this song. It did evoke Paris with the mandolin and keyboards (which I think had an accordion-y feel). It also felt like it was influenced a bit by the Linda Rondstat version. During the outro, Mike added some lines like, “We can learn it. We just… gotta learn it”.
“Some of Shelly’s Blues”
Next up, we have a working class family. The mother puts her daughter to bed, and then she goes and looks out the window at the rows of houses that are all the same (okay, he didn’t word it exactly like that; I couldn’t resist). She sees her reflection in the glass, and she sees herself getting older.
Mike said something about her husband—I’m almost certain it was exactly “he stays/sits at home and studies”—and so I was sure the next song was “Factions”. It was not.
Anyway, she has never thought about running away before, but in an instant, she rationalizes it all. She goes to her husband and announces her intent. He is hurt, and sad, and angry, and afraid. But then, a feeling of confidence comes over him. He pulls her in close. It takes two to tango, and it takes two to get a divorce. Sometimes a simple loving thought can save a marriage. The song: “Some of Shelly’s Blues”.
“Joanne”, “Silver Moon”
The next scene is a picnic in a meadow by a pond. The skies are purple and orange. She is a young girl, wearing a sundress and a straw hat. Her legs are tucked in underneath her. She is fascinated with him, her first love. He is a bit older, and he has his own memories of fascinating young women. She whispers to him her first false lover’s promise and then goes home to her parents, from whom he is a secret. Well, he knows what has happened. It has been clear to him for quite some time. He walks home alone down a dusty road. The songs are “Joanne” and “Silver Moon”.
“Joanne” started with just Mike’s vocals and acoustic guitar, which was nice.
“Rio”, “Casablanca Moonlight”
This scene takes place in the 1920s, in a brand new movie palace. He works at the theatre, and he stays there after everyone has left. Who would have imagined the collective dreaming that would take place in a theatre, making us ask questions like “what is reality”? (I loved the phrase “collective dreaming” to describe watching a movie in a theatre.) The movies have made him remember some forgotten desires. He wonders if he will act on them, and what will happen if he does. From the album Radio Engine to the Photon Wing (some people in the audience seemed to chuckle at this title), “Rio” and “Casablanca Moonlight”.
The second song is one of my favourites of Mike’s tunes, but I found this version disappointing. They changed it up, making it a bit more jazzy/funky, and I guess I wanted to hear it more like the original. The original version was kind of perfect, so I don’t know how they possibly could have improved on it.
Now, we become the camera, which is fogged up. When the fog clears, we see a rain drop falling away from the camera to a dark city street. We pull back and see a waterfall near the street. We pull back some more and see all of the Earth’s oceans. We pull back and see the entire Earth, then the solar system, then the galaxy, and then the universe. And all of this is reflected in the eye of a “Yellow Butterfly”.
I was pleasantly surprised by this song choice. I’d expected him to do “Laugh Kills Lonesome” from that album, which he did on the last tour, so when I made a CD for my mom of the songs I thought he’d play, I put that one on there. I considered putting “Yellow Butterfly”, but then I realized I was only going to choose it because it was one of my favourite songs from that album, so I was glad Mike also liked that song enough to play it.
The version they played was pretty true to the original version. It was during this song that I suddenly realized how very surreal and dreamlike it was to hear these songs played live, in a room full of people who also knew these songs. Most of these songs are ones that I play all the time on my iPod, but that I would never expect to hear in everyday life.
Next, we are up in the International Space Station. An astronaut wakes up and looks out into space. Where once he thought he was living in a universe of darkness, he now realizes he is living in a universe of light. Wherever there is darkness, the light destroys it. The darkness is powerless against the light. (This was another thought I particularly enjoyed.) The songs are a diptych: “Light”, from Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma (I couldn’t help but feel Mike was going to put his feet up and fall backwards as he said that) and “Rays”, from the album of the same name.
I was again pleasantly surprised that the first song—one of my favourites from that album—was played. The second song was a bit different from the original, which I thought was a little weird since it only came out a few years ago, so he shouldn’t be sick of playing it yet, right?
“Cruisin’”, “Dance”, “Tonite”
Three characters: Lucy, Ramona, and Sunset Sam. Applause from the audience. Each on their own quest, they find each other, and that is cause for celebration. We have a spinning newspaper montage—which Mike demonstrates making a swirling motion with his hand out in front of him—neon signs, limos, dancing, and all that. The songs are “Cruisin’”, “Dance”, and “Tonite”.
