By John Curley
The legendary guitarist Andy Summers brought his magnificent multimedia show to the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City on Saturday, June 22nd, a performance held in conjunction with the current Play It Loud exhibition of musical instruments at The Met. Summers’ show, titled A Certain Strangeness after his 2019 book of photos of the same name, had the former Police guitarist playing instrumental music, at times accompanied by prerecorded backing, as selections from his library of photographs were shown on a large screen. The result was quite striking, and a very unique concert experience. Summers was wearing a head mic and spoke to the crowd between the songs.
After the second song, Summers spoke of playing shows at Shea Stadium and Giants Stadium in the New York City area and discussed how pleased he was to bring this show to The Met. He joked that he thought that his show would be held in the Antiquities section of the museum. And he said that he done both music and photography for decades, so it made sense to put together a live performance that combined the two.
Summers, 76 years old, possesses fantastic versatility, and he demonstrated that during his 70-minute performance at The Met. He played Spanish-style guitar to accompany images that he shot in Spain. He told the crowd that he was very inspired by Thelonious Monk’s song “Round Midnight” and then played it as evocative images of New York City, including the jazz clubs Birdland and the Village Vanguard, were shown on the screen. He discussed an upcoming tour of Brazil that he was looking forward to with great anticipation and then played Latin American-style guitar as photos that he shot in Brazil, including quite fantastic shots of Carnival in Rio in 2006, flashed up on the screen. And he played rock-style guitar on his Stratocaster with prerecorded Asian-style backing as images he took in Asia were screened. The result was quite stunning, and it received a big hand from the audience.
Summers concluded his performance with The Police’s “Message In A Bottle” as photos from his days with The Police, including shots of Sting, Stewart Copeland, and himself as well as candid shots on tour and on stage, were shown on the screen. It was incredibly effective. And the crowd loved it.
When Summers’ performance was over, a short film was screened that showed Summers entering an Asian karaoke bar while a male customer was singing a somewhat off-key version of The Police’s “Every Breath You Take.” Summers joined the man in singing the song and then revealed his identity to the patrons in the bar. The reaction of the bar customers to Summers’ revelation was absolutely priceless.
Summers then returned to the stage with Jayson Dobney, the Frederick P. Rose Curator in charge, Department of Musical Instruments at The Met, for a 15-minute interview session. Summers spoke of starting on guitar at the age of 12 following six years of playing piano. He compared his improvisational style of playing to the way that Jackson Pollock painted. On the subject of his photography, Summers said that his interest in it began on tour with The Police because he was spending quite a bit of time on the road and in hotel rooms, was bored, and needed something interesting to do to occupy his time between live shows. And he revealed that Fender will be releasing an Andy Summers signature model guitar later this year.
Summers also discussed how impressed he was with the Play It Loud exhibition. The exhibition, curated by Dobney, is an astounding collection of instruments from throughout the history of rock music. Items in the exhibition include: Muddy Waters’ Fender Telecaster that he used from 1958 until his death in 1983; Bo Diddley's box Gretsch guitar, which was made in 1960; Don Everly’s acoustic Gibson guitar from 1954 on which The Everly Brothers’ “Cathy’s Clown” was written; Buddy Holly’s wartime Gibson acoustic guitar with his name on it that he probably used to record “Everyday”; Elvis Presley’s 1942 Martin acoustic, which he used on The Sun Sessions; Ringo Starr’s Beatles drumkit that he used during European performances in 1963 and 1964; John Lennon’s 12-string Rickenbacker guitar that he used on The Beatles’ 1964 North American tour; George Harrison’s Horner guitar, his first electric guitar that he purchased in 1959 and used in early shows at Liverpool’s Casbah Coffee Club; Leo Fender’s first prototype electric guitar from 1949; Jeff Beck’s 1954 Fender Esquire that he used with The Yardbirds in 1965 and 1966 and on the recording of The Yardbirds’ “Heart Full Of Soul”; Pete Townshend’s 1975 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe guitar, which he used on tour with The Who in 1975; George Harrison’s 1962 Rickenbacker, which he purchased when visiting his sister in America in 1963 and used on the recording of The Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand”; The Edge’s 1973 Stratocaster that he used on The Joshua Tree album recording and subsequent tour; Jimi Hendrix’s 1967 Gibson Flying V; Jerry Garcia’s “Tiger” guitar, made by Doug Irwin; Stevie Ray Vaughan’s 1963 Stratocaster; Lars Ulrich’s Tama drumkit from Metallica’s 2008-10 world tour; John Entwistle’s 1965 Fender Jazz bass, which he used on the recording of The Who’s “My Generation”; Clarence Clemons’ 1967 Selmer saxophone, which he used on the 1975 recording of “Thunder Road”; Rick Nielsen’s five-neck Hamer guitar that he has used onstage with Cheap Trick; Kurt Cobain’s smashed 1993 Stratocaster; and Keith Moon’s 1967 Premier drumkit with his personalized “The Who” logo on the bass drums and “Pictures Of Lily” design.
The Met’s Play It Loud exhibition runs through October 1st. More information about the exhibition and a ticket-purchase link can be found at https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2019/play-it-loud.
The Met is located at 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10028.
Additional information about Andy Summers’ music and photography can be found at https://andysummers.com/.