Smile Politely

A harmonious rhapsody at The Virginia Theatre with Pat Metheny

Closeup of musician Pat Metheny playing a guitar on stage. He's looking down at his guitar and the stage lighting is purple.
Pat Metheny on Facebook

Editor’s Note: Photos weren’t allowed during the performance. The photos in this review of Mr. Metheny are from his social media.

Jazz aficionado and eminent guitarist Pat Metheny, the recipient of 20 Grammy Awards across a successful career over the course of several decades, graced the stage at the Virginia Theatre in downtown Champaign on the evening of Friday, June 16th. Known for his rich and illustrious music and his dynamic performances, Metheny once again exhibited the essence of his profound musicianship.

Metheny opened with a solo number played on an unusual guitar-like instrument called the Pikasso, an unusual 42-string guitar-like instrument designed by luthier Linda Manzer, and made famous by Metheny. With its multi-necked design, the Pikasso held the audience captive, its strange appearance a stark contrast to the sounds it emitted under Metheny’s skilled hands.

He was then joined by the two accomplished musicians who comprise his ensemble: Joe Dyson on drums and Chris Fishman on keyboards. Fishman, who was surrounded by four keyboard sets, including a piano, organ, and synthesizer, created a blend of nuanced sonic textures that echoed around the theatre, providing a complex backdrop for Metheny’s guitar improvisations.

Musician Pat Metheny and two of his bandmates onstage peforming. The stage is bathed in purple light
Pat Metheny on Facebook

The band is a well-rehearsed group. Metheny smoothly traded lead parts often with his keyboardist and the drumming was done with touch. The drummer had a great feel for the mood of each number, playing softly during slower, more mellow parts of songs, but he could really pick it up and drive the song when called upon to do so. By my count, 12 songs were played, with Metheny’s great playing on display.  Whether it was note picking or finger picking, on electric or acoustic guitar, it was done cleanly. Metheny was in command of the instrument.  There’s a reason why he is such a recognized musician.

The well-rehearsed synchrony was palpable as Metheny seamlessly traded lead sections with Fishman, and Dyson’s drumming brought an intrinsic rhythm, attuned to the mood of each song.

Metheny’s rapport with the audience was subtle. There was very little verbal communication from him but after each song, which was greeted with loud, energetic, and appreciative applause, he would smile and nod to the crowd. Often, he would reach out to his side men to make sure they were included in the show of gratitude. 

The band did not take a break in the traditional sense. Generally, bands take a 10 or 15-minute break between sets which can break the flow or momentum of a performance.  Metheny eliminated that by keeping the music going. Breaks for each musician were worked into the set and taken individually.  About halfway through the performance, Metheny disappeared to the back of the stage for just a couple of minutes. Later in the set, the drummer quietly slipped off stage for one song while Metheny and Fishman carried on. That was followed by the keyboardist exiting for a song that then featured Dyson.  

Closeup of musician Pat Metheny playing a guitar on stage. He's looking down at the stage while playing and the stage lighting is purple.
Pat Metheny on Facebook

The concert reached its zenith with an encore by Metheny. He returned to the stage for a ten-minute solo performance, a sublime treat that had the audience spellbound by his unrivaled musical mastery.

When the show came to a close, it was evident in the energized crowd that the performance had been well received. As attendees filed out of the theater, their smiling faces reflected the lingering elation from an evening of remarkable musicianship. The atmosphere was positively charged, mirroring the magnetic performance they’d just witnessed.

In conclusion, the concert was the epitome of Pat Metheny’s extraordinary musical prowess, underscored by the dynamic participation of Dyson and Fishman. This, combined with Metheny’s unique style of connecting with the audience, created a memorable night filled with soul-stirring melodies that will surely resonate in the hearts of the attendees for a long time to come.

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