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Béla Fleck and the Flecktones Leave Capitol Theatre Crowd in Wonder

June 6th, 2016

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones – The Capitol Theatre – June 4, 2016

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When the lights went down at the Capitol Theatre on Saturday night and everyone in the audience took their seats in anticipation, the musicians seemed to materialize onstage as if they had been there all along. One by one the Flecktones began to play: Howard Levy on harmonica, Victor Wooten on bass, the guy they call Futureman on his retro-futuristic percussion machine (the “synth-ax drumitar”) and the bandleader, banjo-player extraordinaire Béla Fleck. They kicked off their latest reunion show working through old school Flecktones material like the nerd-funk banjo groove of “Sex in a Pan,” giving those who hadn’t seen them in years a strong wave of nostalgia, stretching, in some cases, back to the mid-’90s—and those who were first-timers an instant feel for their magic.

It seemed like all members of the quartet were impossibly doing two things at once, their uncanny expertise giving the instruments an alien sound, making banjo and bass and harmonica as foreign and exotic as dark matter. At various points during the opening set, the Flecktones felt like they were playing a game, four cats chasing a single mouse and batting it around among them, while at other moments, like the set-closing “Life in Eleven,” the music was more like a math problem, a head-spinning binomial expansion of time signatures. In between, there was the gorgeous banjo melody of “Sunset Road” and the urgent percussive rhythms of “The Longing.”

After a short intermission, the band returned in a slightly different mood, as the music quickly found its way to a lengthy bass solo, which set a tone for more exploration. With the light palette seeming to shift from reds to purples, this was Flecktones after dark, most songs finding a wormhole to someplace beyond. While things felt looser, that was mostly an illusion for these guys, who continued to play as a finely tuned unit on songs both very old and not quite as old, alike. They shifted from an inside-out blues to an ethno-jazz to the old-country vibe of “True North,” finally finishing with a summarily Flecktone-ian “Stomping Grounds” that mixed bluegrass, jazz and whatever music they play on the far side of Mars. A raucous standing ovation brought back the band for one more opportunity to impress and they seized it with “Sinister Minister”—a death-defying bass solo couched in from-a-land-far-away banjo and harmonica and skillful electro-drumming, leaving the packed crowd shaking their heads in wonderment one last time. —A. Stein | @Neddyo