Bela Fleck and the Flecktones | 04.20.04 | Club 77 | Hamilton, ON

April 20 is a day to celebrate. It's one of the only days you get off work at 4:00 p.m. and then proceed to tune in, turn on, and drop out 20 minutes later. Although used more as an excuse rather than a holiday, April 20 has become a religious date on the calendar in the congregation of the church of music. April 20 has been known for some of the wildest live music experiences to date, matching Halloween and New Year's Eve as one of top days to go check out live music.

Bela Fleck
Hamilton, Ontario, although a decrepit, patchwork quilt of a city located halfway between Buffalo and Toronto and known nationwide as a polluted, poverty stricken industrial town, has become a haven of live music as of late, thanks to the tireless work of a few specific bookers and venues bent on improving the struggling city's economic state through the promotion of live entertainment. Promoting culture and entertainment in a city whose residents have very little of an entertainment budget isn't easy, but the scene is blooming, welcoming local, national and international bands on a daily basis. American imports like Little Feat, OM Trio, and Addison Groove Project have bypassed Canada's largest city in favour of Hamilton on their respective tours, as the scene in the city has quickly become one of Canada's finest, while also being home to some of the hardest working and most dedicated music fans in the country.

That trend continued on 4.20, as local promoter Brian Carson and his company Kick it Down Promotions organized quite possibly the most exciting show to hit Hamilton since the Dead played Copps Coliseum in 1990. Instead of stopping in Toronto, as has been the standard throughout the last decade of Canadian touring, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones decided to celebrate 4.20 in Hamilton at Club 77, a small dance club that holds around 800 people. Since the sold-out show was the Flecktones' most intimate club date in years (on everyone's favourite day nonetheless), the stage was set for an exciting and extremely memorable Tuesday night.

Wooten & Coffin
This was the band's first time in Hamilton, and the capacity crowd welcomed the quartet to the stage at around 9:30. Opening the night with a quick announcement about the Maple Leafs' recent victory in the playoffs, Bela quickly embarked on a blistering banjo intro, leading his band mates into the first number, a newer tune off their recently released triple CD Little Worlds. The set was primarily dominated by album cuts from the new release, including the ode-to-nerds tune appropriately titled "Poindexter" and Jeff Coffin's wonderfully climactic Caribbean number, "Sherpa." One thing that was extremely noticeable throughout the entire set was that the band took pride in playing cuts off of their new album, recreating each tune with an emotional intensity that rung through the entire club and kept the crowd awestruck throughout the entire show.

Playing through one long, two-and-a-half hour set, the band tickled with the call and response style of improvisation, testing each other with daredevil solos that only their fellow band mates could match. Constantly smiling and visibly entrenched in the groove, the quartet tore through each instrumental with a fiery purpose, guiding the crowd towards a melodic climax throughout every tune.

Victor Wooten
In addition, all four musicians had their standardized solos, once again showcasing their unparalleled technique and ingenuity towards improvisation. Victor Wooten paid homage to fellow jazz greats Sonny Rollins and Jaco Pastorius by whimsically recreating "St. Thomas" and "Birdland" in his solo. Matching Wooten's performance, Bela decided to attack a portion of The Beatles' "Sun King" saga from Abbey Road as well as take a stab at his newly released classical work, tackling Mozart and Beethoven on the acoustic banjo. The solos were the highlight of the night and the musicians had the crowd immersed in a crash course on virtuosity.

After the solos and the full on Little Worlds entrée, the Flecktones returned to their roots for the encore, unveiling spirited versions of "A Moment So Close" and fan favourite "Big Country" to close out the show just after midnight. Both tunes were convincingly dominated by Victor Wooten, who stole the show with his patented bass playing, showing his bass off more as an appendage than an instrument. Vic has the uncanny ability to psychotically swing his axe around the stage, while constantly staying in control of the rhythm and locking in with his brother Futureman's drum work.

In retrospect, seeing the Flecktones in a small venue was an incredibly idiosyncratic experience. While the venue and the vibe hinted that the band would stick to the older, tried and true originals from their club days, they went in the opposite direction, deciding to showcase their new material to the modest yet appreciative audience, proving that the band's musical sophistication is still growing. Hamilton was lucky enough to witness that growth first hand, in the perfect intimate setting, and on top of that, on one of the most exciting days of the year. Oh boy, if just every April 20 could be like this.

Words by: Shain Shapiro
Images by: Mike Bouchard (jambands.ca)
JamBase | Canada
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[Published on: 4/26/04]

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