Little Rock, Arkansas
June 11, 2007
During early June in Little Rock, it is nearly impossible not to anticipate John Milton's scorching, punishing Hell (Chain'd on the burning Lake) that is surely to come in August. But this particular spring night on the bank of the Arkansas River is far from Paradise Lost. In fact, conditions could not have been more perfect when Little Feat took the Riverfront Amphitheater stage for yet another stop on its nearly 40-year musical journey.
Little Feat has a special connection with Arkansas because of guitarist Fred Tackett, who was born in Little Rock, graduating from Hall High School (closely following former presidential candidate, retired General Wesley Clark) before seeking his fortune in Southern California, where he managed to record with artists including the Allman Brothers Band, Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, and a host of other luminaries. Tackett has had a long association with Little Feat, writing for or co-writing with Lowell George "Fool Yourself, "Honest Man, "Be One Now, and many more songs after formally joining the band in 1988 just prior to its renaissance. That year marked the release of Let it Roll, the first Feat album of new material since the death of Lowell George and the release of Down on the Farm in 1979.
Tackett's band association has manifested itself in Little Feat's charitable contributions in the Little Rock area. When last in Little Rock, the band performed a fundraising concert at the Wildwood Park for the Performing Arts in 2003. The band's 2007 appearance proceeds went to the Little Rock Make A Wish Foundation. Tackett's membership in the band also inaugurated the first annual Feat Fest in 2006 in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, anticipating the upcoming The Second Annual Feat Fest. Tackett has a residence in Eureka Springs.
Compared with recent shows, Little Feat provided Little Rock with a more extended glimpse of the band's repertoire, a song library that has been evolving considerably over the past number of years. Like many touring bands who are identified, for lack of a better term, as "Jam Bands, Little Feat has an established repertoire to which the band has continually added new and original material, seasoning this unfamiliar material with strategic covers of crowd-pleasing tunes. The band's treatments are highly improvisatory, extending introductions and solos and combining songs in inventive ways. Little Feat allows taping of their live performances and releases many on-location recordings through a third party (in Little Feat's case, MunckMix). The advent of digital recording and mp3 and mp4 recording formats completed the present product picture. This performance model, if not invented, was certainly perfected, by the Grateful Dead. After the death of Jerry Garcia in 1995 and the band's inevitable breakup that same year, a vacuum was created for those fans classically referred to as "Dead Heads. Phish, Widespread Panic, the String Cheese Incident, Bruce Hornsby, Ratdog, the Allman Brothers Band, and Little Feat have all tapped into this market, each establishing a cult following, the memberships of each group often overlapping.
So, what of the performance? The set list was divided equally between Lowell George and post-Lowell George material. The 1988 comeback "Hate to Lose Your Lovin', followed by Lowell George's best writing, "Rock and Roll Doctor, heated the set to the simmer necessary to introduce the concert's real cooker: an extended "Dixie Chicken featuring bassist Kenny Gradney and keyboardist Bill Payne. The band threw in the infrequently played "Gold Tooth Woman from Fred Tackett's A Town Like This between "Dixie Chicken and the cover vehicle "Willin', which has customarily been paired with "Don't Bogart that Joint," a tune moreover serving as a harbor for Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land."
Shaun Murphy has clearly settled into "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, her comfort level in the band by now as unmistakable as her soulful, combustible treatment of this favorite cover. Moreover, she provided just the right amount of piquant anticipation for the finest introduction to any song in the Little Feat book: Richie Hayward's ragtime drumming signaling the arrival of "Fat Man in the Bathtub. "Fatman has become another popular vehicle for weaving in covers, in this case, "Get Up Stand Up. This is the note the show closes on, and tonight was no exceptiona show-ending high note by any measure. But of course there was more. The encore was the medley "Down on the Farm and "Candyman, a coupling guaranteed to bring out Paul Barrere's fondness for those dirty blues.