As the audience buzzed with anticipation awaiting the beginning of the show, Pat Metheny quietly walked on stage and began playing a solo entitled "This Is Not America." As the crowd became attuned to Metheny's acoustic guitar, trumpeter Cuong Vu, percussionists Gregoire Maret and Nando Lauria walked through the crowd from the rear of the theater to the stage playing toy instruments. In the interim, bassist Steve Rodby, pianist Lyle Mays and drummer Antonio Sanchez joined Metheny, while the remaining members made their way onto the stage from the floor. What followed was a Pat Metheny monolith of sound unlike any of his previous forays into Houston. "The Way Up Tour" got underway, what ensued thereafter will be remembered as one of the Pat Metheny Group's best performances to date.
The stop in Houston was a part of an international multi-city tour highlighting Pat Metheny's latest CD, correspondingly entitled 'The Way Up.' If anyone in the audience was unfamiliar with the album, they were definitely unready for the next phase of the concert after Pat's impromptu beginning. The group went right into the CD, which is 68-minutes of nonstop copious sound. In the course of an hour plus, varying chord progressions and musical styles coupled with an intergalactic light show was focused upon to an amazed audience. There were loud rock-like crescendos that were less than obvious on the album. Throughout the auditory array of prescribed music, Metheny exposed the audience to a myriad of guitar variations. As has been seen in many other live performances, Pat uses a variety of different guitars and will switch instruments depending upon the effect he wants to convey. All through the concert, stage handlers ran back forth exchanging guitars. Another interesting highlight of the night for those unfamiliar with the Pat Metheny Group's members is the art of multi-tasking. With the exception of Steve Rodby, every member of the band is a poly-instrumentalist. The two percussionists play harmonica, guitar or vibes, while the trumpeter serves up vocals and percussion. The drummer performs his own duties as well those of the guitar. Even longtime Metheny collaborator Lyle Mays is just as adept at guitar, keyboards and other instruments. At various intervals, Maret and Sanchez could be heard rendering vocals along side those of Cuong Vu. During the course of 'The Way Up' rendition, Pat Metheny and Cuong Vu entered into an uptempo note-for-note tirade that was simply mind-boggling. As a dessert offering, Vu even offered a trumpet solo that was augmented by the band's effervescent presence. All of these aspects collectively painted a musical portrait of immense proportions. At the end, the crowd rose with an ovation of enthusiasm and praise. To the audience's surprise this was merely the start of what can be akin to a "jazz activated sound energy ray" of excitement.
Without an intermission, the Pat Metheny Group continued down their path of sight and sound. They the tripped the night fantastic into such awe inspiring treasures as "Minuano," "Last Circle," "Letter From Home" "Secret Story" and a number of other tunes they have become most noted for. At one point, Gregoire Maret offered up a unique display of his harmonica skills on a 1992 song originally featuring Toots Thielemans entitled "Always and Forever." As the concert continued for an additional 80-plus minutes, the group's odyssey became firmly entrenched in every aspect of the Lyle Mays/Pat Metheny collaborative effort, one that began more than 27 years ago. When examining the history of the Pat Metheny Group, one must not forget the contributions of Mark Ledford, a former member of the band. As a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, he was a strategic component of a number of Metheny's recordings. Ledford passed away in 2004; as his skills were a major influence, it would have been great to hear a tribute to Mark's memory. Although the core group has changed over time, the true impressionistic approach to their music remains the same, the panoramic incorporation of fusion, bop, post bop and contemporary styles into a supernatural metaphysical experience. "The Way Up Tour" is another reminder of the Pat Metheny Group's contributions to America's artistic heritage.