Pat Metheny Group
Live Concert Review
The Way Up Tour 2005
American Music Theater
February 13, 2005
I had the great pleasure to attend a concert presented by the Pat Metheny Group on Sunday, February 13, 2005 at The American Music Theater in Lancaster, PA. The concert was the first date of a tour to promote the group’s new recording, The Way Up(released January 25, 2005).
The concert was presented somewhat “beneath the radar,” without the usual full promotional support (the date did not appear on the Pat Metheny Group website and a Google search on Metheny+Concert+Lancaster yielded hardly any relevant results). The only reason I was aware of the date was a result of a late email sent by the Pat Metheny Group Listener Network announcing the Lancaster show only about three weeks prior. As a result, the venue (which normally holds approximately 2,500 patrons) appeared to be only at 60-70% of capacity. An undersold Pat Metheny Group concert is a rare occurrence these days – even for Lancaster, PA – which leads one to believe that the concert was presented more as a cleanup opportunity from a production standpoint before the “official” tour dates began with a concert in Buffalo, NY on February 17, 2005. There were plenty of production snafus (several described below), which are expected in a production of this scope and will likely be addressed prior to the Buffalo show.
One of my personal pet peeves is when live music-goers denigrate a non-classical live concert on the grounds that “it didn’t sound like the recording.” I intentionally draw a distinction from classical concerts where “sounding just the like recording” may actually be quite a compliment (if, of course, the recording is highly-regarded in the first place). That said, Metheny has openly acknowledged the compositional and philosophical influence of classical music in his new recording, going so far as to release the official “score” to the recording. Indeed, note-for-note, The Way Up probably contains a significantly higher percentage of music that has been “written out” as opposed to improvised when compared to just about any other jazz recording. In saying all of this, I am attempting to justify my own approach of comparing the Lancaster show to the recording (of course, the two and a half week window I had to absorb the amazing amount of music presented on The Way Up prior to the show was not nearly enough, but I did my best).
Being the first tour date, the Lancaster concert performance generally felt a bit more unsettled than the recording from both a technical-production and musical standpoint. This would be an expected phenomenon for the first tour date of just about any other artist, but is uncommon for a live Metheny show (refer to any of the Metheny concerts on DVD for evidence!).
My wife (another classically-trained musician of 20+ years) and I arrived almost right at 7:00pm for a 7:00pm show. Entering the hall, a sort of ambient musical wallpaper-like background could be heard coming from the PA at low levels. Fans of The Way Up will immediately recognize the ambient sounds as the constant re-cycling pulse loop that is the first material heard on the recording (throughout the recording, this “pulse loop” is juxtaposed, subdivided into threes and two, developed, and intertwined throughout the piece in the spirit of a Brahms-like “motto” – more on this in my formal analysis of The Way Up, which is coming soon”).
The Way Up “Opening”
At 7:10pm, Metheny – with his customary big smile – walks from stage right to begin his now-customary show-opening solo guitar cadenza while the ambient “pulse loop” continued in the background through the PA (note: as is also now customary for his live shows, Metheny would not walk off stage again until end of concert, while every other performer enjoyed a virtual “break” of at least a tune or so somewhere during the course of the 2.5 hour show).
Metheny’s improvised cadenza began as a tender soliloquy, but gradually built in intensity and almost magically began incorporating the opening theme of “Part One” from The Way Up. After a few compelling treatments of the “Part One” opening theme, other band members (Mexican-drummer Antonio Sanchez, Vietnamese-trumpeter Coung Vu, Swiss-born harmonica-player Gregoire Maret, and auxiliary-guitarist Nando Lauria) enter from behind the audience playing “toy” instruments and marched to stage in single file (did this remind anyone else of “Forward March” from First Cirlce?) to join Metheny along with bassist.Steve Rodby and keyboardist Lyle Mays, both of whom presumably snuck on from back stage while the audience watched the “marchers.”
Without an interruption to the “pulse loop” on The Way Up that had be playing through the PA since we had arrived, drummer Antonio Sanchez lauched directly into the his sophisticated snare/rimshot groove to kick off “Opening” – a brilliant elision of the “pulse loop” from ambient background to foreground texture material. “Opening” was performed like ice, and – the best I could tell – completely by memory (my wife later added that she noticed a music stand in front of the musicians in the back row, but she also added that she saw littler or no page-turning, suggesting that if there was some reference to written music, it was an extremely small percentage relative to those that would have to have been memorized).
