Words by: Benji Feldheim
Acoustic Planet - Featuring
Marc Broussard, Adrian Belew, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones & Umphrey's McGee
08.16 - 08.18 :: East Coast
Acoustic Planet went electric this year. In doing so, the tour stretched beyond the dimensions of complicated-yet-delightful musicianship to sharp-edged rock n' roll on an epic scale. Adrian Belew helped up the ante massively from last year. The legendary guitar psycho's presence, if only for a night, cranked the wattage, lighting a mountain- sized fire under the ass of this tour. The energy carried for the next two nights on a run of shows with a biblically epic level of talent, power, and sheer joy.
There's gotta be at least one voice, even amidst so many intensely skilled musicians. Broussard and his funky, tight band brought a syrupy soulfulness to start off the shows. The deep guttural crooning blended sensibly with the straight-ahead blues and rock of the four-piece band that supported Broussard, but never fell behind the voice. Bassist Calvin Turner and drummer Chad Gilmore laid a hefty backbone on the songs, ranging from nasty blues strut to upbeat rock. Julian Coryell took the lead for some downright gnarly blues attacks on guitar. The band collectively set a warm, solid feel for the severe musicianship to follow.
ADRIAN BELEW POWER TRIO
The only thing stranger than seeing Adrian Belew in person after years of organs
turning to liquid while listening to his guitar lunacy was seeing a 20-year-old drummer and 19-year-old bassist with him. Eric and Julie Slick are in the right place alongside him. The sound firing from the stage at the start of their set was a machine gun strum exercise called "Writing on the Wall." Many of the songs in the set are from Belew's solo album Side One, which featured Danny Carey from Tool on drums and Les Claypool. The Slick siblings effortlessly played those parts and even added their own touches. Belew's work straddles pop tenderness with savage dexterity, as if the Beatles really learned to play their instruments and found odd meters. During the King Crimson tune "Dinosaur," Belew bent the hell out of his custom guitar by pulling on a protruding edge of the body for a low moan sound beyond a simple tremolo warble. The Slicks filled out the Crimson thickly for two people covering a very dense composition. "Ampersand" off of Side One was a vicious battery of rhythm built with bass, drums, and guitar holding up an even part of the wall and dancing around odd-metered fills. For the tweek funk of "Beat Box Guitar," Bela Fleck came out to add some rich banjo licks to the weird tune. Belew frequently puts solos played in reverse on his albums, and yet is able to play them note-for-note live. Such a feat was especially clear during the ambient dream feel of "Matchless Man." To finish out the set, the trio played epic renditions of Crimson's "Three of a Perfect Pair" and "Elephant Talk." The task of filling a sound created by Robert Fripp, Tony Levin, and Bill Bruford seemed effortless for the Slicks. During the end of "Elephant Talk," members of Umphrey's McGee came out one-by-one to join in the tense cacophony to close out the set. From the gleeful looks on Jake Cinninger, Brendan Bayliss, and Kris Myers' faces, it seemed I wasn't the only awestruck person at the show.
BELA FLECK and the FLECKTONES
08.16.06 :: ATLANTA, GA
And the winner for this year's most improved one-set performance is... UM.
Hitting their stride right from the moment they joined the stage with Belew, Umphrey's carried the bewildering groove of "Elephant Talk" into their own complicated court jester trickery. With the Belew trio exiting, the jam down-shifted briefly into a swung intro to "Wife Soup." Within mere seconds of the improv becoming a song, the sky opened and drenched Chastain Park Amphitheater for nearly the band's entire set. Before the rain, rows of picnic tables filled the floor area with season ticket holders dressed in fine Sunday casuals, eating fancy cheese and roasted chicken while sipping wine. The rain sent the fancies running, leaving the show goers to push the tables back and inhabit the front of the stage throughout the downpour like a real rock show. Umphrey's obliged with the fuel to keep it all going.
Umphrey's McGee by Susan J. Weiand
The cataclysmic rise of "Wife Soup" drifted down into a hard-pounding "Passing," a song not usually played in such a manner. Lately, UM has added an evil rocking intro to "Believe the Lie" that starts with punctuated hits only to grow into a full-on wall assault of up-tempo, thick chord wailing. The energy couldn't help rubbing off on the speedy tune. During "Great American," Bela Fleck, Victor Wooten, and Futureman came out to fill in the peaceful melody. With the revelry passing, Adrian Belew tagged in for the Flecktones for a furious rendition of King Crimson's "Red," prayed for by many Crimson-obsessed Umphreaks in attendance. During the song, even Belew couldn't mask his joy and appreciation for that performance. To close out, they stayed at eleven for "Hurt Bird Bath," as the rain finally let up for the Flecktones to take over.
