Pat Metheny Orchestrion Review Boston 5/20/2010

Orchestrion. What?  Instruments playing by themselves?  Is Pat Metheny some kind of wizard?  Well, after seeing the show at the Orpheum in Boston on May 20, I have to say he is.  A one man musical genius and madman,  touring with a bunch of robotic instruments from futuristic guitar bots and bottle organs full of mysterious liquids that looked like something you might see in a 19th century apothecary, to percussion instruments suspended in animation. And of course a player piano that inspired it all, not the one from Pat’s grandpa’s basement, but a Yamaha that actually sounded like a real keyboard and not a toy.

Pat came out and played three solo pieces; a couple of which I didn’t recognize.  He played the bizarre, but beautiful looking and sounding 42- stringed Pikasso guitar, which is a cross between a harp and guitar.  He finished the pre-set with an old tune called Unity Village, off Bright Size Life, his first recording, adding a little taste of percussion from the Orchestrion.

And a red curtain lifted, to reveal the odd assortment of instruments ready to play the Orhcestrion suite at Pat’s command.

It was a magical moment.  People clapped; I just smiled and pumped a fist.  I was ready.  And what I mean by ready is that I had done my homework.  I purchased the Orchestrion CD shortly after it was released and listened to it over and over until I had it memorized.  See my review here.  I might have been one of the few in attendance who noticed he played the suite out of sequence from the recording.  He started with Expansion, one of my favorites, which is track 3 on the CD.  It’s high energy and I thought it was the perfect beginning to the suite.  He played Spirit of the Air next, which is the last track on the CD.  It’s a tune I really dig – so cool, with a groovy baseline and hypnotic vibes.  It reminded me very much of some of the music on one of my favorite Pat Metheny Group LPs, Imaginary Day.  He played my favorite tune off the CD next – Entry Point – it has that mesmerizing Secret Story quality – very emotional,  evocative, so much so that I shed a tear.  I did.  Next came the opening track, Orchestrion, which I think was a great spot for it.  It really amped up the mood and energized the audience.  After Orchestrion, he talked a little about the project and announced what he had played so far and then finished out the suite with Soul Search, which has a minimalist motif similar to that found on The Way Up.  What amazed me about the performance was that each tune sounded exactly like the studio version.  There were a few improvised departures in the guitar work, but not much.  He actually pulled it off.  Things were about to change however, when he came back on stage after a roaring standing ovation.

The cool and unexpected treat was that Pat was in a talkative mood.  He practically gave an encore clinic, explaining how the Orchestrion worked.  He demonstrated how he built layers of sound from the different custom built instruments, all with his guitar and foot pedals, and in the process created a completely improvised – on the spot – composition.  He started with a tempo, which he thought was a little too slow, and restarted with something fast.  Then he gave guitar commands to each instrument, playing notes that the instruments mimicked until he had the desired background for his guitar improvisations.  He then played another encore which included a stunning version of Make Peace, a composition he wrote and recorded with Brad Mehldau.

I thoroughly enjoyed the concert as did my daughter.  Pat was in great form as always and played for over 2  1/2 hours.  He interacted with his band of bots with affection as if they were his band mates – there was a real connection there.  Pat has always had a way of humanizing technology dating back to his early experiments with the Synclavier and his ongoing use of the Roland guitar synthesizer, which he actually played with the Orchestrion during the encore.  I’ve seen Pat live a dozen or so times over the years, and his music is always fresh, melodic and full of surprises.   He’s one of the great artists of our time and a national treasure.  I feel fortunate to have seen one stop on the Orchestrion tour.   If you get the chance, go out and see it.  You’ll never see anything like it again – ever.

Pat Metheny – Orchestrion Review

Orchestrion. Sounds like the Pat Metheny Group, but it’s not.  Pat’s going solo on this one with a band full of bots.  And he’s touring with them too.  I’ve got my tickets for the May 20 date in Boston.

Ok, I’ve read the liner notes on the Orchestrion CD and have seen several videos of Pat explaining the concept and I understand what’s he’s done, but not how he’s done it exactly.  Briefly here, he had some instruments designed for him that are solenoid based and operate like pneumatics.  He programmed the instruments to play the compositions.  He then improvises with his guitar over the mechanical ensemble, which includes a bottle organ, basses, bells, marimba, vibraphone, drums, pianos and more.  No Lyle, Steve or Antonio.

My question.  When these bots solo on stage, do we clap? I will.

If you are reading this review, you probably already have the CD, and will instantly know what I mean when I say the music on Orchestrion is self- referential, which for me, as a Pat Metheny fan for many years, is a good thing.  I was worried that the music would be inaccessible or overshadowed by the technological aspects of the project.  Kind of like hearing the signature Synclavier when Pat recorded with it for the first time.  I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but over time, came to enjoy that expansive, Sun Ra type exploration.   But I was pleasantly surprised, and as is true with most of Pat’s compositions, true for me at least, with each listen, I hear more, and the more I hear, the more I like.  What is immediately noticeable are the references to other works including Secret Story, Off Ramp, Day Trip, Speaking of Now and on the last tune, a combination of the motifs in The Way Up and elements of a tune from Imaginary Day.

Orchestrion is another masterpiece and I can’t wait to watch and listen to Pat pull it off live.