- BEST OF THE BEST: Béla Fleck on banjo.
This group isn't so much a band as it is a musical circus. The only real difference between The Flecktones and the Ringling Brothers is that the juggling acts, impressive feats of skill, and displays of the strange and unusual are confined to music. For the packed house at Revolution on Saturday, the dazzle was the same.
Take one of the world's greatest banjo players, add one of the world's most renowned electric bassists, throw in his brother on the electronic “drumitar” that he developed himself, and top off with a saxophonist/flutist, and you have Béla Fleck and the Flecktones.
The band's funky compositions managed to feature both memorable melodic statements and dizzying displays of technique. Knotty unison lines and syncopated rhythmic accents peppered their often lighthearted set, making for distinctive instrumental music that's neither Yanni nor Miles Davis. Fans of the jam-band music scene have taken to the Flecktones in recent years, and in return the group has stretched out several of its songs to repetitive lengths, particularly “Lochs of Dread,” their Scottish reggae number (itself a perfect index for the kind of stylistic cross-pollination the group enjoys).
The highlights of the show came during the solo sets. Bassist Victor Wooten proved himself to be both a master musician and entertainer, employing 8-fingered arrangements of classical pieces, wrist-breaking slap techniques, and a unique display of rhythmic acumen as he used a looping device to strategically place various notes at the beginning and end of a long musical phrase.
Drummer Roy “Futureman” Wooten, clad in a rakish pirate's hat, brought with him a conventional drum kit, which he played standing up, along with his drumitar. His solo set was inventive but perhaps too rhythmically complex and tonally ambiguous for many in the audience.
Fleck's solo banjo performance was woven with traditional bluegrass flavors and ended with a display of almost frightening dexterity; he stretched his left hand across nearly half the neck of his instrument. He also brought out a unique item: a banjo built to look and sound like a Rickenbacker electric guitar.
Even an instrumental band needs some singing occasionally, so the group broke into a cover of “Come Together” by The Beatles, with the audience providing the vocals. It was an example of another thing that makes their particular circus unique. Where a conventional circus only aims to impress you with skill, the Flecktones actually care about composition and communication. They'll leave you humming their tunes long after they've left town.