Famed quartet Bela Fleck and the Flecktones played the iconic Wetlands Preserve nightclub in New York City for the first and only on this date in 1992. A crispy recording of the outstanding concert was taped by Bob Mischka and preserved and shared by Scott Bernstein (no relation) on Archive.org as part of Bernstein’s BARN series.
The Flecktones lineup at the time featured master banjo picker Béla Fleck, legendary bassist Victor Wooten, multi-instrumentalist Howard Levy and Drumitar innovator Roy “Futureman” Wooten. Béla & Co. were in the middle of a run featuring stops at five New York City venues when they performed at Wetlands on November 10, 1992. Scott has published “Taper’s Notes” to accompany the recording which give some background:
While I try to feature my own masters as part of the BARN series, I sometimes include recordings that are in my collection that are of significant historical value, of low generation (that I can trace back to the source), and are not well circulated. BARN133 is one of those picks — this was a Flecktones show that my friend Bob Mischka recorded back in the day and gave to me not too long afterwards. This show is significant as it was the ONLY time the Flecktones played Wetlands (though Victor Wooten played there once on his own — that will be a future BARN release!)…and it is historical as it was part of an exciting run of 5 nights in NYC clubs for The Flecktones. The idea was that they would play 5 NYC clubs in 5 nights, each club catering to a different musical style, and the band would try and adapt their style to the club. So the night before this, they played at The Blue Note, highlighting their jazz material; at SOBs they were to feature the more Latin side of the Flecktones; and at the Lonestar Roadhouse they were planning on featuring their bluegrass material. At Wetlands they mention they were going to try and be more experimental.
I remember this run of shows very well — I was just out of college and had just started working in NYC, commuting more than one hour each way to work from my parents’ house in NJ (I would move into NYC just 2 months later). I’d already had some exposure to The Flecktones via WNEW-FM (yes, this was when a classic rock station in NYC could actually play Bela and the Flecktones!) and had seen them once on the Southern leg of the 1992 HORDE tour in Maryland. I really wanted to hit one show on the run, but each night I told myself “I’m going to go tomorrow”, but didn’t wind up going to any of them. Luckily, Bob did go to this one show and we have this beautiful recording. It doesn’t seem that any of the other nights were recorded, since they do not circulate.
This show is quite typical setlist-wise of Flecktones shows of the era. Great early tunes like “Lochs Of Dread”, “Blu Bop”, “Sex In A Pan” (here with “The Message” sandwiched mid-song), “Sinister Minister”, “Turtle Rock”, “Flying Saucer Dudes”, “Magic Fingers”, and their wonderful Howard Levy-lead (on harmonica) cover of The Beatles’ “Michelle”. Of special note in this show is the extreme rarity cover of “Never On Sunday” (which Bela notes they’ve chosen due to its being completely inappropriate for the venue — something they tried to do on each night of the 5 night run) and the only known performance ever of the original song “No Mans Land”! You also get memorable crowd participation segments (a staple of their early shows) in “The Yee Haw Factor” and “Flight Of The Cosmic Hippo.”
This recording sounds typically excellent for a Wetlands audience recording, though I wound up having to do a TON of work removing claps — as it seemed that there was some clapping right into the mics throughout most of the first set, plus a few occasional claps in the 2nd set.
Hope you enjoy this excellent early Flecktones show as much as I did working on it!!
Listen to the Flecktones’ lone performance at Wetlands:
Setlist (via Archives In Cowtown)
Set One: Frontiers, Lochs Of Dread, Blue Bop, Futureman Solo > Victor Solo > Howard Solo > Flying Saucer Dudes, Hurricane Camille, Sunset Road, Schuttlebutt, Nemo’s Dream, Flight Of The Cosmic Hippos, Yee-Haw Factor
Set Two: Star Of The Country Down, The West Country, Turtle Rock, Magic Fingers, No Mans Land, Road House Blues, Michelle, Never On Sunday > Slipstream > Sex In A Pan, Sinister Minister
Encore: Tell It To The Gov’nor