Shows I'll Never Forget: Pat Metheny, Oct, 20, 2010

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by Mark Saleski, at Binghamton University, Vestal, N.Y.

Oh dear, I was this close to feeling disappointed. I loved the Orchestrion concept and music so much that tickets were procured and a trip was planned (across southern New Hampshire, Vermont, and all the way out past Albany to Binghamton, NY) to see what Pat Metheny would do with his creation in a live setting.

Disappointed? Well OK, see…the stage was set up with a pair of marimbas, a pair of guitar bots, and the little finger-cymbal machine. A kind of stripped down presentation. Pat came out and began to construct what felt like a buildup to Orchestrion. First, with a pair of solo acoustic tunes (nylon string, then steel), followed by a gorgeous display of the multi-necked Pikasso guitar. Next up, the hollow-body guitar comes out and the finger-cymbal machine springs to life. It even gets its own little spotlight. Cute. Pat plays “Unity Village.” In the middle of the song I’m thinking that Metheny’s talent for constructing a chord solo is unparalleled. It seemed so “full.” I didn’t realize until later that he’d been sampling himself in real time.

Disappointed? At “Unity Village”? No, I’m always shocked into the present when Pat plays anything from Bright Size Life. But yes, I’m thinking that there’s only a handful of instruments on stage, thinking that I’m having a hard time suppressing an internal pout. Where is all of the “stuff”?

Readers, it was wasted energy.

Just as the last notes of the song rang out, the backdrop that stretched all the way across the back of the stage shot up to the ceiling, revealing the wall of Orchestrion: a matrix of drums, congas, various percussion instruments, cymbals, cabinets of tuned bottles, a glockenspiel, an acoustic guitar, an electric bass, two full-size Yamaha Disklavier pianos, and even a wheezy accordion. Inner pout suppressed!

Metheny then launched into four of five pieces from Orchestrion. This gave my ears a much greater appreciation for how the music was written. It’s one thing to listen to a ride cymbal pattern supporting a marimba arpeggio, it’s quite another to see the instruments spring to life on their own (sort of). In a way, Pat almost anthropomorphizes them by facing them as certain passages are played. Seeing him interact with his own ideas (so to speak) gave the music a power not present on the studio recording. The shimmering complexity and presence of it made time stand still.

After completing 4/5ths of Orchestrion, Pat told the audience the story of how this project came to be, drawing a line from his early intrigue with his grandfather’s player piano, on through to the short-lived history of orchestrions, to Yamaha’s Disklavier. Metheny went on to show off some of his system’s capabilities by playing an improvisation based on Ornette (“Broadway Blues”) and then blowing the roof off the place with a piece constructed instrument-by-instrument. After all of the layers had been added, Pat stepped over to his famous “Red One” electric and tore into a heated guitar synth solo. Tremendous.

The show closed with an “Orchestrionized” version of “Stranger In Town” (from We Live Here). Nearly 2 1/2 hours into the show and Metheny seemed more energized than ever…and this reviewer was not disappointed.

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to, and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at
Mark Saleski
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