Bela Fleck & The Flecktones
Culture Room, Fort Lauderdale
Wednesday, October 19th, 2011
Better Than: Bela Fleck & The Flecktones with Jeff Coffin on saxophone.
Hot off their chart topping new album Rocket Science with the original Flecktones lineup of Victor Wooten (bass), Roy "Future Man" Wooten (Drumitar, percussion) and Howard Levy (piano, harmonica), Bela Fleck (banjo) and the guys proved that after over 20 years they are still pushing the progressive envelope. As masters of their respective instruments and possessing a reputation of defying genre classification, an certain level of expectation proceeds the outfit. They are more about jazzing up world rhythms than sticking to jazz molds, and more inclined to fuse bluegrass and funk than dwell in the fusion spectrum. After an extensive summer tour playing theaters, sheds and festivals all over the U.S. and Canada, the quartet of virtuosos kicked of an early October run through the South that included a stop at the intimate Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale.
The Culture Room brought in numbers and the room was filled to capacity when the guys took up their respective instruments. The start of the set was oddly punctual and kicked off right around the 9 p.m. mark. "Gravity Lane," the opening track of the new album, served as a warm up tune before the band launched into a series of greatest hits, crowd favorites, and choice new selections. A theme of using older tracks as jump off point for segues into fresh material from Rocket Science worked well in maintaining a balance of sound range and the audience's attention.
"Sex In a Pan" from 1992's UFO Tofu was phased into "Life In Eleven," a Levy track that references his use of 11/8 time, something he calls, "really funky, but to me feels totally normal." That is not normal, but this is the same guy that was the first to use overblow and overdraw techniques for chromatic playing on the diatonic harmonica. Another UFO track came with an upbeat version of "The Yee-Haw Factory" before dropping into a smoothly slowed down and jazzed out "Prickly Pair."
Grammy nominated violinist Casey Driessen came out to show off his violin skill set and engaged Levy in multiple duels. The winner of each was debatable, but the competition pushed the entire band into high energy peaks that were rewarded by ovations from the audience. He would return a handful of times through out the night. Things went way back to the self titled record next with "Flipper" and "Sunset Road" sandwiching 1991's "Flying Saucer Dudes" from Flight Of The Cosmic Hippo." Old school fans were elated by the series of throwback cuts and the band rewarded the crowd energy with jaw dropping solo trading. Whether it was Fleck switching between his traditional and rock guitar tone mandolins, Future Man on the drumitar or traditional kit, Levy on harmonica or Steinway baby grand, or Wooten on his yin-yang 4 string or aquamarine 5 string bass, the multidimensional conglomerate held nothing back.
A two hour and forty minute continues set continued with two more new songs before crushing both crowd favorites "Sinister Minister" and "Blu-bop." Fittingly bookending the set where "Gravity Lane" began, the guys extended the bass driven "Bottle Rocket," the final track of Rocket Science, before walking off stage.
The insatiable crowd took the opportunity to release a great deal of pent up energy that brought a smiling band back on stage. The final result can only be called an exposition on how Fleck can capture such a large amount of sound while alone on stage. Lets just say he even tried to play with his teeth. Future Man was also left to his own devices as he put on a drum clinic before the band returned to the stage to round out the encore with an Earth shattering bass solo from Wooten during Flight Of The Cosmic Hippo.
The Crowd: Top heavy mix of an older crowd mixed in with energetic young jazz heads. The room was packed in from wall to wall with little room to move.
Personal bias:First time seeing the original lineup and Levy stole the show with the dynamic and energy he brings to the band. The tracks from Rocket Science bring back the original sound combined with musical evolution and wisdom.
Overheard: "So I got to Fort Lauderdale and went to one of those massage parlors...yeah" - Victor Wooten in between songs. Intermittent bursts of the loudest yelling possible by a particularly excitable member of the audience.