Big Cuter and I sang along with the Tuvan Throat Singers and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones at the Rialto Theater last night. Had there been an aura-camera in front of us, I am certain that there would have been but one halo of wonderful light surrounding the two of us. We were each with the other's perfect person for that moment.
I bought the tickets in September, as those of you who keep track of the information in the sidebar can attest. I found Bela Fleck on Pandora, and liked the sound enough to click over and see what it was. His banjo picking is clear and precise and quick, and even if "the banjo isn't a real instrument," as Victor Wooten, the Flektone's tonsured-with-dreadlocks bass player snarkily smirked, he sure does make pretty music on it. He's been nominated for Grammy's in more categories than any other artist, and I'd give him a statue in each and every one of them.
We were sitting in the balcony, always the right choice at the Rialto. Floor seats are folding chairs smashed too close together on a totally flat floor. Unless you're 7' tall, sight lines are non-existent. But up in the loge, there are cushioned seats with arm-rests, and the rake is such that even if that 7' person is right in front of you there's a good chance you'll still see what's happening down there on the stage. Big Cuter and I sat in the front row of the second section, with a low ledge for jacket and foot resting right there in front of us. We were right up near the ceiling, as close to heaven as we were likely to get in Tucson this season.
Big Cuter noticed it first - there was no one actually playing the drum kit. There was definitely percussion, but there did not appear to be a musician creating it. I wondered if it were taped, but that just didn't feel right. The girl to my right pointed out Futureman, the Flecktone standing stage left, and told me that he was making the music... with the small wooden whatchamacallit around his neck.
The whatchamacallit was also called the Vegetarian Electronic Porkchop, but the liner notes from the cd I bought call it a drumitar. Futureman (aka Roy Wooten) invented/created/developed/played it... sometimes with his left hand while using his right more traditionally with brushes or sticks on the drums themselves. For the most part, though, he stood upright, assuming the posture of a guitarist as he created drum sounds from a (it looked like wood) gadget hanging around his neck. It was odd. It was delicious. It was unlike anything we'd ever heard or seen or thought of before.
It was just like the rest of the concert.
It was an NPR moment made real. We'd heard them on All Things Considered driving home from school one day, and we'd sat in the car in the driveway to hear the conclusion of the piece. It was otherworldly and strange and impossible and suddenly, without warning, there they were on stage right before our very eyes. We couldn't stop smiling. At one another. At the stage. At the audience. Were there five other people in the auditorium who knew what was in store for them? I can't imagine that they were. Listen
if you are interested in the throat singing, start at the beginning.
if you want to hear Jingle Bells, skip ahead to about 3:16 and prepare to smile
It was really something. The entire audience was giggling, then trying to sing along, then giggling some more. Bela on his 5-string banjo and his one-man-horn-section Jeff Coffin accompanied the Tuvans on their their igil and byzaanchy and doshpuluur and kengirge and shunggyrash. Honestly, though, they were no weirder than the drumitar.
The Rialto is a bare bones venue, but the Flecktones brought production values to the evening. There was a gentle light show, with snowflakes and geometric shapes wandering the walls and ceiling. The sing-along, in Tuvan, was coordinated with the lights, which illuminated the audience when it was our turn to chime in with Aa-shu Dekei-oo. The players were introduced by spot-light, and the mood was in turns dramatic and giddy and concentrated as the colors changed from blues to reds to greens. It was pretty special for Tucson. For anywhere, really.
No, the throat singers did not come all the way from Siberia just to sing Jingle Bells. They came back after intermission and sang songs about fast horses and beautiful women and then some songs about beautiful horses and fast women. They seemed to be having as much fun as we were. Jeff Coffin played two saxophones at once (really, he did) and Bela Fleck sat on a high stool all alone on the stage and talked to us through his banjo and the music was absolutely marvelous.
This was a holiday concert, and hidden among the notes were Silent Night and What Child is This? and Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies, but mostly we watched the most accomplished jam band I've ever seen. These are extraordinarily talented musicians, as well as being consummate performers. The music wound around and into and over and through bluegrass and classical and Tuvan and it occurred to me that traditional music sounds the same the world over. Throat singing originated before there was language yet it blended right in with ancient Christian hymns played on modern instruments. Is there a deep-seated sense of sound and rhythm that defines us as humans on the planet? It certainly seemed so last night.
The holiday tour is over, and the throat singers are returning to their home on the steppes as I type. The Flecktones are doing their Christmas shopping. Big Cuter and I are annoying the hell out of TBG, because we've had the Jingle All The Way cd blasting on the stereo all day long.
Perhaps you had to be there?
What do you think?