Monday, March 14, 2005

They've Got It Down Pat

The Cool Concert Tour continued in fine fashion last night, topping off a great week of music with what will almost certainly be the concert of the year: the Pat Metheny Group's The Way Up tour at the Nokia Theatre. This was my sixth time to see the PMG live, but I was blown away as never before (and what a great first show it was for Halfling and Zack, who were with me tonight).

First of all, they opened the concert by playing the new CD, The Way Up. Not some tunes from the CD, but the whole thing. There really is no other way it could have been done, seeing as how the CD is one epic, 68-minute composition by Metheny and longtime collaborator Lyle Mays that serves as a summation of their nearly thirty-year partnership. On his website, Metheny explains the thought process behind creating a work of this scope:
As we have developed over the years, our interests have naturally developed toward longer and more detailed forms. But this time, for Lyle and I as writers, it goes to a couple of stages past everything that we've done before. At the time that we started writing, we saw this as a kind of protest record. It could be seen as our protest against a world where fear has become a cultural and political weapon, a protest against a world where a lack of nuance and detail is considered a good thing, a protest that values that which can be consumed in the smallest bites over the kinds of efforts and achievements that can only come with a lifetime of work and study.
In this humble fan's opinion, they've succeeded beyond their wildest dreams (not to mention our own), and now this intricate, mesmerizing and uplifting work is being re-created on stage on a nightly basis. The only word that comes to mind

I find it difficult to describe The Way Up in words, save for three: buy the CD (if you've heard it, I need say no more). It has a lot of the typical PMG hallmarks: the original core Group sound of Pat's hollow-body guitar and Lyle's acoustic piano; Pat's screaming guitar synth (I used to refer to the hollow-body vs.-synth as "Good Pat" vs. "Evil Pat," but even evil is good in this case), this time spelled by Cuong Vu's skronky trumpet effects; the soaring "First Circle"-ish vocals; the powerful orchestral swells, augmented in the live show by Steve Rodby's arco bass; and the energetic Latin percussion that's been a PMG staple since the days of As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls. All these things are combined with interesting samples and instrumental effects and a heightened underlying sense of emotional depth.

So after performing a work like that, what could they do next? What they do best, of course: comb the back-catalogue and put new twists on longtime favorites (including "James," "Last Train Home," "Always and Forever," and "Are You Going With Me?") that showcased the talents of the new guys in the band. Cuong Vu was impressive on a variety of instruments (trumpet, percussion, guitar) and the trademark wordless vocals that have long been a PMG mainstay. (I was amazed to find out how much of the new sounds I heard were actually trumpet and not guitar.) Swiss harmonicist (yes, I'm pretty sure that's the right word for a harmonica player) Grégoire Maret added a great new dimension to the group; Lyle has always used a harmonica-sounding patch on his keyboard, and it was quite cool to hear "real harmonica" and "fake harmonica" trading solos on "Are You Going With Me?" Drummer Antonio Sanchez (who was new to me since I missed the last tour) is quite a find: not only can he nail the breezy, cymbalistic figures central to many PMG tunes, but his technique on the kit when "unleashed" is nothing short of startling. He started the second set with a duet with Pat and was also featured on an extended version of "Lone Jack" from the first Group album. The special guest for the evening was Brazlian percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Nando Lauria, who, like Cuong and Grégoire, was kept quite busy for most of the night. The regular set closed with "Minuano," and the Group returned for a playful encore of Pat's "Song for Bilbao," which he recorded with Michael Brecker on Tales from the Hudson. Even though they didn't play my personal favorite "The First Circle" (a tune which destroys me in beautiful ways) this time around, there was no way I could be disappointed (especially since they did play "Minuano," which is basically "The Second Circle"). Indeed, the only downside to this night was that the time they were onstage (nearly three hours) went by so fast.

This was our first time to visit the Nokia Theatre, a midsized venue that was meant as an alternative to--and ultimately became a replacement of sorts for--the late Bronco Bowl. As far as comparisons go, it's a really nice place, good sound, much less of a traffic problem since it's set out in a somewhat isolated area across from the Lone Star Park horse track. It also has the versatility to put on a variety of types of concerts, and indeed, in the next few months, it'll play host to everything from Elvis Costello to the comedian Gallagher; from Mötley Crüe to Riverdance. We felt a little bit fleeced by the parking fees (twelve bucks), but it was well-lighted and not really a long walk. The concession prices looked scary (we didn't partake), but, what can you say? It's corporate. And it goes without saying that we didn't get backstage like the other night (though I saw a friend try this and get rebuffed rather indifferently by a big dude with a flashlight).

I've usually managed to make every other PMG tour ever since I've been a fan. After tonight, none of the three of us plan on missing one again anytime soon.

(UPDATE: Lots more griping about the security personnel and the lack of meet-and-greet opportunities afterwards, on the PMG Listener Network forums.)

The Way Up...and up, and up, and down really fast: We were all struck by one comment that Pat made in the concert: the band spent the afternoon beforehand at Six Flags riding roller coasters! If we had only known, we would've been so there. Imagine riding the Titan with Pat! That'd be the only time I'd pay for that picture they take of you during the ride...


Anonymous said...

Nice review... wish I could have been there. ::sigh::

One of these days I'm going to finish the last 2% of the big band arrangement of Third Wind I started about 5 years ago. I was writing it as a solo vehicle for Pete Drieske with the TI Band, but kinda lost momentum when he hung up his strings to become an Iron Man Triathlete.

Wonder what kind of bread it would take to get PMG as guest artists for the CCCC Festival....


Kev said...

"Wonder what kind of bread it would take to get PMG as guest artists for the CCCC Festival...."

A lot, I'm sure, though the more difficult proposition would be finding the band within 1000 miles of Plano on that specific weekend.

The other trick would be trying to integrate the PMG into actually being guest artists with the two big bands. They take up quite a bit of the stage themselves (though they could seemingly be placed along the side and on raised platforms like they were on the We Live Here tour) and have the sound power of a big band on their own.

But hey, that would be awesome...