About three weeks ago, we went to hear our friend Gregg play his American neo-country music with his band in a small bar in the town where he lives. Dinner was being served to a group of about thirty diners who had come from surrounding towns. I struck up a conversation with a local denizen at the bar, who turned out to be a chef, and he told me that Pat Metheny had just played in Bordeaux, which is about 1.5 hours from where we live but which we had visited for only one day about ten years ago. We keep hearing nice things about Bordeaux, which has been greatly spruced up in the mayoralty of Alain Juppé, who fell from grace in a housing scandal when he was Premier Ministre under Chirac.
The day after Gregg’s concert, a Sunday, the man I had met called me on the telephone to say that Metheny had not yet played in Bordeaux, that he would be playing on Tuesday. So I began research to see if we could get tickets and if we wanted to take the time and spend the money to do so. Pat Metheny is probably my favorite guitarist of all time. The ticket offices were not open on Sunday, one could not buy tickets online. I read a number of online reviews of the concert. Metheny was doing a one-man show tour with something he calls the orchestrion, a very elaborate one-man band using standard instruments controlled mechanically or electro-mechanically in various ways that I do not fully understand. Essentially, Metheny plays amplified guitar(s) while accompanied by a large band of instruments, various drums, electric bass, two marimbas, and grand piano. The band is preprogrammed, although Metheny is able to control what it plays to some extent by using controllers on one of his electric guitars and by using foot switches. The precise method and degree of control were not explained during the concert, nor are they explained on Metheny’s web site. He did say during the concert that solenoids play an important role in the control function.
The next day, Monday, I ordered two tickets by telephone, at a total cost of 102 euros, about $141 American at current rates. To this would be added the cost of getting to and from Bordeaux, autoroute tolls and parking, and the cost of a snack and a dinner in Bordeaux., which would all add up to an additional 96 euros, so it would turn out to be a very expensive concert.
On our drive along the autoroute to Bordeaux, Georgiana played a podcast of “Fresh Air.” Terry Gross was interviewing Mike Judge, creator of the animated television series “King of the Hill” and its predecessor on MTV, “Beavis and Butthead.” We had seen many episodes of “King of the Hill” before moving to France. “Beavis and Butthead” was never much to my taste. In the course of the interview, a scene from Judge’s most recent movie, “Extract,” is played and discussed. In this scene, a young woman con artistenters a guitar store and pretends to be interested in buying a guitar for her father, who is having a birthday. The salesmen in the store ask the attractive young lady what kind of music her father plays or likes, to which she replies that she does not know. “Does he like Pat Metheny and fusion music?” Again, she does not know. It seemed an odd coincidence that the subject of Pat Metheny should arise in the course of an interview of Mike Judge on this particular podcast, which had been chosen more or less randomly.
Our day in Bordeaux was wonderful, however. We took one of two walks recommended in the Michelin guide around the historic center, which is quite beautiful, if one likes 18th century French architecture. We stopped along the way at an alternative tea house called the Samovar that could have been in San Francisco. Bordeaux is not known for being a hip town, as one of the other customers, a long-time resident who does painting restoration in historic buildings, told me. Its general reputation is that of being stuffy and of being dominated by the bourgeois families in the wine industry. But under the mayoralty of Juppé, Bordeaux has become more “dynamic,” more hospitable to youth culture. The weather was crisp and overcast, but we were compensated by an almost complete absence of tourists of any description. Most of the restaurants were deserted at lunchtime. We contented ourselves with a lunch of kebab sandwiches and frites, by far the least expensive dining option in France. We noticed a restaurant that was offering a very reasonably priced prix fixe lunch and which was full and made a tentative plan to return to eat dinner there before the concert. During our walk, we passed through a small covered shopping mall which happened to house the office of the ticket agency from which I had purchased our Metheny tickets by telephone. We were able to pick up our tickets there, rather than at the theater, and could therefore avoid the worry of having to deal with will-call at the theater that evening.
