LIVE: Pat Metheny’s Side-Eye @ Troy Music Hall, 11/19/2021
Once after a Saratoga Springs club gig, I asked Pat Metheny about the delay since his last local show. He said he always brings new music to his audience so he doesn’t come back until he’s made some, a mission statement both conscientious and creative.
At the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall Friday, the jazz guitarist introduced a new band and new songs, but familiar in their technical brilliance and uplift.
A star since his teens, the 67-year-old Metheny – a 20-time Grammy winner – has balanced contextual shape-shifting with bedrock melodic strength and consistently dazzling performing fire.
His giant mane now gray, trim in gray jeans, long-sleeved T, and gleaming white shoes, he came onstage alone before a fully-masked crowd audibly delighted to see him. He then introduced the new band he calls Side Eye in duets, one each with drummer Joe Dyson, then keyboardist James Francies.
New Orleanian Dyson set up a steady snare-and-kickdrum pulse he maintained through the two-hour set as its foundation; but he also splashed across his cymbals for color and accents and hit exuberant or dramatic tom-tom rolls in vivid emphasis. Houston native Francies usually played two keyboards at once, most often making melodies on a Steinway grand right-handed while thumping baselines with his left on a keyboard atop it. He also went orchestral or funky on organ, playing bass lines here, too. Or he explored science-fiction sagas and sound-effect dreams on additional synthesizers and samplers. This dexterity made the band a three-man quartet, or more; when Metheny thumbed bass lines while also fingering melodies and Dyson went poly-rhythmic.
At the start, each duet cruised on cohesive playing through complex harmonic twists and turns and tricky cadences until Metheny called Dyson back out to complete the trio and things really got busy.
Early on, Metheny mostly flat-picked a fat blond jazz box but later went electric-noisy on a red guitar synthesizer that scattered trumpet-like blasts, subtler woodwind or keyboard sounds all over the place. He plucked galaxies of sound from a 42-string Pikasso guitar with six- and 12-string necks and harp-like string webs that greeted his fingers with silvery tones. Acoustic guitar interludes fell like soft rain, all delicate sparkles.
Fans greeted familiar melodies when they emerged like trees standing in fading fog of often wandering intros, happily hailing the pastoral-but-Weather Report-like “Bright Size Life,” gasping at the synthesized fireworks of “Trigonometry” which Metheny co-wrote with Ornate Coleman, easing into the cool breeze of “So May it Secretly Begin” and the meditative “When We Were Free.”
Newer tunes from Side Eye’s “V1.IV NYC” live album earned their welcome, too.“Timeline” rolled on a smooth soul-funk feel, Francies really digging in at the organ. “It Starts When We Disappear” cast a zen-like spell, as purely pretty a tune as Metheny has ever made. “Zenith Blue” built up an impressive head of steam over Dyson’s powerhouse snare clatter, relaxed then went big again, taffy-pulled by Metheny’s guitar synthesizer.
Metheny started the encore alone, finger-picking an acoustic guitar in a seamless medley, soft and full of charm. Then he brought back Francies and Dyson to weave the familiar, romantic chaconne “Are You Going With Me?”
Everybody was going with Metheny, onstage and off; as the set shaped feeling skillfully.
Ultimately the music was all about happiness, but never simply so or in obvious ways. This was heady jazz for grown-ups. Even when it dipped into melancholy, it also applied therapy. The density and drive of the music, and its sound-effects exoticism, recalled Weather Report at times and the pastoral open spaces of the early Pat Metheny Group. Yet, Metheny made this music with fresh ingredients in the skills of Dyson and Francies. They spanned rock riffs to ideas-bursting bebop, fast and frantic to flowing in stately detachment, sparsely lyrical to lushly dense; the music cast a wide emotional net: serene to ecstatic and many moods between.
Metheny’s wife and children, across the aisle from me, gazed up at the Hall’s tall ceiling in quiet awe like other newcomers. Veteran visitors returning to the venerable venue noted the newly-reduced size of lighting and sound systems. Both worked impressively well, as did the acoustics of the Hall itself.
Fans displayed COVID vaccination records or negative-within-72-hours test results before admission.
Metheny spoke little, greeting family and friends, effusively introducing his bandmates but not introducing the songs.
So, thanks to the crew member who kindly showed me the setlist:
Have You Heard
So May It Secretly Begin
Bright Size Life
Better Days Ahead
Always and Forever
When We Were Free
Message to a Friend
It Starts When We Disappear
Trigonometry (Ornette Coleman & PM)
Picasso guitar solo
Zenith Blue (new)
Solo acoustic guitar medley
Are You Going With Me?