LIVE: Pat Metheny Side-Eye @ Bearsville Theater, 09/05/2022
(Editor’s Note: Metheny disallowed any photography at this show, including cell phones, so the below photos are from other performances in recent years)
My usual plan for Labor Day is to not labor – and specifically, not drive on highways. But there are, occasionally, reasons to fight through what’s left of the hordes coming back on the Thruway from Lake George or wherever. Pat Metheny bringing his new band concept to a small venue like Bearsville Theater is one of those reasons.
Contrary to the opinions of Pat Metheny Group fans worldwide, Metheny has not abandoned the early material that made us all love Pat in the first place. He’s just putting that music through new filters: first with the Unity Band, and now with Side-Eye, a trio concept heavy on keyboards that has Metheny playing with different drummer/keyboardist combinations. Pat’s accompanists this evening – keyboardist Chris Fishman and drummer Joe Dyson – weren’t even born when PMG’s self-titled ECM debut showed us that there was a new way to jazz. But that’s just Metheny working on his eternal goal to find new ears for his music, both on and offstage.
Before we got to the new kids on the block, Metheny started things on his own with “Come and See”, featuring his custom-made Pikasso I guitar, a 42-string contraption that makes a harp sound atonal. As a huge fan of Pat’s more recent solo-acoustic discs, One Quiet Night and What’s It All About, I could listen to Metheny explore this side of his creativity all night long. He would finish the evening on his own (on a regular 6-string acoustic), but at the end of “Come and See”, the lights went down, then came back up with Fishman and Dyson in place, ready to push boundaries.
Although Side-Eye is a more elegant model than Metheny’s more recent band concepts (No Orchestrion this time, thank the Gods), Bearsville’s smaller space made it look like he got onstage via a shoehorn, as Fishman’s expansive keyboard set-up and Dyson’s towering drum kit bracketed Metheny like two tall buildings. But Pat isn’t Pete Townshend and doesn’t need a lot of real estate to perform his magic. He just stayed in his space for most of the 90-minutes-plus set and amply demonstrated that he hasn’t lost a lick and actually may have found a few new ones, as we saw on a snarling free-jazz section late in the set.
Fishman may not be at the virtuoso level of James Francies (keyboardist on Metheny’s latest release Side-Eye VI.IV), but he has a strong melodic presence that helped him create the crystalline framework of “Bright Size Life” and the seething undertone of the Unity Band track “Roofdogs”; Fishman also helped Metheny turn the iconic PMG number “Phase Dance” into a beautiful duet. Given the Tommy Lee quality of his drum kit, you’d expect Dyson to bring major noise to everything he touched. However, there’s no way Metheny hires a sideman with nothing but a heavy touch, so Dyson kept it simple on the multiple occasions when subtlety was the only way to go.
As much as I love the Metheny Group to this day, I’m not one of those Metheny fans who went into mourning when he retired PMG. Pat continues to embrace a searching sensibility that follows the sound wherever it takes him. While the Unity Band gathered aspects of his past bands into one glowing package, Side-Eye allows Pat to take his catalog in new directions while finding new and different ways to bring musical beauty to our lives. If that isn’t a reason to wade through Labor Day traffic, I don’t know what is.