If you showed up three minutes late for the show Tuesday night at the Carnegie Library Music Hall, you missed the one Monkees song of the night -- and it wasn't "Last Train to Clarksville."
It was the lesser known folk-rock diddy "Papa Gene's Blues," one of the first songs Michael Nesmith wrote, and it was over before we knew it.
From there, it was narrative trip through the unsung solo career of "Nez," who at 70, without the wool hat and sideburns, looked more like a CEO or congressman than a former pop sensation.
He explained from the outset that "these songs play out like little movies in my mind," and so, reading from an iPad attached to his mike stand, he introduced each song with a nicely drawn scene-setting vignette about the characters.
Michael was the most talented Monkee as a musician-songwriter, but as a singer he was mostly background to Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz, which, along with his wealth and film projects, might explain why we didn't see much of him over the years.
Strumming a 12-string acoustic, he delivered many of the songs == especially the early folk ones in the set, such as "Propinquity," "Tomorrow and Me" and "Different Drum" (a hit for Linda Ronstadt) -- in a thin talk-sing, his limited range often creeping up toward the chorus (though he was able to hit the falsetto in "Joanne"). You could say he made up for it in the earnestness and honesty of his delivery, which is why his adoring fans, who filled three-quarters of the 1,000-seat venue, howled and cheered after every song.
As the set wore on and inched further into his '70s catalog, he moved beyond the static folk into cruise rock on "Silver Moon" and "Rio"; Dead-like psych-country on "The Prison" medley; something approaching hard rock on "Grand Ennui"; and even New Wave, with rap-like verses and electronic drums on "Cruisin'."
Some of it sounded corny, some of it hit the spot, thanks in part to his seamlessly pleasant band, stocked with a ringer in Chris Scruggs, grandson of bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs. Song after song, he ripped off intricate solos on acoustic, electric, slide, pedal steel and mandolin.
The fans were polite and well-informed, with not a single Monkees title shouted out. Monkee fans don't Monkee around! For the more casual Nez fan, another song or two from that catalog -- "Nine Times Blues" maybe -- would have been nice, but you have to admire his determination to focus on what means the most to him.
Scott Mervis: email@example.com or 412-263-2576. First Published April 10, 2013 5:15 PM