I’m not a big fan of “Dance”, but it was a good choice for a concert, and I find myself liking the song more now. I’m not sure why, but he replaced the word “dickens” with “devil” in the line “I’m trying like the dickens not to get stuck for good”.
The night is coming to a close. The crowd awws. But we are in a red Ferrari. She is driving. She is wearing a red dress, five inch heels, red lipstick, red nails. He is wearing a rumbled bowtie, undone, slumped down in his seat. Once the predator, he has now become the prey. And he’s running from the grand ennui. I couldn’t figure out what Mike said the song was, so I spent the first fifteen seconds of the song wondering what it was. A nice choice to close out the show. He added in a few new lines; there was something about a cheetah I think.
I particularly liked how he said the line, “But the countess has a brand new line”.
“Rising in Love”
There were no vignettes during the encore. I’m not a big fan of the first song, and it doesn’t seem like an obvious choice for an encore.
“Listen to the Band”
When I realized what the last song was, my first thought was “Nooo! A Monkees song? He’s got so many good songs, and then he picks a Monkees song for the finale?! After not (technically) playing any Monkees’ songs the whole show?!” The band members all did a solo, so that was nice. The place shook when Paul Leim played the drum solo. I found especially in this song that the instruments overpowered Mike’s vocals (but I guess that’s appropriate, considering the lyrics do say “play the drum a little bit louder”). Mike seemed to ad-lib the verses a bit, but I couldn’t tell what he was saying.
Mike said good night, and off they went.
It seemed to me that the transitions between the songs and the vignettes were kind of abrupt. There weren’t really any segues, and a few times after the song and the applause, Mike would say something like “Okay, cool”, and then start into the next vignette.
He also talked quite fast sometimes. I’m guilty of this too when speaking in front of a crowd. He wasn’t so fast that I had to concentrate really hard to understand any of it, but I definitely missed some of the things he said.
Maybe I’m not the brightest, or maybe the crowd was slow, but it seemed to me that crowd was applauding at random lines of songs, and I couldn’t figure out why. I realized near the end of the show that they were actually applauding the solos just before those lines.
I think all of the band joined in on backing vocals, and they sounded really good and like they were having a lot of fun.
The keyboards in one of the songs had a steel drum feel to them, but I can’t remember which song. I don’t think a steel drum was used in the original song, but I liked it.
After the show
My dad picked my mom and I up and asked how the show was. “Okay,” I said. “Just okay?!” he asked. “Yeah. Just okay.”
In reality, the show was probably much better than “okay”, but I was disappointed about having to pay for the pass, our not-so-great seats, and not getting any pictures, so all that made me a bit grumpy, causing me to not enjoy the show as much as I should have.
I had tried so hard to avoid set list spoilers in the weeks leading up to the show, but I think if I had seen the set list in advance, I wouldn’t have been so disappointed. While he did a few songs I really like, there were still a lot of songs that I love that he didn’t do. There weren’t any songs from my favourite album, Tantamount to Treason, though I supposed that’s partly because he didn’t write a lot of those songs. And none from The Prison, which I had only listened to for the first time last year, so the songs are still new to me, and I still love them all. Plus, a couple of the songs that he did do, I just don’t like that much. It would have been nice to hear maybe “Bye, Bye, Bye”, “Mama Nantucket”, “Nevada Fighter”, or “Roll with the Flow”—not my all-time favourite songs, but I think they are quite good songs and casual fans would enjoy them too. If I’m being more unrealistic, I’d love to hear “Highway 99”, “Wax Minute”, or “Texas Morning”—but hey, Mike’s been good at surprising us all lately, so maybe those aren’t all that unrealistic.
As we drove back to our hotel in Fall River, I thought that maybe it was time; I had been really into the Monkees since summer 2011—that’s longer than when I was originally obsessed with them back in 2002–2003—and maybe it was time to take a break. Maybe I was over it. Maybe they weren’t my favourite band anymore. Maybe there was more to life than the Monkees.
This really isn’t the whole story, since I knew I would be going to the show the next day. For the rest of the story, check out my review of the show in Fall River, MA. Here’s a little spoiler: I found myself in a much more positive mood during/after the next show.