Rock Roundup

The Secret to Pat Metheny’s Success

He’s a prodigy who pleases, as his Tuesday show at Northern Lights should prove.

By - Jul 28th, 2014 01:22 pm
Pat Metheny Unity Group. Photo from Facebook.

Pat Metheny Unity Group. Photo from Facebook.

Week’s Top Show: Pat Metheny Unity Group & Bruce Hornsby, Northern Lights Theater, Potawatomi Bingo Casino, Tuesday, July 29

Wunderkinds in the public arena, from television sitcoms to pro sports, are prone to spectacular crashes or unspectacular fades from mass memory. Pat Metheny has neither crashed nor faded, maybe because a jazz guitarist has not faced rock-star temptations or expectations since the 1950s.

Born in 1954, Metheny missed out on jazz’s wildest days but in the 1970s found steady work, including a stint as a teaching assistant at the Berklee College of Music and, on his recorded debut, as a hired hand for two 1974 sessions with pianist Paul Bley and bassist Jaco Pastorius. (The latter was also key to Metheny’s 1976 debut solo disc, Bright Size Life.)

The Pat Metheny Group issued its first, self-titled LP in 1978. With its second album, 1980’s American Garage, Metheny reached the pop charts and regularly played in front of larger audiences.

Metheny has never shunned accessibility: for example, the PMG and David Bowie co-wrote “This Is Not America,” a song on the former’s soundtrack album for the 1985 movie The Falcon and the Snowman; for another example, his 2011 solo-acoustic disc What’s It All About interpreted songs made popular by the likes of the Carpenters and Carly Simon.

He also devotes his talent to more obscure and personal muses, such as his engagement with the near-chaotic noise of 1994’s Zero Tolerance For Silence or his late-1980s move to Brazil, where he explored the influence of bossa nova and Afro-Brazilian rhythms.

Metheny’s restlessness has carried him outside the PMG as well as outside the country; curiosity has pushed him toward live and studio gigs with, among myriad others, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock and Charlie Haden.

At this particular show, his Unity Group should form up around his deceptively languid tone and the breezier side of his varied musical exploits. There is method in Metheny: he’s a prodigy who doesn’t mind pleasing people.

A hint of what to anticipate:


Wednesday, July 30: Crocodiles and Jaill, Cactus Club

Ladies, you should understand that we menfolk try to look our best when you’re about. When you’re not, we’re happy letting our faces turn into stubble pastures, skipping a shower (or seven) and eating rice without aid of utensils. We’re still pleasant boys underneath our slob shells.

San Diego’s Crocodiles and Milwaukee’s Jaill are the pop-rock equivalents of us comely cavemen. Neither band is as scruffy as it used to be, but each does not avoid rolling its pretty songs in sonic mud on the most recent albums (2013’s Crimes of Passion and 2012’s Traps, respectively).

Join them for a wallow:


Wednesday, July 30, Vance Joy, the Rave

Vance Joy’s single “Riptide” has recently made an official sales-and-airplay dent in America as a (so far) minor hit and has already attained the Top Ten in the UK and the singer-songwriter’s native Australia. Not bad for a chap whose main ambition, before this, was to become a lawyer.

Pitched somewhere between the vulnerability of early Bon Iver and the confidence of modern folkies like the Lumineers, Joy (real name: James Keogh) is passing through town to generate further interest, presumably, in the early-September release of his first full-length, Dream Your Life Away.

Hear this if you haven’t already:


Thursday, July 31: Eric Johnson, Turner Hall Ballroom

Unlike most of his guitar-deity contemporaries and Texas peers, Eric Johnson not only has a distinctly round melodic tone but also a lovely singing voice, and he’s not ashamed to display them. It’s therefore a pity that his fussiness has kept his studio output low.

In 1990, Johnson fused dexterity and ecstasy on Ah Via Musicom, but he lost breakthrough momentum by taking six years to follow with Venus Isle. His most current release is a live disc; fortunately, he’s been representing himself well on the Experience Hendrix 2014 Tour (two shows in Milwaukee alone) and he’s as fluid onstage as he is on record.

A little of his bluesier side:


Thursday, July 31: Lyle Lovett and His Large Band, Pabst Theater

Speaking of unusual Texans, Lyle Lovett seems sufficiently atypical that his songwriting prowess is the primary confirmation—to the non-Texan observer, anyway—of his Lone Star state of mind. Since his self-titled debut in 1986, he’s been a natty carrier of the Western-swing torch Bob Wills lit.

He’s also shown eccentric resilience to everyday disasters and triumphs, from the demise of a short marriage to Julia Roberts to the liberation from his Curb Records contract. (He celebrated the second event via a 2012 odds-and-sods LP, Release Me.) With his Large Band, he throws a fine, frisky, eccentric party.

A late-night turn through his recent contribution to a Jackson Browne tribute:

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