Bela Fleck & The Flecktones
16 Nov 2011: Town Hall New York
The Flecktones have quite a history together. The band, comprised of Bela Fleck, Victor Wooten, Howard Levy and Roy “Future Man” Wooten, originally got together in 1988 and put out three albums before the end of 1992. At that point, Levy left the band, but the remaining three kept at it for a while longer before eventually moving into different endeavors. It was not until the past year that the four “Original Flecktones” reunited for a tour, which continued through 2011 in support of their new album Rocket Science.
The audience cheered as the Flecktones took the stage to perform “Bottle Rocket”, off this new album, which then continued into “Nemo’s Dream”. In between “Nemo” and “Prickly Pear”, Wooten had the opportunity to solo. As he plucked on a single string, stomping on the pedal in front of him, it dawned on the audience that he was building a scale progression and adding upon it note by note. With each repetition of the cascading sequence the audience began to laugh as Wooten grinned ear to ear. This would be the first in a number of solos each musician, and the audience, would get a chance to enjoy.
Soon after the rest of the band returned to join in the fun and entered into “Prickly” without any hesitation or fanfare. Unlike the first couple of songs, where it seemed the Flecktones needed a bit of time to get their groove back, this third number was more exciting. It should go without saying, but during instrumental numbers over five minutes long, each musician regularly added their own bits of flair. The vaudeville number Levy segued into towards the end put a smile on people’s faces. It was just a glimpse of the genre hopping versatility the band possesses.
Following the fourth song “Live in Eleven”, Fleck took time to acknowledge the audience and introduce the members of the band. In a daisy-chain, Fleck introduced the man with “two instruments” Levy; Levy spoke highly of the talents of Futureman; Futureman praised New York and told a story about Frank Gehry before expressing the bass-prowess of his little brother; then Wooten humbly accepted the praise and presented “the big Fleck”, on the five string banjo, Bela Fleck himself. Fleck allowed the five-string its chance to speak and introduce “Sunset Road”. This instrumental got a few people in the audience clapping along with enthusiasm before swerving away to allow Futureman to sing along.
Glistening mouth harp swishes echoed in Town Hall during Levy’s solo, which contained its own echoes of Flecktones’ songs and some reworked classical music. Again the full band returned but this time with Casey Driessen, a violinist who shared the stage with Fleck in the Sparrow Quartet, in tow. His instrument added extraterrestrial twangs to “Flying Saucer Dudes” as the rest of the band got caught up in furious throes and produced some chaotic effects. The number ended appropriately with great applause before the band took a short break.
Just like the first set, the second one took a bit before it revved up too. The Flecktones opened the second set with “Blu-bop” from their second album Flight of the Cosmic Hippo. Fleck asked the audience for the album info saying “I think that’s correct,” before introducing “Seresta”. Later, Fleck started off his solo a bit uncertain as to the direction he would take it. But as he teased out some melodies, he must have decided why not have a little fun and threw a bit of “Pop Goes the Weasel” into the mix. When the full band returned, with Driessen in tow, they went into the barnyard hootenanny, “The Yee-Haw Factor”. The band members alternated “call and response” moments with each other and generally worked themselves into a full on hay fever over the course of the nearly thirteen minute instrumental.
Finally, after a short break, the group revisited “Sinister Minister” from their eponymous 1990 album for their final song. During a solo, when Wooten reprised some lines from “Weasel”, the enjoyment of the band was visible to all in the audience. Clearly, even after twenty plus years, the Flecktones are wallowing in the ecstasy of the magic they continue to create and recreate.
Bottle Rocket > Nemo’s Dream
Victor Wooten [Solo] > Prickly Pear
Life in Eleven
Howard Levy [Solo] > Flying Saucer Dudes
Futureman [Solo] > Sweet Pomegranates
Bela Fleck [Solo] > The Yee-haw Factor
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.