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Published: 2004/02/21
by Chris Drewry

Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer, Pepsico Theatre, SUNY Purchase Performing Arts Center, Purchase, NY- 2/13

Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer are on a small tour of
college venues, but looking out at the sea of bald
heads in the SUNY Purchase Performing Arts Center
crowd, you had to wonder if they were attracting the
kind of demographic that they were gunning for This is
not to say that college students were not
also represented, but most of us found ourselves
standing along a railing in the back after being
admitted to the sold out show through a side door for
five bucks. With the fans in their places, Bela and
pal Meyer, a multiple Grammy winner on the double
Bass, strolled on to the quaint stage for a night of
music that would transcend boundaries of genre, skill,
and beauty.

Bela took a seat next to his banjos sporting all
black business casual, a trim haircut, and
professional looking glasses; a very different
manifestation of the headband wearing hippie I last
saw with the Flecktones. Meyer was also donning a
rather upmarket getup, and the clothing of the duo
reflected the tone of the night's concert: business.
These two phenomenal musicians were there to take care
of it and take care of it they did.

Seeing two unparalleled acoustic musicians in such an
intimate theater is a true pleasure. As soon as the
crystal notes of Fleck's banjo rang out and Meyer
dropped in with his astoundingly fluid bass picking,
I knew that the night would prove to be a special one.
The song, "Slime", was an exhibition of the new direction
these two players are taking with their music. It had a
unique sound influenced by the immensity of musical
backgrounds the two share, combining hints of bluegrass,
jazz, and rock with some bluesy licks from Bela.

The second number saw Meyer pick up his bow for the
first time, as the two delved into a Bach piece, the
first of many classical numbers they would perform
flawlessly. Edgar cradled his bass like a six foot
six inch woman and danced gently, swaying it around
with a look of concentration and pleasure on his face.
The third number, "Solar", featured Edgar Meyer on
piano, using spacial chord changes reminiscent of
Miles Davis, while Fleck notched a hauntingly
beautiful lead over it, weaving in tasty solos.

Through the course of the night the two shared one
mic, placed on a stand in the middle of them, which
they swapped back and forth in order to introduce
songs and make awkward, corny jokes. In the middle of
the first set This and others like it made many in the
audience want to go remove the stand from the stage
and revoke microphone privileges from the two
musically inclined dorks, but for the most part the
aging group of stuffy attendees just laughed along
adoringly. After "Left Behind"(Bela claimed to have named it
after Edgar's experience in college), Fleck got up and
walked offstage, prompting Edgar to lean into the mic
and joke "no, don't go." With a shrug of the
shoulders Meyer turned to his bass and began playing a
repeating groove by himself, sliding down the heavy
strings with power and grace. After settling in, he
began to improvise, taking off into outer space and
dazzling the crowd.

The two songs that followed were both off Fleck's
album of classical pieces entitled Perpetual Motion.
After a run through of Tchaikovsky's "Melody in Eb",
Bela shredded through Paganini's "moto perpetuo" (or
Perpetual Motion) with blazing skills that reminded
everyone of why he is one of the most highly regarded
musicians on the planet. The fact that he is
doubtlessly the first person to ever perform such
pieces on banjo awards Fleck additional points for
originality and vision.

After a short set break, the duo was back on stage,
but now featured Bela on six string guitar and Edgar
on piano. They opened with a rearranged version of
the Flecktones song "Moment So Close", sans vocals,
which benefited greatly from the new instrumental
arrangement. Rearranging the band setup helped to
keep the sound fresh, as a two hour concert featuring
the same two instruments with no variation could
easily result in a tired sound.

Next, the two used another Bach piece to segue into
what was their most well-received original of the
night, "B Tune." This duo is featured performing this
song on the DVD from the original Bonnaroo music
festival in 2002, so it may have had a familiar ring
to some in the crowd. However, the most likely reason
for the song's overwhelming response was that it is a
beautifully crafted piece, reminiscent of the very
best Flecktones songs, played to perfection with
energy and pride. As Meyer unknowingly added a third
percussive instrument by tapping his shoe on the stage
(this house was that quiet), the two romped through
the breathtaking composition, with Edgar dancing his
fingers all the way up the neck of the bass and Bela
fast picking harmonious chords while playing a melodic
lead at the same time. At the end of the song there
was a lengthy and surprisingly enthusiastic ovation,
and the musicians just smiled appreciatively and

Fleck let his freak flag fly on a psychedelic-tinged
original introduced by Meyer as "Happy Drum Drum
Monkey Girl." The influences of Jerry Garcia and
other rock guitarists could be heard as Bela bent the
strings on his ancient banjo mercilessly, to the point
where it was out of tune by the end of the song. The
following number was a Canon in which Fleck played the
exact lines that Meyer played, but on a loop delay of
about two measures. This must be a daunting task for
any musician, but the effect was a piece of music that
was both jarring and satisfying, much like the effect
of squeezing country-tinged and psychedelic banjo
songs in between complex classical pieces.

Towards the end of the evening Fleck reached for the
other banjo next to his seat and explained that it did
not originally belong to him, but to his late friend,
the great John Hartford. He then went on to play a
medley of Hartford songs on the low-tuned banjo in a
very touching testament to an old friend. The tuning
only added to the wonderful songs, and Meyer took a
seat in the dark at the piano and looked on as his
friend paid tribute to a major influence and mentor.

After an original titled "Woolly Mammoth", many in
the crowd began to file out, clearly unfamiliar with
the concept of an encore. Not about to let their
entire audience walk out, Fleck and Meyer reemerged
shortly for "Poindexter", closing out a night of music
well-deserving of a standing O, although only half the
crowd was willing to comply. But Bela and Edgar can rest
assured that they touched a number of fans in the crowd with their
sound, skills and vision. These are two visionary musicians
working towards create a phenomenal new art form.

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