Story and Photos by Scott Smith
Like Rush’s Geddy Lee and Yes co-founder Chris Squire, Victor Wooten truly is a genius on the bass. The acclaimed musician performed classical-like passages and other eye-popping patterns on his basses with Bela Fleck & The Flecktones during their April 12th show at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Wooten’s jazzy explorations stood as the note-perfect counterpoint for Fleck’s fluid banjo playing, “Futureman” Wooten’s percussion and Howard Levy’s piano and harmonica playing.
The sold-out concert was part of the quartet’s “Original Flecktones Tour,” marking the first time the group has toured with Levy since 1992; Levy went solo in 1992 and was replaced by saxophonist Jeff Coffin.
One of the most surprising aspects of the Fayetteville concert was how urgent and assertive the Flecktones’ sound was over the course of a three-hour, smile-inducing set.
Sure, it wasn’t straight-out rock, but there’s a rock-like energy that lies in the Flecktones’ sonic presentation. Fleck played his acoustic and electric banjos with the finesse of Les Paul, perfectly blending melodic, simple-sounding parts with quick runs only a seasoned pro could master.
When Wooten played an extended bass solo piece, he relied on a loop-pedal effect, carefully building a bottom-end foundation that emerged as a multi-part symphony. Only once or twice did his forearm muscles tense while playing, showing a near-inhuman ability to effortlessly play bass parts that are so
impossible for so many other instrumentalists.
Guest fiddle player Casey Driessen also astonished the vocal crowd when he joined the Flecktones for the feisty “Flying Saucer Dudes,” and Futureman served up some winning vocals for the touching “Sunset Road.”
Fleck later sat on a wooden stool to pay tribute to bluegrass godfather Earl Scruggs with a lengthy, interesting banjo solo. The gig, like the band, was as close to perfection as any fan – and any performer – could ever hope for, indeed.