Pat Metheny: Orchestrion, Town Hall, 5.21.10

“There just has never really been a concert like this before. It is something new for people, and for me too. And I have never gotten an audience reaction like this. All through Europe, people were going crazy and I think a big part of that comes from the uniqueness of this experience. And for me, it is about the most fun I have ever had onstage. Each night is a new adventure” – Pat Metheny

Preshow: I thought the show started at 8:45 so I was a bit hurried when I realized I was wrong, and the show started at 8.  Oops.  Got to the theater at 8:15, and felt relieved when I saw people outside.  After a bit of chaos, the venue staff were more than a little unhelpful, I got up to the cheap seats of the balcony.  After my incredible experience at Radio City Music Hall, I am no longer worried about balcony seats.  In some venues, it is the best place for the sound.  Town Hall is no exception, this balcony got incredible sound.  I walked in, Pat was already on the stage playing.

He played songs from New Chatauqua, First Circle, We Live Here, Secret Story, Trio, Works and Works II. He spanned all his recordings, I only have 16 albums in my collection, Pat has recorded gazillions more.  Discography list here.

Show: First few songs were acoustic.  Pat strummed that guitar, furiously.  He then was passed an instrument that I have never seen before.  It had three necks on it, see the picture above.  He played three different lines on it, it sounded like a bass, regular guitar and a xylophone.  Then he used his palm and tapped the face of the guitar to make a percussion beat.  Wow.

The thing I love most about Pat, besides his incredible talent, is his ability to tell a story.  That is why I love his albums, he is one of those musicians who use the album to tell a story arc with his music.  Secret Story is, to me, the most obvious example, but really it’s with all his albums that he releases.  We were in the prologue part of Pat’s story tonight… he was showing us the basics of how he ended up in Orchestrion-land with this oddly shaped guitar.

Then Pat started strumming the electric, playing through his songs like he’s practicing chords.  Like it’s nothing. After that beautiful moment, Pat begins to unveil his Orchestrion with one little cymbal with a strobe on it.  It’s the metronome, keeping time and beat.  He plays a song from Secret Story, and I am beginning to hear him do a multi-track thing, where he records one or two beats of music and then layers another beat or two on top of it.  It’s a cool thing to try to analyze as you hear it, and to hear it live… so cool.

Then the curtain goes up to reveal the monstrous crazy rig he’s got going.  All types of percussion, cymbals, snares, pianos, guitars, bass, strobe lights, globe lights, other types of instruments I’ve never seen before and have no idea what they are.  The audience laughs.  It’s a crazy sight.  Well, this is the Orchestrion.  Pat’s electronic/robotic band.

I can see what he’s doing and how he is orchestrating this crazy concoction of instruments behind him.  Somehow he is instructing the instruments to play a chord he is playing, over and over.  Multi-layering of all these sounds robotically.  He doesn’t touch the instruments, he plays his guitar, and then the instruments pick it up somehow and play the notes themselves.  It was bizarre.  It was cool.  It was the merging of music, instruments and technology.  I have talked about the merge of music and technology, but I had never in my wildest dreams thought about music and technology intersecting like this before.  Yep, head was exploding.

After about 18 minutes of this beautiful instrumental improvisation, with moments of “Oh, I know this verse..” happening inside my head, Pat took a breath.  The crowd was thunderous in their applause and we stood up and gave love.  And then, Pat began to try to explain what this is.  Thank goodness, because I was thinking, “how does this thing work?”

Pat’s Banter/Explanation: He tells us he was excited for the NYC shows because this is his new home.  YAY!  Then he tells us the story about how his grandfather had a player piano and as a child he was a bit obsessed with it.  He then lived his life as a jazz guitarist, but the idea of the player piano stayed with him.  And now, here he is, with the player piano to the extreme. He explains the idea of the overdub, what I had been calling multi-layering.  Same idea, just now I know the official word.  Overdub.  This whole night was overdub overload.  He said, “it’s like a fingerprint upon fingerprint.”  I love that image.  He said that there are these things called solonoids, and they are electromagnetics.  He then said, “I can’t really explain it because it takes 3 hours… I’d rather be playing.”  So, not much of an explanation, but a beginning glimpse.  I want to know more.  I’m curious that way.

Here’s another look from Pat Metheny EPK

Finally I just sat there.  Legs crossed, feet tapping, no camera, no notes, no nothing.  I watched the people for a brief moment.  They were captivated.  I was captivated.  He finished the show with trying to show us what he was doing.  He said he’d go slow for us.  This was all improv, he put out the disclaimer because this was improv, some nights were better than others.  (I love disclaimers!)  I tried to count the amount of overdubs he had going, I lost track at 10.

Pat came out for 2 encore songs, and left the crowd with Sueno con Mexico. People had started to leave the auditorium after the first encore, and now they were standing on the side of the theater, watching… listening.  I was in a trance.  My heart was shining.  And I whistled that beautiful song in the subways.

I highly recommend you see this tour.  Even if you’re not a Pat fan, if you like jazz, and you like a good theatrical show, check him out.  Album available on iTunes and Amazon.


One thought on “Pat Metheny: Orchestrion, Town Hall, 5.21.10

  1. My friends and I really like the Orchestrion.

    Can’t wait to enjoy Pat Metheny’s performance at Seoul, South Korea in this June 2- June 5, 2010.

    Really like his talent and his ability to tell a story.

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