The Way Up “Part One”
There were some bumpy ensemble and/or technical miscues during the transition from “Opening” to “Part One.” I have attended dozens of live Metheny Group concerts at a variety of venues. One thing they all had in common was stellar PA sound system that offered pristine fidelity. That was not the case at the beginning of the Lancaster show. Our seats were to the left side of the stage and about ten rows back, and in the direct path of the left PA speakers. My ears were initially unsettled by the noticeably high-amplitudes, but even more so by the harshness of the upper frequencies. Fortunately, adjustments were apparently made by the live sound engineers, as the phenomenon diminished as the concert progressed.
I am reasonably certain that I heard new musical material that is not on the recording just before the first slower-tempo section in “Part One” ( approximately six minutes into “Part One” on the recording). I could not tell if it was vamping (for timing sake) or just purely improvised, but it was wonderful whatever the function. The Harmonica was a noticeably more pronounced voice live during the slower-tempo section of “Part One” as compared to the recording. This brought my attention more to Swiss-born harmonica-virtuoso Gregoire Maret, the only new member to the Pat Metheny Group on The Way Up, and what a fabulous fit he is for the ensemble. Also, major props to Pat, Lyle Mays, and Cuong Vu for their amazing command of tutti string of complex sixteenth note runs about half way through “Part One.”
I also noticed that the “kicks” behind Metheny’s first burner solo one “Part One” (approximately 17 minutes into “Part One” on the recording) were buried in mix as compared to sharp accents on the recording, which was disappointing with regards to the musical excitement they could otherwise have created. On The Way Up recording, “Part One” is concluded by a flurry-like wind-down by drummer Antonio Sanchez that lasts approximately 30-seconds. Live, however, I’m reasonably certain that the flurry was extended longer than 30-seconds, but not quite into a full-blown drum solo (also joined by Metheny’s guitar improvisations for early moments of solo unlike recording).
The Way Up (Part Two)
The concert seamlessly progressed to “Part Two,” which required Steve Rodby to quickly switch to fretless electric for the opening bass melody, while Gregoire Maret played ground bass line on electric bass. One of the peak musical energy moments found anywhere on The Way Up comes from a five minute or so crescendo-jam in the middle of “Part Two” featuring Metheny and his signature-sounding Roland GS-300 guitar synth improvising simultaneously with trumpeter Cuong Vu. Live, this hardly failed to disappoint. In fact the energy during this section was nothing short of breathtaking to me (iIn the spirit of full disclosure, my vintage-Metheny-loving wife absolutely HATED this section, dismissing it as pure “noise”). After the Metheny/Vu jam, and the ensuing wind down, I’m certain that I heard even more new material from a Metheny (solo) not on the recording over a sort of bagpipe-like sounding drone (the bagpipe texture may be what’s actually on the recording but sounded much more over-driven in terms of timbre).
The steady walking-tempo 9/4 section near the end of “Part Two” was presented with a much “looser” approach than on the recording with regards to metrical clarity. On the recording, the beat is very clear (particularly from bass line) but was much more “blurred” live, which resulted in a much more random-sounding (and super-hip) linear texture. The last few moments of “Part Two” (and also the last few moments of “Part Three” – see below) are some of the most exciting musical moments on the recording, and the execution live was flawless, including Steve Rodby’s pulse-quickening acoustic bass bowing techniques.
The Way Up “Part Three”
A notable change with The Way Up is the reduced role of vocals. While Metheny recordings since The First Circle have featured vocals prominently (earlier albums likeOfframp utilized them to a much lesser extent) there is only one passage of the new recording (in “Part Three”) that features the Metheny Group’s signature wordless vocalizing (this was the cameo recording passage made by Richard Bona [group member on Metheny’s previous recording, Speaking of Now]). The Lancaster performance was the first Metheny Group concert in recent memory without a “pure-play” vocalist in the group. That said, the live concert offered very fine vocal performances by Coung Vu (as the “lead” vocalist with some extremely challenging range requirements) and also by Gregoire Maret and Nando Lauria on “Part Three.”
