Bela Fleck & the Flecktones
House of Blues
New Orleans, Louisiana
June 1, 2007
Magic is outside the ordinary; it’s beyond our jobs, our single-serving packet of ketchup, and our $3.14 gallon of gas. We go to shows to step outside of the ordinary, to experience magic, even if it only occurs once or twice in a performance.
But what happens when magic is a band’s foundation? What happens when a group of musicians is so well versed in magic, that it becomes their everyday language, their primary means of communication?
While no one can really answer these questions, Bela Fleck and The Flecktones comes as close as any to personifying the phenomenon. The band’s latest performance in New Orleans showcased each musician’s mastery of his instrument, and because of this mastery, the transcendent and magical have become The Flecktones’ stomping grounds.
Bela stepped into the spotlight for the first extended solo of the evening during “Kaleidoscope.” A carefree feeling began bouncing through the House of Blues as Bela glowed, making the impossible look easy. Two songs into the evening and already the threads of composition and improvisation were woven into musical tapestry.
In fact, the band would continue to juxtapose themes throughout the night. Structure and abstraction, mind and body, and every imaginable style of music collided, exposing just how limited words are when trying to categorize The Flecktones. We heard a new Latin composition from Victor Wooten, and then were transported to Tolkien’s Middle Earth courtesy of Jeff Coffin’s piccolo in “The Whistle Tune.”
“Labyrinth” eventually gave way to Victor’s “customary” bass solo. But instead of silencing the crowd with intimacy, he did the exact opposite. Victor exploded with an utterly assaulting solo commanding thunderous power that few can harness.
After the band played The Beatles’ “Come Together” to close the first set, Future Man emerged for his moment in the spotlight to start the second. Playing with his case sensitive drumitar (the buttons on his invention react to the weight applied to them), Future grooved in an almost poetic manner, giving a performance as physically passionate as any kit player. The lines between reality and illusion had given way.
As the band re-emerged one by one, the crowd readied itself for another round of enchantment. The sultry “Sex in a Pan” was as pornographic as music can get, and the obligatory “Flight of the Cosmic Hippo” was like watching a time lapse video of a blossoming flower, as it continuously opened up to bigger, brighter, fuller sounds.
Toward the end of the second set, Coffin pulled out a second saxophone for the climatic solo of “Earth Jam,” a common practice for him, yet no less amazing. However, this moment was quickly overshadowed when the stage was emptied, save a stool, a banjo, and a man.
Bela’s banjo solo was one of those musical moments that are irrefutable. At one moment he floored us all by playing the banjo with his teeth. Words just fall short of explaining Bela’s capabilities; All that can be said is their essence drips with inspiration.
Having already been taken to the Promised Land, anywhere else was just an added bonus. But being the generous souls they are, The Flecktones took the audience to the far off reaches of India during the encore, channeling Om in the Eastern-inspired “Shanti.”
And so, after visiting a wide range of places this evening, mostly emotional, there were no bittersweet feelings about the night ending, only satisfaction.
By the end of the show, it had become clear that when The Flecktones take the stage, they don’t inhabit the realm of the everyday but are inviting everyone to join them in a magical space through the shared language of music. Next time Bela Fleck and The Flecktones are in town, leave your life at the door and prepare for the magical.
Set 1: Frontiers, Kaleidoscope, Vic’s New Waltz, The Whistle Tune, Labyrinth > bass solo > Subterfuge*
Set 2: Futch > Amber Jack, Sex in a Pan, Flight of the Cosmic Hippo, Misunderstood, Earth Jam, Béla
Encore: The Longing, Shanti
photos by Thomas Walsh