Concert Review: Pat Metheny @ The State Theatre

On March 7, I walked into Sydney’s State Theatre with very little knowledge of Pat Metheny and the gifts he had given the jazz world over his 40-year career. I walked out that night knowing of the enriching discography of Metheny’s incredibly complex yet surprisingly welcoming music. The concert, titled ‘An Evening with Pat Metheny’ was just that. Whether you were reuniting with an old friend or discovering a new one, Metheny was there solely to spend time with his audience and relish in the joys of music. With Antonio Sanchez (of Birdman fame) on drums, Australian Linda May Han Oh on bass, and Gwilym Simcock on piano, Metheny delivered an evening of both discovery and familiarity.

A pin drop could be heard as the night began with a striking guitar solo piece titled ‘Pikasso’. Metheny played a 42-stringed instrument which he commissioned Linda Manzer to build in 1984. The instrument had tremendous orchestral-like power and, along with the composition of the piece, presented the audience with a heavenly, yet haunting, presence. Throughout the rest of the performance, Metheny played numerous other custom-built Manzer guitars and it almost felt as if Linda was on stage with him, speaking through the wood in his instruments. Another notable guitar lies on the other end of the tonal spectrum: Metheny’s Roland G-303 synth guitar with custom vibrato has “a very powerful sound that’s not a distorted sound” as he describes it. It fooled me on countless occasions as I would look towards the keyboard synthesiser placed on stage to see who was soloing only to find an empty chair. 

What impressed me most was the harmony of the musicians as they played extremely virtuosic and complex individual parts, whilst somehow managing to form a coherent musical conversation with one another. The dynamic between Metheny and Sanchez can be explained by their past collaborations, however, May Han Oh and Simcock provided the quartet with fresh faces and sounds. As a female bass player myself, I was moved by the talent and humility of May Han Oh, she was simply there to play her part the best she could in order to complement the other musicians. Simcock, although orientated facing away from the audience, performed impressively through his flawless accompaniment and tasteful solos. Sanchez, however, was the real highlight. Coming away from his performance I now know how a drum set should really be played. He made perfect use of three snare drums, a foot-triggered tambourine, and a quaint but powerful Turkish cymbal. I was glad that Metheny had chosen to perform some songs solo and some with various combinations of the quartet, primarily because it showcased new dynamics but also because those musicians deserved a breather after playing a straight two and a half-hour set – the fact that 65-year-old Metheny didn’t tire is beyond me.

All in all, Pat Metheny and his bandmates delivered a night of creative expansion and musical immersion. There was no reliance on fancy lighting, dancers or projections as the music alone was the reason that people were there. Metheny only addressed the audience twice, but each time, he spoke with humility and passion. His grammy awards, sixty albums, and notable musical acquaintances speak highly to his name, but it was the music that gave us insight into who he is and why he was there.