Béla Fleck & The Flecktones
North Charleston Performing Arts Center
Banjo player Béla Fleck's Christmas show turned out to be one of the best live performances we've seen in a while. His reputation for musical eclecticism was not only preserved, but furthered in the minds of those who watched in awe. Throughout the performance, each member of his band, The Flecktones, showcased their inventiveness and command over their respective instruments.
Challenging convention, Victor Wooten plucked, teased, looped and scratched his bass in a 15-minute solo, resulting in a standing ovation that lasted well into the next song. Future Man, in his signature pirate hat, played a self-invented "Cimitar," which was essentially a 10-piece drum set that he played with his fingertips. At one point, Jeff Coffin — a multi-instrumentalist who has recently been touring with Dave Matthews Band — played the tenor and alto saxophones simultaneously. In other songs, he played clarinet and flute.
Fleck and the band performed "The Twelve Days of Christmas" in 12 keys and 12 different time signatures during the biggest highlight of the first set.
Following Future Man's Cimitar solo to open the second set, the band cleared the stage, and all eyes were on Alash. This Tuvan native group (from Siberia) played three Eastern Siberian songs with traditional instruments from the region, creating ancient and mysterious sounds with a throat-singing technique that we learned is possibly older than human language. The audience was pleased to discover that this music was just another brand of folk music. Alash remained on stage for the remainder of the show, and joined the band in stretching the limits of traditional American Christmas music.
While most of the show consisted of songs from their latest Christmas album, Jingle All the Way (a great album for those who like to get in the spirit, but might be tired of the same old songs they hear year after year), the band did play a couple of their old favorites, including "Big Country" and "Shanti."
The Performing Arts Center, being only about half full, made for an extremely intimate experience. The band members enjoyed themselves as much as the audience, and the crowd loved participating.