The demographics of concert attendance are interesting social phenomena, and sometimes they surprise conventional wisdom. The standing – and ad nauseum repetitive – mantra that most classical concerts are attended by those who still consider compact discs a modern invention does not necessarily work in reverse. Pat Metheny, an early 50-something guitarist, attracted a broad range of ages and cultures, including many people who became converts after hearing this electrifying artist. A long-awaited special jazz presentation by Duke Performances featured Metheny, one of the most influential guitarists for the past 30 years, in concert in Page Auditorium on November 11.
Despite touring continuously since 1974 and giving a staggering number of concerts – 120-240 dates per year – this was Metheny's first visit to this area, so there was a great sense of anticipation. Metheny first exploded on the scene as a teenager when the sub-genre of "fusion" became the buzzword of the day. While associated with this style in his early days, Metheny broke away with an individual and distinctive style that transcends labels. His talents were so prodigious that he was hired as a teacher at the Berklee College of Music – at the age of 19. He was, and continues to be, at the forefront of technical innovations of guitars and electronic enhancements to the instruments.
While not quite the subject of tabloid attacks and marauding mobs clamoring to get close, Metheny still feels the need for a measure of security that seemed out of place for the normally staid and sedate Page Auditorium. There were large human beings stationed at both sides of the steps up to the stage as well as two positioned down in the dressing area of the aging venue. They made some easy money as they wound up doing nothing more than helping people find the super-close "press" seating at the lip of the stage. Nice large plants decorated the platform, but everything was dwarfed by giant banks of speakers on both sides of the stage that nearly reached the proscenium arch. Cool! This was like being back at the Fillmore East in 1969 – but while many legendary guitarists played at that now-defunct grand theater, none had the chops and musicianship of Pat Metheny!
Metheny, who looks half his actual age, came out, sat down with an acoustic guitar plugged into the giant sound system, and began his journey. Bent down over his instrument, his large mane of hair and his fleet fingers were all you could see. The opening works, like most everything played on this program, were his own compositions. This solo set was most interesting for the one number where he played a harp-like guitar with several sets of crossing strings and two fingerboards. It was all very nice, but the fireworks didn't really start until he strapped on his electric and his spectacular drummer and bass player came out.
Like Metheny, bassist Christian McBride was already a recognized master of his instrument as a teenager and was crowned one of the greatest players of the bass before he could drive. He was in such great demand for recordings and gigs with musicians across all genres of music that he ultimately gave up his scholarship at Juilliard. Rounding out this power trio was drummer Antonio Sanchez, an inventive and creative percussionist who can drive the bus like few others. Most of the selections played were very high energy and very loud, but they drew you into the phenomenal technique and creativity of all three musicians. Despite being about ten feet from the stage and the enormous speakers turned up to glass-shattering levels, it wasn't an aurally painful experience. Somehow the quality of the sound system allowed for high decibels without tears or – so far – hearing loss.
Metheny is able to switch from straight-ahead jazz to fusion-style to screaming rock guitar solos in an instant and make it seem totally natural and appropriate. One of the most special things about his playing is his refusal to fall into the usual predictable patterns typical of guitarists. Each solo was unique, fresh, and surprising. Do the math – after about 6,000 shows, this guy still loves his work.
Joining the trio for several numbers at the end of the show was tenor saxophonist David Sanchez. This was a nice addition, and a hot Brazilian number, especially, provided a new rhythmic feel. Man, what an incredible, highly charged night! Structural engineers might need to check Page Auditorium for any damage from such energy!