Michael Nesmith Credit: courtesy Chicago Sun-Times

Though the loss of many beloved baby-boomer musicians in recent years has made this decade seem cruel, it’s also been a time of resurrection for several bands and projects of members of that same generation. For fans of these groups, that’s sometimes meant a crazy-amazing chance to catch performances by figures they never dreamed they’d actually get to see. Case in point: Michael Nesmith. This summer, Nesmith and his old Monkees cohort Micky Dolenz went on the road, where they treated audiences to a set list packed with deep album cuts and even a load of psychedelic songs off the soundtrack of Head—the satirical 1968 film the Monkees starred in after the cancellation of their now-classic television show. During a sound check for their June 21 concert, Nesmith collapsed and was rushed to the hospital­, and now, just months after undergoing quadruple bypass surgery, the ornery Papa Nez (as his fans like to call him) is back to the stage again. This time he’s touring with his pioneering country-rock outfit, the First National Band. Nesmith, a Texas native who had a career in folk music (as “Michael Blessing”) prior to being cast in The Monkees, was probably the most “musicianly” of the four bandmates. He wrote most of their original songs, and he indulged his love of country music on tunes such as “Nine Times Blue” and “You Just May Be the One,” exploring similar territory as the Flying Burrito Brothers in the late 60s. In 1970, Nesmith exited the Monkees to pursue his country-and-western-tinged vision, and enlisted pedal-steel-guitar god Red Rhodes (who Nez collaborated with until Rhodes’s death in 1995) to form the First National Band. Within two years the group released three albums on RCA, resulting in several sizable hits including the melancholic “Joanne” and the high-and-lonesome “Silver Moon,” plus a few other singles that scratched the charts. By 1972 the first incarnation of the band was over, and a Second National Band—which included a Moog player and more rocked-up sound—was introduced, but the public didn’t quite get it. From there Nesmith moved into studio production, working on albums for Iain Matthews and Bert Jansch, among others, and maintained a solo career into the 80s, when he entered the then-nascent world of video production. Last year Nesmith announced he’d be playing First National Band material again (with his sons backing him up) in a short series of west-coast shows. I almost hopped on a plane to see them, so I’m absolutely thrilled about this extremely rare, intimate, once-in-a-lifetime chance to see a showcase of the pure dawn of country rock in Chicago.   v

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