Concert review: Pat Metheny Unity Group give five encores, but show could do with a little more heart

Mosaic: Pat Metheny Unity Group

Esplanade Concert Hall/Monday

Grammy darlings who are wont to grandstand and who believe that "less is more" when it comes to rewarding their fans should take a leaf from generous guitarist Pat Metheny's book.

The American holder of 20 Grammys to date not only pulled out all the stops on his second visit here, but did so for three solid hours. Most audiences would be lucky to squeeze an extra 30 minutes from performers of Metheny's stature.

The concert's start was a portent of things to come. Usually, the backing band sets the stage for the star of the show, but Metheny himself opened the show with the hypnotic and hopeful Solo Pikasso.

His bandmates - virtuosic Chris Potter on saxophone and flute, whimsical Ben Williams on bass and steady Antonio Sanchez on drums - then ran in and launched into the bass-heavy melodic teaser titled Come And See, rife with yowls, howls and growls which segued nicely into Roof Dogs, a thick black witches' brew of caterwauling amid driving rhythms.

The fourth member of this Unity Group, unobtrusive vocalist and keyboardist Giulio Carmassi, joined them seven songs later on Kin, the crash-bang-wallop title song from their latest album.

The marvel is that, throughout the evening, each matched his pitch, tone and swagger perfectly to that of the other musicians. Proof of this, if proof was needed, came in the third hour of this blast of a show, when Metheny took to doing duets with each of his bandmates. Here was where Carmassi came to the fore, his eerie falsetto on Dream Of The Return complementing Metheny's famously pert licks wonderfully.

Metheny has leavened more than 30 years in the music business by pursuing ecletic collaborations and meshing new influences, especially the latest technology, with old standards. Since 2012, he and his other four bandmates this evening have made up the Unity Band/Group, and recorded two albums. On Monday, they played a selection from their latest outing, Kin. The most inventive and meaningfully intense song from this album was the appropriately titled Rise Up, showcasing scorching riffs and frenetic strumming from Metheny as Potter jiggled his body to his sax's squiggles of sound.

Otherwise, the band's approach was often too sweet and straight to resonate deeply. They were also so polished and tightly paced that at times, it seemed as if they were tossing off numbers, notably on Folk Song #1, Born and On This Day.

In the end, theirs was a performance that seemed more clever than wise, more head than heart. That was perhaps because the band was simply too slick for the grit of misery and mystery to stick to their relentlessly manic melodies. But there were occasional telling cracks in this act's wall of sound, such as when they soared through Metheny's signature tune, James, went wistful on Rise Up and stopped time on Metheny's cover of The Beatles' And I Love Her.

All this kept the audience crying out for more, coaxing five - yes, five - encores from them. Well, perhaps coaxing was not the right word, seeing as Metheny declared after the first seven songs that he would be happy to play at the Esplanade again and again "under any circumstances".

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