In the end, perhaps the greatest part of the foundation of my love for this beautiful, small city is the knowing that on any given night, there is great quality music hiding in every corner. On a March Saturday, as the sun set hidden behind grey clouds over the dark, occluded Lake Fontaine, the Lake Shore Village Clubhouse began to light up. Within was the promise of an evening of music that boasted some of Lexington’s finest musicians.
Nestled in the corner of glass windows and backdropped by one of the prettiest views in the city, the Patrick McNeese Band settled down to a full backline of instruments to entertain the eager guests. Folks had filed in with serene smiles, carrying offerings of delicious homemade foods of every origin. Bottles of wine lined up on the counter, which was quickly overloaded with a delicious bounty. I felt quite settled in for a blissful evening, definitely one of the luckier Lexingtonians on that beautiful cloudy night.
Patrick took to his stool and his guitar, and his band followed suit. Tom Martin on keys, Tripp Bratton on a full set of drums back in the glass corner framed by waves all around; Miles Hanchett on bass and Jesse Pena on lead guitar. I was surrounded by some of my favorite instruments: Patrick’s pretty electric-acoustic that he uses as much as a percussion instrument as a guitar; Tom’s Roland and Nord keyboards; Jesse’s Fender Strat; Miles’ ’85 Gibson Explorer bass. Notably absent on this particular evening due to a scheduling conflict was violinist/vocalist Maggie Lander. The instrumentation in the Patrick McNeese Band is perhaps its greatest quality, though the lyrics are in great competition. They are a solid package, indeed.
The sofas, chairs and even the overly shaggy rug covered with pillows soon filled to a comfortable capacity as we all nestled down with plates of goodness and cups overflowing.
The band started off their long list of McNeese originals with “Lucky Boy”, a tight, layered piece with ethereal keys that invite thoughtful drums and guitars. Patrick began his lyrics, singing in his characteristic style, layering his words of poetry and imagery sometimes above, sometimes with the instrumentation.
Patrick’s lyrics are almost conversational; he paints an image for his listener that is a visual story. Like his own paintings, colors and shapes form to create “a theater in the mind.” The band is the vision of McNeese, his love for the “collaborative, multi-layered aspect of music” apparent as the master musicians delved deep into their craft. The conversation that took place between them was tight, yet fluid and smooth, “which comes out of a jazz approach.”
Martin sat next to McNeese on his double keys and joined in the conversation, with Pena sending in warm, buttery sounds from his Fender electric.
The sun began to set as Lexington traffic sped by across the lake, off on the horizon. Waterfowl glided by on the lake. The band was soon backed by darkness as McNeese moved his players into “Light Up the Night.” Bratton sometimes offered backing lyrics along with his amazing drumming, bouncing his voice off the glass windows now black and reflective. Hanchett’s bass wrapped the players together, providing a foundation. The crowd couldn’t help but be moved.
The near orchestral arrangements, which touched upon so many genres of music, some Latin, some Middle Eastern in sound, certainly jazz and blues, even a touch of country, create staging for McNeese’s provocative lyrics, a flow of spoken word and layered images that trip around the notes with practiced ease.
McNeese creates a sound for his audience that draws the room together. The positive house show environment of willingly captive attention fed the band beautifully, and all were grateful.
Viewed from his perch behind the keys, Martin enjoyed the reaction. “To look up and see how people are responding to the music; there is something very rewarding about being at a keyboard and making a sound and seeing a positive response to it. The whole idea is to move people and allow them to escape with something.”
Moving into a phase in their musical careers where the band has decided to perform almost exclusively for intimate shows such as this one, and to focus more on getting back into the studio with Duane Lundy over at Shangri-La to create the band’s third album and Patrick’s sixth, this night was special and unique. The audience had come to listen and in many cases to lose themselves in the music. This created a welcoming canvas for the band to paint McNeese’s lyrics and music. “A beautiful example of community in a small, intimate way,” he later reflected.
An artist in many forms, that is the beauty of the thing for McNeese,“That is the joy of the artist, giving birth to something. It’s a very maternal process, nurturing and passing something from inside to the outside world.”
Performing before a small, intimate house show completes the package for his lyrics and music, and the musicians agree. Weary perhaps of crowded, loud bars and competition from now ubiquitous televisions, or standing solo in corners or at pianos in hotel lobbies, these experienced musicians appreciate the settled quiet of clubhouse setting. The attentive audience. The sincere appreciation. As Martin said, “Music in its best environment is that organic connection between player and the listener. It’s almost existential without the listener.”
What transpired that Saturday night was a special gift. A night of balanced perfection; dedicated, seasoned musicians of great quality, lyrics and music from a foundation of a life of music and art, a room filled with eager and attentive friends who brought food and drink and joy. The dreamlike music wrapped around us all and together we shared in the band’s creation, the evening itself a work of art.
Indeed, all were quite fortunate to be there and share in the experience.