Live review: Pat Metheny @ the Paramount TheatreBy Sam DeLeo | May 7th, 2010 | 1 Comment »
With well over 30 albums, numerous readers’ and critics’ choice awards and 17 Grammys, Pat Metheny at the very least owns a day pass to the pantheon of “guitar gods.” In reiteration of this pedigree, guitar geeks from all walks filled the Paramount Theatre for Metheny’s “Ochestrion” concert on Wednesday.
But in addition to composer/virtuoso, Metheny is also a chameleon. He’s released albums you could call “elevator smooth,” and has also recorded with free jazz giant Ornette Coleman. He’s been the sensitive acoustic guitar hero to some fans, as well as the guy who issued a crushing noise album called “Zero Tolerance for Silence” in 1994.
He was teaching music in college while barely old enough to register for freshman classes. The boyish smile and earnest Midwestern manner, which charmed the Paramount crowd, also strike one as atypical of a 36-year career in the music business. Even his hair unfeasibly fuses a Phyllis Diller-like wild abandon with the helmeted control of Johnny Ramone.
Supporting this year’s album of the same name, the “Orchestrion” tour might have also been called “The Imaginarium of Pat Metheny.” Backed by an enormous wall of mechanical musical instruments — drums, cymbals, bottles, bells, robotic guitars and other gadgets — Metheny held court like a circus conductor while triggering the various instruments via his guitar or foot pedals to accompany his leads.
Invented over 100 years ago, an orchestrion was a multi-instrumental take on the player piano, and, as Metheny explained, was quite popular until it vanished with the advent of recorded music in 1927. Metheny’s version included two pianos and two vibraphones on the floor, and was linked to a computer that translates his triggers through solenoids and pneumatics into the mechanical strike of each instrument. (Some of the music has been pre-played by Metheny to be sequenced in when he needs it.) It’s safe to say there’s never been a concert tour like this one, which isn’t necessarily a positive in and of itself.
After a couple guitar solos, highlighted by a moving take of “Unity Village” from his first album, “Bright Size Life,” Metheny raised the curtain on the orchestrion and from then on, a mechanical phantasmagoria competed with the sound of the music for one’s attention. It was almost like performance art, or maybe a demonstration at a nature and science museum — “OK, kids,” one could almost hear Metheny say, “now we’re going to learn about half notes!”
Metheny worked through all five parts of the orchestrion suite from the album, injecting the song “Soul Search” with riffs from “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Summertime.” If only all soul searches could be so playful.
Of course, as with any Metheny show, there were also jaw-dropping moments of guitar bliss, cascades of wildly ascending and descending tones, the asymmetrical lines he draws like no one else can, the breathtaking moments of improvisation, which seemed to few and far between, all performed on the wildest-looking guitar creations.
Yes, this zany orchestrion contraption, four years in the making, is a huge success. The crowd called Metheny back for two encores. And sometimes, how music is created will eclipse what it has to say.
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Denver-based writer Sam DeLeo is a published poet, has seen two of his plays produced and is currently finishing his second novel.
Alan Cox is the president/creative director of Cox Creative, a Highlands Ranch-based creative shop. He works too much, sleeps too little and spends every free moment coaching baseball, shooting images and hanging out with his rowdy sons and rowdier wife. Check out his photos here.