Convergence of three identifiable themes to end “Part Three” draws upon the cyclical nature of classical forms for inspiration, but ultimately results in a form completely unique and appropriate to the composition. The conclusive and relaxing nature of this convergence was mesmerizing to me when heard live. The group decided to end “Part Three” after the last presentation of the melodic material, opting to truncate the 5-6 minutes worth of winding-down ambient sounds found on the recording from the live performance. After the audience released an enormous applause in the spirit of hearing an orchestra complete a major symphony, Metheny addressed with crowd using his perpetual charm with something to the effect of:
“Typically, at this point in the show, I would normally say something like ‘what you just heard was a song from our last album,’ but in this case what you just heard was ourentire last album.”
Metheny went on to claim that that concert was only “the 2nd time that the group had made it through the entire piece” then turned to the band and remarked “good job guys!” with a big smile. Metheny continued with something to the effect of:
“I don’t know… part of me just feels like we just say ‘good night’ right now… what do you guys think about that [audience responds in cheers and applause]… Are you sure? Because sometimes we’ll play for six and seven hours at a time – just wanted to make sure that that was OK with y’all”
The remainder of the concert was a pleasant mixture of selections taken from previous Metheny recordings and jazz standards. Here is the remainder of the selections performed to the best of my memory:
The next live selection after the completion of The Way Up was an up-tempo burner duo between Pat Metheny and Antonio Sanchez (these two did something similar as the second selection of the Speaking of Now tour). While I definitely know the tune as a standard, unfortunately the title is on the tip of my brain and I can’t quite place it yet. Please email me if you know the name of this tune.
Latin Jazz Trio Tune
I can’t quite place the title of this one either, but it was performed as a trio in the medium-tempo style of previous Metheny concert presentation of Jobim’s “How Insensitive,” by adding Rodby to Metheny and Sanchez and featuring an improvised bass solo. Please email me if you know the name of this tune.
“Lone Jack” from Pat Metheny Group so-called White Album
Lyle Mays joined the trio on stage to form a quartet for the presentation of the up-tempo “Lone Jack” from Pat Metheny’s so-called “White Album” on ECM 1978, featuring Metheny, Mays, Danny Gottlieb and Mark Egan. “Lone Jack” featured an inspiring drum solo by Antonio Sanchez.
“Are You Going With Me?” from Offramp
Part 1 – Picasso guitar duo w/Cuong Vu
Part 2 – Regular full Pat Metheny Group (which featured an interesting duo between Lyle Mays using an accordion sample and Harmonica.
“First Circle” from First Circle
This signature Metheny standard definitely started off with some technical difficulties. It appeared as though synchronizing the opening pre-recorded hand claps was the main problem, although the problem was resolved by the time the claps returned at the very end of the selection. There was a false start, and the claps were near silent. Also, the lead melody was absolutely buried in mix during the opening. Bravo again to Coung Vu for a solid vocal performance on such a demanding tune. Lyle Mays added an interesting twist to his customary piano solo by layering a synth pad over top of the acoustic piano for added depth and complexity of the sound. It was interesting to see auxiliary guitarist Nando Lauria pick up a flugelhorn and join Vu as part of the brass section during the bridge. All in all, having seen over a dozen performances of this particular piece live, I would assess that this performance was medium energy. Perhaps as a result of the frustrations resulting in a less-than-clean kick off of the piece.
“(It’s Just) Talk” from Still Life Talking
This selection from Still Life Talking was quite a surprise. I cannot recall ever hearing this particular tune live. It provided an opportunity to pass around short two-chorus solos to various band members. Lyle Mays added a brass patch layer over his acoustic piano for added punch (very similar to what he did on the Speaking of Now tour encore, “Song for Bilbao”). However, Lyle struggled with some major tech hiccups – as demonstrated by his obvious physical gestures to the stage help.
“Minuano (Six Eight)” from Still Life Talking
This Metheny classic was performed with no opening cadenza intro as on the recording (as usual) and ended with a thunderous applause.
The total time of the concert was approximate 2.5 hours, which was short by Metheny standards. Nonetheless, having heard The Way Up performed live will undoubtedly go down in my history books was one of my greatest musical experiences ever.