Live: Bela Fleck & the Flecktones at Culture Room, October 19

Bela Fleck & the Flecktones
(Original Lineup)
Culture Room, Fort Lauderdale
Wednesday, October 19, 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 more than 20 years, they are still pushing the progressive envelope. As masters of their respective instruments and possessing a reputation of defying genre classification, a certain level of expectation precedes the outfit. The group is 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 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 off 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 points 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 who 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 Factor" 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 throughout 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 banjos,

Future Man on the drumitar or traditional kit, Levy on harmonica or

Steinway baby grand, or Wooten on his yin-yang four-string or aquamarine five-string bass, the multidimensional conglomerate held nothing back. 

The two-hour, 40-minute 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. 


insatiable crowd took the opportunity to release a great deal of pent-up energy that brought a smiling band back onstage. The final result

can only be called an exposition on how Fleck can capture such a large

amount of sound while alone on stage. Let's 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."

Critic's Notebook:

The crowd: A top-heavy mix of an older crowd and energetic young jazz heads. The room was packed 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.

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