Pat Metheny Concert Review — Guitarist and Band Shred, Dazzle & Delight in Epic San Francisco Set

The first thing that jumps out at you when Pat Metheny walks out is the hair.  A ‘do that would make a 1980s era Jon Bon Jovi fire his stylist, Pat looks like he stepped into the Ice Pirates time warp and aged 50 hair years. But you quickly forget the hair once this (almost) 60-year-old master plays guitar. On Friday night in San Francisco, he walked out solo and grabbed an acoustic that seemed to have a mandolin and mini-harp built into it, creating symphonic sounds from his alternating strums and noodles and the loads of reverb.

His band soon joined him, including saxophonist/clarinetist/flutist Chris Potter, acoustic upright bassist Ben Williams, and drummer Antonio Sanchez. They played a series of rocking cuts from his 2012 Unity Band album, including “New Year,” “Come and See,” and “Roofdogs.”

PatHow to describe Pat’s playing? He’s fundamentally a jazz guitar player, in that he plays with tremendous chops in an instrumental style over complicated chord changes.

But that’s where the comparison ends. His electric guitar tones feature a haunting, wailing, almost trumpet-like effect that he uses to shred over his more upbeat tunes. His compositions are also often rocking and funky, rarely featuring the swing style of classic jazz. And he now travels with a gigantic “orchestrion” of semi-automated percussion instruments, like a massive, futuristic piano roll.

But mainly, to watch Pat solo is to take a journey on an incredible ride, with his bandmates providing the booster rockets.

Despite the strength of the new material, the highlight for me in the first part of the set was his jam on the classic “James.” It was vintage “old Pat,” and the audience at San Francisco’s Warfield began clapping as soon as the first notes came out.

About an hour in, Pat grabbed the mike and announced that he would now play a blizzard of tunes from the new album, Kin. The quartet was then joined onstage by an Italian keyboardist and vocalist, Giulio Carmassi, and the band explored songs like the eery and beautiful “Kin,” the soaring waltz “Born,” and the Brazilian-tinged, 11-beat metered “On Day One.” The audience ate up the dramatic, symphonic songs but seemed a bit lulled by his slower fare.

After about 90 minutes, when it seemed like the show was ending, Pat played a series of duets with each band member. The virtuosity on display was dazzling, particularly with Potter, as the two seemed to be playing in parallel yet sequential universes, only to reunite at the end.

After the duets, Pat seemed ready to quit, but the audience wouldn’t let him. The band came back onstage for a momentous jam on “Are You Going With Me?“, one of my favorite “old” Pat tunes that features a bring-down-the-house extended solo. Pianist Brad Mehldau has said that this tune was “one of maybe five or six life-changing moments for me as a listening musician.”

The band walked off stage, but again the audience brought Pat back. Just as he had begun the show, Pat grabbed an acoustic guitar and played a medley of some of his older songs. Even though he is just one guitar player, the playing was so dynamic that it sounded like a full acoustic band — and yet intimate enough that you could imagine sitting on the floor in his living room listening to him play.

With that, after 2 hours and 45 minutes without a break, Pat stood up, waved to the crowd, and walked off stage. His hair looked the same, but I had just been taken through my own time warp of emotions, all brought about by the varied sounds that Pat taps into with his playing.

Pat’s music may not be for everyone, but it’s highly recommended if you’re into incredible musicianship and letting loose with killer solos.

Plus, the hair.


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