Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Pat Metheny dazzles in Lawrence concert


PHOTO: The Pat Metheny Unity Group is, from left, Chris Potter, saxophone; Giulio Carmassi, multi-instrumentalist; Ben Williams, bassist; Antonio Sanchez, percussion; Pat Metheny, guitar. Publicity photo

APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) – Pat Metheny is…

As with so much in a human life, the definition changes with time.

Pat Metheny of Saturday, March 15, 2014, performed at Lawrence Memorial Chapel in front of an enthusiastic full house. When an audience gives a standing ovation to a musical artist upon arrival, that’s an awfully good sign the concert will be excellent-plus. That was the case for Saturday’s concert (5 stars out of 5 for the performance, but 3 stars out of 5 for my experience, explained below).

The definition of Pat Metheny continues with these elements: Musician. Jazz. Guitarist.

The Grammy Award part of his resume keeps changing. The count is up to 20. And in 2013, he was named readers choice for the DownBeat magazine Hall of Fame.

On the surface, that would seem to indicate Pat Metheny has a whole lot of music of the past stacked up and, of necessity, would have reason to continue to perform it in concert. Wrong. The definition of Pat Metheny was revised to include: leader of the Pat Metheny Unity Group, which itself has evolved in a few years from a quartet to five players. The group performs new material built around its configuration.

The group is five spigots out of which kaleidoscopically complex music gushes. Pat Metheny is the main spigot. His notes seem to materialize spontaneously, inspiring the other players to respond on their forte instrument(s).

The group played 16 numbers, one being the encore prompted by rousing cheers, applause and whistling. Four of the numbers came in a sequence in which Pat Metheny performed one on one with each of the players.

- Chris Potter. He plays flute and a variety of saxophones, most of the XL category. Chris Potter is an extremely responsive player, able to let loose with long, dizzying runs that increase in intensity.

- Antonio Sanchez. His percussion set is often ground central, fueling the music’s drive. Antonio Sanchez is in keeping with the Pat Metheny inventiveness as he plays electronically activated instruments around the stage that look like stuff found in a wizard’s lab.

- Ben Williams. He’s the only guy who plays one instrument only, a standup bass. Ben Williams is always there in the thick of the Pat Metheny music with a fitting, fit-in rhythm.

- Guilio Carmassi. He played in the fresh-material portion of the concert at a grand piano and other instruments. In his featured segment with Pat Metheny, he sang the only song of the night, a haunting plaintive melody.

Pat Metheny performed on a variety of guitars, chosen to suit the music of the moment for its specific voice. The concert opened with him playing cosmic/atmospheric music alone on a contraption that was a double-necked hybrid from which he could produce bass-like, guitar-like and mandolin-like sounds and, from an extra set of strings set at a 45-degree angle to the others, sitar-like sounds. A musical inventor had fun making that thingie. Pat Metheny played lots on a rhythm-type guitar on which he ranged from soup-up power songs, to acoustic touches by powering off. Featured in many of the new music/new sounds selections was a device from which electronic music emerged. As Pat Metheny played in the manner of a guitarist, sounds came out that were an amalgam of electronic keyboard and trumpet. In the encore, Pat Metheny took the high-pitched trumpet sounds to an extra level known as near pain.

Pat Metheny spoke briefly on the evening, primarily to introduce his players. He spoke of the wizard’s collection of instruments on stage as “a whole bunch of weird things.” Amid the instruments were two screens upon which impressionistic images were projected – as if visuals are needed to help “define” what’s being heard; a wasted effort to put them up?

In classical music, musicians use sheet music that they faithfully follow note by note. At the Pat Metheny concert, the only sheets of paper were pasted to the floor so the players could keep track of the order of pieces in the concert. Everything else was played from thin air – HUGE collections of notes in intricate arrays, sometimes played as fast as the fingers or lungs could produce them. How does that work? Talk about living in the moment. Whew.

VENUE: Erected in 1918, Lawrence Memorial Chapel features Classical Revival architecture – Corinthian columns, temple shape and white exterior to imitate marble on ancient Greek buildings – though with a Christian church-influenced steeple. Located at 510 E. College Ave., the chapel is one of the focal buildings on campus. It looks majestic and important. The interior seats 1,184 in a soft rectangle. Central in the performance area is the 33-foot-tall Brombaugh Organ that stands at the back of the stage in a free-standing, elaborately carved wooden case atop a three-step platform. The fumed-oak case is trimmed in gold leaf, red and Lawrence blue. Eight large stained glass windows are set in spaces topped by curved arches with keystones, with those spaces flanked by pairs of windows set in rectangular spaces with columns and squared arches. The ceiling is a field of octagons in which lighting or ornate designs, flower like and straight-angle geometric, are placed.

THE PEOPLE: The chapel was built in the memory of Myra Goodwin Plantz (1856-1914) and Helen Fairfield Naylor (1867-1918). Myra Plantz was the wife of Samuel Plantz, president of Lawrence College from 1894-1924. The daughter of a minister, she wrote hymns, including “Songs for Quiet Hours,” published posthumously by The Methodist Book Concern. Myra Plantz died of appendicitis and is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Appleton. Helen Naylor was the wife of the Rev. Wilson S. Naylor, professor of biblical literature at Lawrence. “In her brief residence at Appleton,” an item in The Christian Advocate says, “she had exerted a remarkable influence upon the life of the students by her unusual social and spiritual gifts.” A scholarship was founded in her name, with $1,000 the seed money, according to The Christian Advocate.

GRUMBLE ONE: My seat in the balcony included a railing right through the center of vision. “There isn’t a bad seat in the house,” a fellow in line said on the way in. He was right and wrong. A performance can be heard well anyplace. A performance can’t be seen well from every place. I was not aware the seat had an obstructed view. Other people seated around me also had obstructed views. By rights, the university should inform ticket buyers of the obstructed view and also take the cost of the ticket down a notch. The price of my ticket was the same as people seated in the balcony with an unobstructed view. My tickets are paid for by WFRV, and I buy tickets as any other person and get no special treatment – all the better to discover long-standing flaws.

GRUMBLE TWO: For an hour during the concert, a female student seated in front of me texted on her cell phone. Another female student adjacent to her texted a bit, too. I could have complained to the first student, but then should I have gone around the audience and tapped on the shoulder of all the other people in the audience who felt compelled to text during the concert? Selfish, inconsiderate distraction.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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