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Wednesday, December 13

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Review Fri Jul 22 2011

Review: Bela Fleck and the Flecktones at The Vic, 7/21

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones concerts always seem to draw a diverse crowd, and last night's show at The Vic Theater was certainly no exception. Middle aged couples in dress casual stood elbow to elbow with aspiring teen Deadheads in tie dyes and cargo shorts. The crowd is telling, however, when one considers the wide gamut of musical styles that bubble up in a typical Bela Fleck show. Fleck's two sets evidenced his mastery both of his chosen instrument, the banjo, and the sometimes odd, yet usually fantastic stew of different genres that he has turned into his signature sound.

Fleck is currently touring with a throwback Flecktones lineup that includes Chicago local Howard Levy, who was a founding member of the band, but left in 1992 only to return in the past year. The remaining lineup remains unchanged, with standout bassist Vic Wooten and his brother, percussionist Roy "Futureman" Wooten forming a dynamic rhythm launchpad for Fleck and Levy's explorations of sound.

On stage, Fleck rotated between a traditional five-string banjo on numbers rooted in jazz or something that at time drew from the banjo's traditional genres, and a custom purple Stratocaster shaped electric banjo for flat out rockers or more spacy improv jams. Levy hopped up and down on stage right, alternating between a grand piano and the harmonica, even at times playing the harp with one hand and the piano with another. All the while, Vic and Futureman ably propelled the funk, occasionally stretching out with technical solos of their own. Songs drew from a deep well of inspiration, with notes of jazz, jam, boogie woogie and even bluegrass appearing, often within the life cycle of a single number. As could be expected, the songs played were from the first three albums, before Levy's departure, and their excellent 2011 release Rocket Science, recorded after his return. At times this created an interesting juxtaposition between the rawer feeling songs of the early albums and the slick maturity of the later material. Stage banter was humorous and efficient, with Levy joking about how good it was to be in Chicago "despite the Cubs this year", and Vic Wooten thanking everyone for coming to "his place" as stated on the theater's marquee. While the Flecktones' shows are always more about the music than the stage show, the lighting at times felt like an afterthought, more distracting than complimentary, and rife with missed or missing spotlight cues.

Ultimately, it's not hard to see why Fleck continues to draw a diverse and loyal following. Bill Graham once said about the Grateful Dead, "they're not the best at what they do, they're the only ones who do what they do," and the same can certainly be said about Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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