Perhaps the two large mock power poles straddling either side of the stage at Kingsbury Hall Sunday night were meant for more than just scenic decoration.
With the amount of blistering electricity generated by the venerable Pat Metheny Group during their 2 1/2 hour set, the symbolism more than fit that the band was seemingly receiving some extra juice from the faux transformer atop one of the poles.From the mystic prelude refrains of the 42-string pikasso guitar and immediate segue into the popular, bossa nova-flavored "Have You Heard," the virtuoso modern jazz guitar pioneer unleashed a furious display of command performance and superb improvisation that satiated the packed house, many of whom had waited some 14 years for his return to Utah.
Indeed, Metheny and his band - comprised of Lyle Mays (piano, keyboards), Steve Rodby (bass), Paul Wertico (drums), Jeff Haynes (percussion), Mark Ledford and Philip Hamilton (vocals, instrumentals) - received a near-standing ovation from the appreciative crowd after just the first tune, featured on the group's 1989 album "Letter From Home."
Drawing from nearly two decades worth of material, Metheny and friends interweaved their inventive and complex sonic rhythms and melodies, hosting a musical journey that often led to adventure and intrigue, while slowing down once or twice to take a much-needed breath.
Utilizing his trademark Gibson and Ibanez electric guitars, Metheny continually pushed the limits of dynamics and technology, notably with new tracks "A Story Within a Story" and the driven "Follow Me," both from the band's latest album, "Imaginary Day."
The latter piece featured amazing resonant harmonics and Metheny's clas-sic braying trumpet sound that coupled with stunning vocals from Hamilton and Ledford to create wonderful imagery.
Crowd favorite "First Circle" showcased Mays' impeccably melodic and ethereal phrasing on the acoustic piano and the array of keyboards set up for his use. Again, this Latin-influenced piece was wonderfully complemented by the two vocalists.
After a second ovation less than an hour into the set, Metheny declared: "I guess this is the place," and joked he had been rooting for the Utah Jazz in the NBA Finals, "if only because of their great name."
An extended suite-like presentation of tracks off "Imaginary Day" filled the middle part of the show, as the ensemble cohesively worked to create what Metheny called a "narrative shape of things, like a film score without the film."
Impressive moments included: the bluesy, oriental title track played brilliantly with a fretless classical guitar; complex syncopations and composition from the flamenco-inspired orchestrations of the "The Heat of the Day"; and the lilting, haunting harmonic variations on the beautiful ballad "Across the Sky."
Leaving the most lasting impression, no doubt, was the electronically super-charged "Roots of Coincidence," played on a Roland VG-8 guitar audio workstation.
The nearly 10 minutes of aural fantasy might best be described as a techno-industrial driven, grinding guitar riff-laden overture that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Individual solo moments throughout the evening from Wertico, Rodby and Haynes were also outstanding, as each musician deftly demonstrated his talent.
World beat stand-out "Third Wind" and the languid "Are You Going With Me" rounded out the evening, accompanied with the touching solo effort "Message To a Friend," and the surreal, moving "September Fif-teenth."
The near perfectly mixed and engineered show was combined with a striking light show that mesmerized just enough so as to not overbear or supercede the music taking shape on stage.
One can only hope, as evidenced from the gracious crowd's enthusiasm and the band's sincere appreciation, the Pat Metheny Group will return to Salt Lake City sometime before, say, the year 2012. That would be nice.