Little Rock, AR
September 12, 2012
Mother Nature finally exhaled, and the brutal Southern Summer of 2012 came to a curious end, producing what passed for an electric blue Monday evening. The temperature and humidity were both blessedly low and sitting on the sidewalk of Little Rock's River Market District was enjoyable, if not complete bliss. A 40-year old urban renewal promise, the River Market District is one of the things the city leaders got right. Once a bustling downtown area through the postwar period, Little Rock's urban heartbeat began its westward migration after the famous desegregation of the Little Rock Central High School in 1957, leaving the downtown area to smolder and blow out like so many American city centers.
In the 1970s, an active push was begun to revitalize the area and these efforts were fully realized in the 1990s and '00s, resulting in the River Market District, which plays host to the Central Arkansas Public Library, The Museum of Discovery, the Old Statehouse and Statehouse Convention Center and the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library, as well as several galleries, a farmers' market and unique gathering places. Many eateries and watering holes have come and stayed, among them The Revolution Room, where Southern California's Little Feat appeared the evening of September 12, 2012.
Little Rock has had a Little Feat connection as far back as the mid-1960s, when Little Rock-native Fred first met Lowell George (1945-1979) before the band founder joined the Standells (responsible for the 1966 proto-punk song, "Dirty Water") and after he had left his first band, The Factory, which he shared with original Little Feat drummer, Richie Hayward (1946-2010). Tackett would go on to strategically provide his songwriting wares to the band in the form of "Fool Yourself" on Dixie Chicken
(Warner Brothers, 1973), and co-writing with "Be One Now" with George for Down on the Farm
(Warner Brothers, 1979). Tackett also co-wrote "Honest Man," which appeared on George's Thanks, I'll Eat It Here
(Warner Brothers, 1979).
Tackett formally joined the band when it reformed in 1987 with Pure Prairie League's Craig Fuller, playing guitar and trumpet, as well as singing and songwriting. That lineup lasted until 1993, when Fuller left the band and was replaced with former Bob Seger backup singer Shaun Murphy, who ultimately left the band to rejoin Seger in 2009. At this same time, original drummer Richie Hayward was diagnosed with liver cancer and left the band indefinitely. Little Feat drum technician Gabriel Ford (guitarist Robben Ford
's nephew) took over the drumming duties, and formally joined the band upon Hayward's death in 2010.
While the band entering the Rev Room in September, 2012 retained the same odd time signatures and shuffle rhythms for which it has always been famous, it has also moved well beyond the Lowell George period, with guitarist Paul Barrere and keyboards player Bill Payne steering the direction of the vision as they began to do as early as Time Loves a Hero
(Warner Brothers, 1977). The band's 16th studio recording, Rooster Rag
(Hot Tomato Records, 2012) has just been released, its first CD of all new material since 2003's Kickin' It At the Barn
(Hot Tomato Records). The stars are still lining up for this group of studio musicians that became a band.
And promote this new recording, the band did. After a spirited introduction by the Atlanta-based The Villians
, Little Feat took the abbreviated stage of the Revolution Room, playing to a spirited full house. They opened the show with Mississippi John Hurt's "Candy Man," a concert staple for the past few years which also opens Rooster Rag
. Arranged and sung by Barrere, the piece had all the trademarks of the halting shuffle rhythm for which the band has long been known, and also contained his exacting slide guitar and sandpaper vocalsboth long underrated for their uniqueness and expression.
Tackett reached back 30 years, singing "Honest Man" and playing some tasty lead guitar (he and Barrere both favoring Fender Stratocasters), before Payne led two of his contributions to the new album, "Rag Top Down" and "The Blues Keep Coming." Barrere dusted off a gritty "High Roller," from 1977's Time Loves a Hero
, and then the guitarists switched to acoustic for Tackett's spooky "There's a Church Fallin' Down." Here, the band took a turn off of the evening's set list to honor the late Levon Helm and his home state with a spirited "The Weight," easily the best cover of the song in recent memory.
Yes, there were "Willin'" and "Dixie Chicken," but the band of Baby Boomers spent more time looking forward than back in this show. The sound of this band has evolved from the intricate and spacious interplay of Waiting for Columbus
(Warner Brothers, 1978) to a dense, wall-of-sounda musical momentum that can only be its own. It is both unfair and unfortunate to dismiss Little Feat as a band past its prime when it produces a project like Rooster Rag
and puts it on the road.