S.B. HERO, PASSING ON: Anyone who had the pleasure and privilege of knowing the warm and wondrous guitarist and human being Pat Milliken knows exactly what this column’s headline is all about. Milliken, a positive spirit if ever there was one, despite his physical struggles, could always be counted on to brighten the day of those who knew him, with an all-purpose greeting of “good times!” or “epic” (other sayings, such as “kindling,” “full on,” “Birdie Num Num,” have been weighing in on the internet and elsewhere, anywhere where Milliken fans have been gathering). If Pat had a dark side, or a dark day, I never experienced it, and I can hardly believe I won’t be running into him at some event or other, beaming with his “good times” vibes.
I knew Pat from way back. He was, in some way, an influence on my life as a pimply faced guitarist and obsessive music fan at La Colina Junior High School, where he was one year my junior, but a legendary guitarist even then. He and precocious violinist Nina Bodnar were hot musicians on the student body radar. Back then, he was known for wailing righteous riffs on his Stratocaster through a Marshall, but the sensitive and virtuosic acoustic guitarist within emerged after brain surgery in high school altered his life’s course.
Pat developed into a staggeringly fine and musical member of the poetic acoustic guitar scene, whose heroes included Pierre Bensusan, and whose own rippling, clean, and melodic style should have ushered him deeper into that scene than fate determined for him. For a taste, check out his MySpace page, or his stunningly lovely “Dreams,” reproduced below from YouTube. Warning: It may well inspire a tear or three. Pat, we miss you, but are thankful to have been on the planet in your epic, kindling presence. Good times.
POP GOES THE CALENDAR: This coming week’s live music fare may amount to the densest pack of hot-ticket items all year, partly thanks to the West Coast artist concentration of this weekend’s Coachella Festival in Indio. Because of that magnetizing congregation, we benefit from local shows by current indie fave Beach House (Friday at SOhO), veteran proto-indie rock band Yo La Tengo (Monday at Velvet Jones), and, most notably, Thom Yorke’s side project Atoms for Peace (Saturday at the Bowl). On the extra-pop culture side of the equation, we have a return visit from the great Senegalese vocalist Baaba Maal, Sunday at Campbell Hall, supporting his new album, Television.
And another notable encore performance, Tuesday at Campbell Hall, comes courtesy of jazz guitar hero Pat Metheny, presently in the throes of an extra-ambitious project, with an album and tour he has dubbed Orchestrion. Metheny has appeared in Santa Barbara numerous times throughout the years, including, just in the past decade, visits to the Lobero in a burning trio (with Christian McBride—coming soon to a Lobero near you—and Anthony Sanchez) and the Gary Burton Reunion project, and to Campbell Hall with his famed Pat Metheny Group and with the quartet featuring Brad Mehldau.
This time around, though, nothing quite prepares us for his new solo project. Finally fulfilling a longtime dream, Metheny—never one to shy away from a challenge—has commissioned the creation of a set of instruments in his “Orchestrion,” which will be triggered by the guitarist onstage, using solenoids and other non-digital means rather than the “old-fashioned” use of MIDI and dry-humping digital shortcuts. In this project, physicality rules. As heard on the wonderful, recently released Nonesuch album, the music itself is adventurous-cum-accessible, but the chance to hear this effect manifested live should be one for the books and ears and minds.
Come with an appetite for those Metheny-esque qualities we’ve come to know and love—the burning fret-board ventures, the lyrical melodic ideas and post-romantic, folk-meets-jazz structures—but with a particular conceptual something extra this time around. This one ranks highly on the “be there” index.