Monday, March 29, 2010

Review: Pat Metheny In Rome

I've never traveled so far nor worked as hard to attend a concert.

Over five thousand miles from our Midwestern hometowns, I caught Pat Metheny's revolutionary Orchestrion tour on March 17 while on vacation in Rome.

I didn't actually fly to Italy to see Metheny, but since I was already there the opportunity to be one of the first Americans to witness the guitarist perform with robots proved irresistible.

It wasn't easy. I'll resist the urge to offer a detailed account of my epic trek to and from the concert in northern Rome. I'll only state that Metheny played for two-and-a-half hours and that my round trip journey from my cot near the Colosseum took at least that long.

My difficulties didn't end when I finally arrived at Auditorium Parco della Musica. The complex's 2,800-seat Sala Santa Cecilia concert hall was sold out. I managed to secure a €31.50 balcony seat at face value from a sympathetic ticket scalper.

(Spoiler alert: Read no further if you'd prefer to be surprised by Metheny's forthcoming North American tour.)

After opening with a lovely acoustic set, Metheny began his mad experiment by employing a simple robotic finger cymbal set reminiscent of a clapping monkey toy. It was a deliberately tedious set-up to the dramatic unveiling of the physically imposing Orchestrion machine.

Metheny's Orchestrion is akin to a gargantuan music box with the guitarist acting as the windup key. It's insanely cool. It's also outright insane.

While endlessly fascinating and awash with the thrill of the new, it quickly became apparent that the contraption is incapable of swinging. While it would be unfair to call the device a Rube Goldberg machine, Metheny's regular drummer Antonio Sanchez has nothing to worry about. As far as I can tell, Metheny's robots are responsive to factors like volume and tempo but they're incapable of true improvisation.

After performing Orchestrion in its entirety, Metheny played a handful of spontaneous pieces and a few familiar compositions in a futile attempt to humanize the robots. The set list from the Milan date is similar to what I heard in Rome.

Here's video footage from the concert. Note that the house lights are turned up between songs. While I found the custom entirely foreign, I really liked it. I also appreciated the Italian audience's attentive nature. They sat in perfect silence as Metheny performed.

I should be so lucky when I catch Metheny and his robots in May when they collaborate eight miles from my home in Kansas.

(Original images by Plastic Sax.)


Dean Minderman said...

An interesting read, though I'm not necessarily pleased that your review seems to confirm my own misgivings about the Orchestrion project.

I've always liked Metheny, but this seems like an odd use of his time and resources. Still, I'm going to try to see him when he's in St. Louis, just to satisfy my curiosity. Thanks for letting me know what I'm in for...

Happy In Bag said...

Pat's a genius. Period.

And part of being a genius- not that I'd know anything about the matter- is a willingness to pursue outlandish projects.

If Orchestrion is a failure- and I'm not convinced that it doesn't succeed- it's a noble failure.

I don't regret the experience at all. And as I indicate, I intend to do it again.

Cb said...

I agree that Pat Metheny is one of the genius musicians of our times. It seems that fact sometimes gets lost in the fact of his enduring commercial success. I also think that most any idea he has is going to be cool for what it is. I listened to some of the videos, and it still sounds like his music. However, I still am amazed at how many people or things it takes to replace Lyle Mays... ;)

Anonymous said...

Just saw the show twice, in Poughkeepsie and Philly.
Different than anything you have seen before, a novelty for sure, but beyond that a musical/mechanical experience that you won't soon forget. I have never seen anything quite like it
Go to the show, you will be amazed.