April 23, 2006

Bela, the Flecktones, and the Rain

We drove into New York yesterday because we had tickets to see Bela Fleck and the Flecktones at Irving Plaza. Jim has taken up the banjo in his middle years and really wanted to see Bela play. A combination of nasty weather (really heavy rain, made worse by an early spring chill) and unexpected traffic delays (two accidents, one in Connecticut and one in New York) meant that we got into the city much later than expected, which altered our plan to grab a quick supper before the show. We bailed off the traffic-choked West Side Highway earlier than we wanted to and hurriedly parked the car up by Columbus Circle so that we could grab a subway down to Union Square.

By the time we got to Irving Plaza, we were soaked to the skin and cold, in spite of rain gear and umbrellas. Once we got inside, we staked out a nice viewing spot at the balcony rail, just to the right of the sound board. Irving Plaza is a really nice venue, and is small enough so that our balcony perch afforded us a terrific view of the show. Since I am vertically-challenged, standing on the floor usually guarantees me a great view of the back of the inevitably taller person standing directly in front of me, so an unobstructed stage view such as we had is always a nice thing.

I will preface my commentary on the show itself by saying that I am no fan of the jam band scene, and I knew that going in. I am also not terribly familiar with Fleck’s musical output, so this was quite possibly the first time I’ve gone to a concert where I wasn’t already extremely conversant with the artist’s work. The musicianship on display last evening was nothing short of outstanding. Fleck is a generous artist who allows his band members, all virtuoso musicians in their own right, plenty of opportunity to shine, and shine they did. Victor Wooten and Futureman are a musical universe unto themselves, and saxophonist Jeff Coffin was a huge treat. The band was joined by Senegalese singer Baba Maal for two numbers that totally shook the packed house (note to self: check this guy out).

So, my final word on the music is that I’m glad I had the opportunity to hear them play - I’ve expanded my musical horizons and experienced something new, and that’s always a good thing, and I had a great time. I’m still not a huge fan of the jam thing - all of the songs tend to sound the same to me after a while. Perhaps I’m missing something here, or maybe not. The nice thing about having different kinds of things in the world is that there’s something for everybody.

Starving at the end of the show (having skipped dinner), we marched six rain-soaked blocks downtown to see if The Silver Spur was open. It wasn’t. We grabbed the subway back up to 57th Street, thinking for sure that we’d find a place before we got back to the parking garage. We didn’t. New York may be the city that never sleeps, but apparently it takes naps from time to time.

We headed back to Connecticut on a dark, windy, rain-soaked Cross Bronx Expressway, always an adrenaline-producing experience, what with the badly maintained road and the tandem tractor trailers that don’t slow down in inclement weather. On the way home, we stopped at a diner and had chocolate chip pancakes and Belgian waffles, which made up for our missed dinner. It was three in the morning when we got home, where we dried off at last and tumbled gratefully into bed. Today I’m reminded of why people our age don’t normally keep hours like this. I need another cup of coffee.

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