I was familiar with the ticket office, because I had spent a day in Bordeaux on my own once, after having dropped Georgiana off at the airport. On that occasion, I went to a very odd and disappointing exhibition about the history of the Jews in France. The exhibition took place in a rehabilitated naval facility that looked like it had been used to dock submarines. During the Middle Ages, Bordeaux had a fairly large Jewish community, mostly exiled from Spain. I also tried to visit the main synagogue in Bordeaux on that occasion, but it was under renovation.
After our full day of pedestrian tourism, we did ultimately return to the restaurant that had attracted our attention during the lunch hour. We were the first to arrive for dinner, a little before 7PM. Waitpeople were on their way out with trays of food. My wife told the waiter that we are a bit pressed for time, due to a concert. “Pat Metheny?” “Yes.” “Ah, they just went out with food for the band.” There are hundreds of restaurants in Bordeaux, many of them closer to the Femina Theater than this one.
When we arrived at the hall, after our very reasonably priced and tasty meal, people were being searched for cameras. As it happened, I had a very small camera in the vest pocket of my windbreaker, since we had spent the whole day as tourists. The young fellow of North African descent in red livery who was doing the searching asked if I had a camera, so I replied in the affirmative. “You can’t come in with a camera. It is written on the back of your ticket.” “You’ll have to call the police, because I’m going in.” “You should have left the camera in your car, it’s written on the back of your ticket.” “The car is too far away, I’m going in.” And back and forth we went, until finally he said, “Well, you had better not take any pictures,” to which I replied, “I have no intention of taking any pictures.” Once inside, we read the very fine print on the back of the ticket, and it said that the taking of photos was prohibited, it did not say that cameras were prohibited. The agency where we picked up the tickets could have told us about such a prohibition, but they had not. So after the concert I confronted the young man who had been told to search for cameras and to keep them out of the hall, and we again went back and forth. He was unconvinced by any of my arguments, legal or prudential.
Our seats were in the very rear of the second balcony of a fairly large hall, and there was no leg room whatever. I would have been miserable if I had had to sit with my legs jammed up into the seat in front of me for close to three hours. Fortunately, there was a fold-in aisle seat that extended into the aisle when opened, so I actually had ample leg-room during the concert.
The hall was full, and the audience was attentive and appreciative, as French audiences always seem to be. The music was very good. The orchestrion played with only one minor technical glitch during the entire evening, and Metheny himself was in very good form. The music was very typical Pat Metheny music. The first half of the concert featured many tunes that he had been playing with Bred Mehldau in a traditional quartet setting, while the second half featured music from his “Orchestrion” album and a familiar oldie played as an encore. There was some Steve Reich influence in evidence, due to the rhythmic presence of the marimbas. It was very much like a Pat Metheny Group concert, without the group. As a sheer technical achievement, it was very impressive indeed. Musically, it was very good.
For a guitar player, an amateur one with professional aspirations, an experience like this can be either exhilirating and lend encouragement or it can be discouraging. For whatever reason, I tend to be encouraged by displays of virtuosity. It was a very memorable concert, and I did not regret at all the money spent to get to Bordeaux and back.
There is little gossip pertaining to Pat Metheny that is available on the Internet. At one point during the concert, he did vouchsafe that he has a French wife. But he does not speak French. It turns out that his wife is French-Moroccan. Metheny said that he had visited Bordeaux several times as a tourist. Metheny’s own web site is fairly interesting, although I find his musical recommendations to be somewhat unreliable. I do not at all understand his principle of selection for pop music, other than that it represents music he likes. On the other hand, Metheny is quite articulate when discussing music.
The experience raised the question for me of whether there is something like destiny at play in life. I only found out about this concert by a chance meeting, and it is quite unusual for a French person to take the initiative of calling up a near stranger the day after meeting. Then it was odd to hear Pat Metheny come up in the podcast on the way to Bordeaux. It was mildly odd that we walked by chance past the office of the ticket agency, and so were able to get our tickets in advance without any waiting or rushing. It was certainly odd that, among all the places where one might have eaten dinner before the concert, we chose the one that happened to be catering for the crew of the concert. A possible after-effect of the concert is that I am spending more time trying to learn the ins and outs of my Boss GT-10 multieffects guitar pedal.