Adrian Belew by Benji Feldheim
It had been a few years since last seeing the balance of furies found in the Flecktones. While many groups try to master styles, the Flecktones do it, every single time they play. It was difficult to keep tabs on what was happening because of the seamless changes and deep dives into random-yet-syncopated hits. The mood of their music shifted with the same level of ease, yet they wasted no time raising the dynamics high and firing energy off throughout the amphitheater. The first part of the set featured tunes off their most recent disc The Hidden Land. "Weed Whacker" had rolling scales on Fleck's banjo, colored by clean moans from Jeff Coffin's soprano sax, all tied tight with the downbeat stomps of Wooten's bass and Futureman's... umm... yeah. It's the Synthaxe Drumitar. Why exactly is it? I don't know, but it's the result of Roy "Futureman" Wooten taking apart Midi drums and shoving the censors into a guitar body. "Couch Potato" is a sneaky blend of free-jazz freak out and a strutting vaudeville-style feel, like theme music for a circus flophouse. During "Stomping Grounds," Cinninger, Bayliss, Joel Cummins on keys, and Myers sat in for a wallop jam, with the musicians synching up. Fleck and Wooten enjoyed trading bars with Cummins and Cinninger, trying to outdo each other as good-naturedly as possible. Myers and Futureman filled in each other's rhythm holes sensitively, while Bayliss encouraged the whole fray with his own guitar trickery. The song soon morphed into explosive takes on "Wipeout," with Myers and Futureman beating the hell out of their drums, and they even played some of the "Odd Couple" theme to close the set. The encores embodied the shared spirit of these shows, as everyone's equipment was left on stage throughout the night. Adrian Belew and the Slicks joined Umphrey's and the Flecktones for a high-powered "Come Together," with back-up vocals from the six thousand or so people joining in. To end, the three bands played "Monkey See," a straight-ahead bluegrass stomp with solos tossed around and off-beat hits that seem written to confuse musicians. Any last remaining minutiae of skill were released on this dust-kicker tune. With all musicians lined up in a row, a huge bow closed the epic evening.
Futureman by Jeremy Scott
08.17.06 :: GLEN ALLEN, VA
The calmest of the three nights, the Fas Mart Pavilion (formerly Innsbrook Pavilion) show was an opportunity to try out a simple, tender song written by Jake Cinninger called "Memories of Home." It would be a near disservice if the band didn't take a stab at the acoustic side of their sound. Cinninger and Bayliss continued on acoustics for an old favorite in that format, "Uncle Wally." The energy kicked up high for a run through "Miss Tinkles' Overture" that also sported an intro. The hard guitar strumming and organ colors had what sounded like some influence from the main riff of the Heart tune "Barracuda." Nevertheless, the show returned to warmer tunes, with Jeff Coffin adding smooth sax work to "Intentions Clear." Keller Williams surprised everyone by dropping in to play on "Partyin' Peeps," a song he has added to his own repertoire. During "Syncopated Strangers," Ryan Stasik added fierce, fluttering fills on the bass between verses. Sharing gigs with Victor Wooten will make even the most pocketed bass player stretch out. The band delved into odd siren noises as Kris Myers held a 16th note shuffle beat with one hand. A heartfelt "Walletsworth" followed, and the set closed with an ambient-laden "Push the Pig" to welcome the Flecktones, who joined the fray before taking over the stage.
Jake Cinninger - UM by Susan J. Weiand
The Flecktones made their presence felt as they segued from the heavy funk with Umphrey's to their own tone of splendor. The main difference in the Flecktone's sound during this set over the other three nights was a darker atmosphere. "Kaleidoscope" had a mash-up of warm bounce and tedious syncopation, which brought a bright crescendo with each band member filling the space without overflow. Coffin's flute took the lead on a weird, Middle Eastern gypsy feel named "Roccoco." Coffin and Wooten got into some overlapped four bar trade-offs that ignited the down-tempo music into a frenzy. "Throw-down at the Hoedown" turned into exactly what the name describes, with Keller Williams returning using only his voice as an instrument. While the Flecktones have tight sensitivity in terms of the sound they make as a whole, at times it seems like they play it safe, improvising within tried and proven methods. Yet, with Williams aboard, all bets were off. Wooten, Fleck, and Williams got into a three-way toss around, spouting off bits of "Under Pressure," "Smoke on the Water," "Frankenstein," and the "Andy Griffith" theme song. "P-Lod is in the House" followed, a song written about a dream that Futureman had, according to Fleck. The song had hard tribal-beat drum solos, with Futureman incorporating live drums with his synthesized rig. "Come Together" managed to find a way out of the extended sections, with the audience doing the bulk of the vocals. "Chennai" was a strangely murky and ambient direction shift from the band's intense and vivid melodies. After a few other shadowy songs from Hidden Land, the band pulled out "Sunset Road." The song balanced out the darkness with bright tones, without totally moving into the light. Fleck told the crowd how the song originally had lyrics, as it was meant for the Days of Thunder soundtrack. The movie producers rejected the song, and it hasn't been sung with lyrics since. Futureman added the words about hitting a perilous crossroad in life. With the set closing, it was time for "Stomping Grounds" with reps from Umphrey's joining the fray to shoot the energy up high as a cloud.
