Festival International de Jazz de Montreal 2005, Day 11, July 10, 2005
Over a hundred thousand people patiently waited in 30°C heat for the closing event of the 26th edition of the Festival International de Jazz de Montrealan outdoor performance by Pat Metheny Group. In addition to signaling the end of another successful year for the festival, it was also significant in being the final stop on the group's six-month The Way Up world tour. Everyone began to get more than a little nervous about half an hour before the 9 pm start time, when the skies became dark with cloud cover and thunder and lightning could be seen and heard in the distance.
Fortunately, the threat of rainwhich hit the festival hard the previous day, causing a number of outdoor shows to be cancelledsoon passed, and by the time Metheny and his group hit the stage, the skies were clear and it was the beautiful summer evening everyone had hoped it would be.
The Pat Metheny Group took the GM Stage, the largest of six stages scattered throughout a six-block area of downtown Montreal that is closed off during the festival. It was immediately obvious that an outdoor performance would not impact either the audio or video quality that has been a trademark of Group shows for many years. A large projection screen behind the group displayed a combination of images linked to the music as well as close-up shots of members of the group: guitarist Metheny, long-time stalwarts Lyle Mays on piano/keyboards and bassist Steve Rodby, along with more recently enlisted members Antonio Sanchez on drums/percussion/bass, Cuong Vu on trumpet/guitar/percussion/voice, Gregoire Maret on harmonica/guitar/percussion/voice, and Nando Lauria on guitars/percussion/voice.
The festival had also arranged for large video screens to be situated throughout the performance area, ensuring that even those as far as a block and a half away had a great view. Video cameras were also all over the stage, with this concert being recorded for broadcast on the French flavour of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on July 24 at 8 pm, with broadcast on its English cousin to be scheduled for a later date.
When the Pat Metheny Group first began its tour with a number of warmup shows, including a February 14 performance at SUNY Potsdam, New York, the set list was similar, but it has also evolved since that time. Numbers like "The First Circle" and "(It's Just) Talk" were dropped in favour of "Last Train Home," "The Roots of Coincidence," "Minuano (Six-Eight)," and "Song for Bilbao," creating a longer and more broadly-complexioned set.
Still, the opening of the show remained unchanged. While strains of the introduction to the group's latest release, the seventy-minute continuous piece "The Way Up," poured out through the PA system, Metheny sat on a stage monitor with his baritone acoustic guitar. As he played a reworked version of "This is Not America," the rest of the group entered on a variety of toy instruments. Without pausing, the group then launched into a nearly eighty-minute version of "The Way Up" that revealed just how far it's come along after nearly six months of constant touring.
When the group performed the piecea detailed, richly textured, and immensely complex composition by Metheny and Maysin Potsdam, as good as it was, it was also apparent that they were still getting comfortable with such a massive live undertaking. While that performance went off with few snags, the musicians were clearly just working hard at finding their way through it. The difference in last night's performance was remarkable. Completely at ease with the challenging piece, everyone was able to take more libertywithin, of course, the intricate compositional form. Pat Metheny Group performances are more scripted than Metheny's work in other contexts, as he showed earlier this week with his By Invitation Series. The risks are less, but the diverse stylistic and textural capabilities of the Group still make it Metheny's flagship project.
It's hard to imagine that a live performance of such a heavily layered studio production as The Way Up could actually supercede it in terms of virtually all levels of impact. But the virtuosity of everyone involved, and their ability to reproduce all the key components resulted in a live sound that, while less dense than the recording, still retained all of its significant and defining musical values. Given that the group has released concert DVDs of its past three toursand filming apparently took place earlier in the year in the Far Easthopefully the way that the piece has evolved from studio construction to live tour de force will be documented and out in relatively short order.