Pat Metheny with his Orchestrion
Photo by Jimmy Katz 
 
Pat Metheny is touring as a high-concept one-man band.
The veteran guitar adventurer is backed by a wall of self-playing musical instruments, including pianos, drums, bass, vibes, congas, finger cymbals and bottles filled with varying amounts of water. It was often intriguing to watch Sunday at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul but ultimately not satisfying to listen to.
Metheny’s 2 ½-hour concert was the instrumental equivalent of lip-synching.
While his guitar work was consistently impressive, the backup music was uniformly soulless. Not only did it lack musical changes (the rhythms were one-dimensional and repetitious), but it lacked the organic interplay between musicians that makes jazz exciting. (Metheny probably would have needed at least five sidemen to cover all the instruments involved.)
More than half way into his overlong program, Metheny said this concert raises two questions: Have you lost your mind and how does it work?
He declined to answer the first question, and he did an inadequate job explaining the second one. He gave a bit of a technical explanation (magnets, solenoids and such) and then tried to demonstrate how he triggers the various self-playing instruments with foot pedals and his guitar -- by doing an improvisational piece. (Btw, he said this was all inspired by his putzing around as a kid with his grandfather's player piano in Manitowoc, Wis.)
Metheny opened the evening with four solo guitar numbers before launching into most of the music from his current and 34th studio album, “Orchestrion,” which is what he calls this contraption and concept. As he played this new material, he seemed more preoccupied with monitoring the technology than with performing for the full house at the Fitzgerald.
Moreover, the notion of replacing musicians with unseen robots is, for me, as big a turnoff as a synthesizer replacing a string section.  An old pro like Metheny, who has worked with so many of jazz’s greats, should know better. Try this at home (in your studio), but not on the road.
After spending Saturday enjoying Lyle Lovett and His Large Band, I found experiencing Pat Metheny and His Invisible Band on Sunday to be a major letdown.

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