Fleck & Coffin by Dustin Safranek
With Marc Broussard rejoining the tour, he and his band took the helm for a soulful boogie of "Don't Change Horses." The night closed with "Monkey See," giving the crowd quick, powerful jolts of the mad talent gathered for these shows.
08.18.06 :: Cary, NC
An enormous gamut of dense composition and straight rock known as "Bridgeless" kicked off Umphrey's final set on the tour. The song may not be written in stone but is usually played with a tight reign, yet on this night, Cinninger and Stasik added random shades to create something unique. "Anchor Drops" brought the pace to a steady sway. Victor Wooten came out to add some devilish thumping on "Soul Food I," which became "Who Knows" after traded eights got tossed around, and Myers kept things steady by switching between on and off beat accents. During "Morning Song," Bayliss sang with extra push, sending out heavy emotion with lyrics about moving on. In keeping with the Acoustic Planet notion of virtuosity and tone appreciation, the usually head-banging "Eat" was played on acoustic guitars. One of the more beautiful songs Umphrey's has written recently is "End of the Road." The vibrant, delicately fingered guitar part is touched up by brushed drums, tenderly plucked bass, and light keys for a steady growth throughout that gets brighter as the song goes through its cycle. Fleck added a striking banjo line to the tune. "Senor Mouse" followed, bringing the feel right back to complex rock, done in a dirty fashion. This was a rare treat that sent the energy soaring. "Roulette" closed the final set with the Flecktones out to add their touch to the intense funk.
Victor Wooten by Dustin Safranek
Once the Umphrey's/Flecktones collaboration morphed into "Earth Jam," with the Flecktones flying solo, it seemed the rock feel rubbed off a little. Coffin and Fleck hit quick scale runs while Wooten and Futureman held the bottom end, keeping pace with the workouts. "Whistle Tune" is one of the most beautiful songs this band has written. It has this airy Celtic feel, with Wooten returning the theme first played by Coffin on a small flute. The song exploded into a speedy swing part that got the crowd jumping. "Subterfuge" followed, toning things down with a harder rock sound. Of the three nights, at this show the band seemed at ease with really messing with the crowd, displaying a wide variety in sound and approach. "Sleeping Dogs Lie" sounded like it belonged in an early century New Orleans brothel, with a shuffling strut and clarinet wails. Throughout the week, "Stomping Grounds" was the opportunity for the real lick-trading to happen, and on the final night everyone brought their top material to the stage. Wooten and Coffin paired off, while Fleck and Cinninger outdid each other, forcing the other to pull something nasty. Bayliss and Futureman mixed it up in a bizarre way. Each time they performed "Stomping Grounds" during the tour, they added a smooth transition into "Wipeout" to remind everyone of the forceful drummers behind the whole show. Myers and Futureman annihilated every piece of drum equipment in front of them on this final foray. The song ended with a shrieking vamp that quickly dissolved into something almost sloppy drunk sounding, and closed with a bang.
Brendan Bayliss - UM by Susan J. Weiand
The encore was all about singing. Bayliss poured every ounce of his voice into a hard "Little Wing," with all three bands backing up the heart-wrencher. He almost looked pained by the words that came from his mouth. The full three-band ensemble threw every last piece of skill they had into the hardest stomping "Monkey See" to date. The focus of each player as he took the lead looked and sounded as if nothing could penetrate. To close a tour that seemed just as enjoyable for the band as it was for the crowds, "Don't Change Horses" was performed with each musician simply letting it all hang. The levity in the air could be tasted as much as it could be heard. It felt as though every musician on this tour walked away with a beautiful experience, meaningful interaction, and many lucid moments of bliss.
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