Pat Metheny Group: Memorable, Breathtaking Show at Palace

By Tim Roberts

"It gets nicer each time we come back," veteran fusion guitarist Pat Metheny said with sincere, exhausted understatement about Louisville, following a powerful concert at the Palace Theatre on November 5. On tour to promote their latest release Imaginary Day (reviewed this issue), the Pat Metheny Group gave the near capacity audience at the Palace a memorable performance, with selections from Imaginary Day, a few of their other well-known works, and a stunning light show that earned them three standing ovations, one of them in the middle of the 90-minute concert.

Subtlety and understatement are woven into Metheny's works, regardless of the tone or direction each one takes. His pieces are symphonettes, with mini climaxes that drop down into quiet solos, where he can gently pluck his guitar (or Lyle Mays can play one of his many keyboards) then later juice it up through a synthesizer. Just as some painters use broad brushstrokes to suggest open space, Metheny uses open tones, suggesting Midwestern skies, ribbons of asphalt. His music takes us on trips through soundscapes as broad as his native Missouri, where we also make small stops along the way in quiet towns before we jump back onto the open road. This effect works for Metheny in his recordings and concerts.

For this tour Metheny was joined by his regular band: Lyle Mays on keyboard, Steve Rodby on acoustic and electric bass, and Paul Wertico on drums. Finishing out the group were Mark Ledford (with a beautiful tenor voice that doubled whatever instrument had the melody) and Philip Hamilton on vocals, horns, and other instruments, and Jeff Haynes who was bold and wild on percussion.

Pat came on stage as quietly as many of his works begin, alone and with a guitar. In this case, it was a 42-string Pikasso ("It gives me better odds of hitting the right note," he later joked with us), which looks like a combination of guitar and harp. He started with "Into the Dream," which segued, with the rest of the band, into "A Story Within the Story", both from Day.

One of the highlights of the first set was a performance of the Antonio Carlos Jobim standard "How Insensitive," with Metheny, Rodby, and Wertico as a trio. The sound and instrumentation created an intimatcy - a small, smoky jazz club instead of a large concert hall. After lengthy solos from Metheny and Rodby, Mays and Haynes joined to expand the song's range without harming the intimacy.

Two selections in the second portion of the concert demonstrated the broad range of the group's capabilities. The first was "The Roots of Coincidence," one of Imaginary Day's treats, a selection where Pat went techno-metal with a jungle-rhythm synth track and a roaring rock guitar. Later, Metheny and Mays performed the lovely piano and acoustic guitar duet "As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls." The audience was spellbound, silent.

The concert finished with "See the World" from the group's 1992 release Secret Story. A standing ovation brought them back for one more selection.

The combination of extraordinary music, playing, and staging gave the Palace audience an exceptional show. And the audience responded in kind. The Pat Metheny Group has fans here. Based on that and the kind comment he made about Louisville, we can count on seeing Pat Metheny again.