In a non-stop two and one-half hour concert, the Pat Metheny Trio gave the packed crowd at Carolina Theatre a concert that they will never forget. Metheny played acoustic and electric guitars along with another customized guitar that was a combination of two guitars and a harp. He had magnificent support from James Francies, who played grand piano, electronic keyboard, synthesizer bass, and organ, and Joe Dyson on drums and percussion, who was surrounded by an upright xylophone and a stack of cymbals that he seemed to play with a keyboard computer. With all these acoustic and electric instruments and monitors onstage, one might wonder if there would be too much technology, but all of that didn’t get in the way; it only enhanced what I thought was the most musical concert I have ever heard.

When it comes to reaching a wide audience of multiple genres – jazz, rock, and traditional music – there is probably none better than this trio. The Pat Metheny Trio successfully went where few other jazz groups can, and engaged us with tremendous displays of speed, virtuosity, dissonant harmonies, changing meters, and shifting sound textures. They stretched our ears to the limits and had us in awe. They always played with real feeling and intention to relate to the audience. I never felt that they were showing off their amazing individual skills.

Metheny only spoke to the audience to announce his bandmates; he never told us the name of the tunes they were playing. The group would simply flow from one piece to another, each tune with its own unique tempo, rhythm, texture, melody, and harmony, so it was always clear when one tune ended and another started. By my count, there were fifteen tunes plus two encores. However, the audience didn’t need tune titles or talking; everything happened so seamlessly that the performance was more like a symphony with fifteen movements and two encores. There were a few familiar songs from the Metheny repertoire: I recognized “Bright Size Life” and a couple of blues-based harmonic progressions, but for all the other songs I felt engaged with their energy, melodies, rhythms, and dazzling solos.

Other overall observations I had were that all of the trio’s solos were very spontaneous and expertly constructed. Through their expertise with sequencing and melodic development, each player reached optimum energy and climaxes in their solos. I also enjoyed contrasts in the performance: whenever their tunes reached very intense and energetic moments, they would then turn to a quiet, slow ballad. That’s when I realized the audience was totally quiet and engaged; you could hear a pin drop during the musical rests. Another important ingredient was that the sound system and amplification were perfect and the artful lighting on the stage and on the wall behind the musicians added a lot of meaning to the music.

Midway through the concert, after a very sensitive and quiet ballad, Metheny began with a funk introduction on the electric guitar he had been using most of the concert. Dyson and Francies joined in, and the tempo picked up with an irregular meter, possibly alternating between 6/8 and 7/4 time. Then Francies took a solo that built continuously to a great climax. During Dyson’s excellent solo, Metheny switched to another electric guitar and I waited in anticipation to see what he could do with it. The resulting music was unimaginable and indescribable (even though I will try). As Metheny’s solo and the group’s energy got higher and higher, it reminded me of taking a rocket into outer space and being engulfed in new sounds that at times sounded like nuclear energy (whatever that sounds like). I wondered how this could be music, but it was as musical as the greatest paintings of abstract artists. In other words, it all had tremendous feeling.

There was still plenty more to experience and about four tunes later it seemed the concert might be ending, because the audience gave the trio a standing ovation. But Metheny never let up – at about the thirteenth tune, he began playing a very abstract harmony on acoustic guitar. When Francies and Dyson joined in, this tune began to build incredible energy until it sounded like radio interference – again you might ask, is that music? In their hands, absolutely!

After this utterly amazing new sound experience, Metheny then brought out his customized guitar to play an “unaccompanied” solo, except for the fact that he was playing three different stringed instruments all at the same time.

One more tune by the trio closed out the program: after another standing ovation, Metheny came back onstage for an unaccompanied solo for the first encore, and after a third standing ovation, the trio returned with an easy groove. This final encore reminded me of the type of music you would want to hear while traveling on a long journey, which I imagine they were getting ready to do the next day. Happy journeys Pat, James, and Joe, and please come back to North Carolina soon.