Little Rock, Saturday, September 20, 2003
About halfway through their fundraising concert for Little Rock, Arkansas's Wildwood Park for the Performing Arts, veteran West Coast band Little Feat launched into the perennial Feat favorite "Willin'." As an inclusion in the Little Feat 2003 set list, "Willin'" was a vehicle for what have become the band's trademark performances of cover tunes. Following the song's second verse of the weary life of a truck driver and the full "Don't Bogart that Joint", the music and lyrics turned indigo...
It was ten years ago on a cold dark night / someone was killed 'neath the town hall light...
"Long Black Veil" was a perfect hommage to Arkansas favorite son Johnny Cash, who passed away a week before the show. The band had added the Cash staple to their set list, perhaps in anticipation, perhaps in honor of Cash. For whatever reason, the crowd recognized and appreciated it. But the group was not finished honoring yet. Following "Long Black Veil," the tone turned determined...
I pulled into Nazareth / I was feelin' about half past dead / I just need some place / Where I can lay my head...
With "The Weight" the band proceeded to acknowledge a second Arkansas son, The Band's Levon Helm, native of Turkey Scratch, Arkansas, south of Helena, the Promised Land of the blues. Little Feat has been performing more cover material over the past number of years. Their choices are both eclectic and effective. The comfort accompanying age and experience coupled with the total artistic control of having one's own record label enables the band this freedom. It is this touch, this grace, this intelligence that makes Little Feat the finest performing band in America.
Little Feat swung through Little Rock on their 2003 tour for a pair of shows, one a private event and the second at Wildwood. Before an appreciative crowd of approximately 400 fans, the band wound its way through a tastefully paced, 100-minute set of mostly Lowell George vintage pieces with some recent surprises thrown in. This show comes on the heals of the recently released Way Down Upon the Suwannee River, a live recording that reflects the band's current creative mindset. When juxtaposed with the sacred Waiting for Columbus, Way Down Upon the Suwannee River illustrates the thoughtful and brilliant guiding hands of guitarists Paul Barrere, Fred Tackett (also an Arkansas son) and keyboardist Bill Payne. It is this knowledgeable guidance that has produced the damn near concert perfection the band displays.
Little Feat 101
About the time of The Last Record Album, a creative tension developed between band founder Lowell George and Barrere and Payne. This conflict fueled the jazz-tinged recording Time Loves a Hero and ultimately the Gotterdammerung of Waiting for Columbus. After the death of George in 1979 and the reorganization and reemergence of the band in 1982, the Barrere / Payne camp dominated, passed through a brief Craig Fuller period before adding longtime associates Fred Tackett and Shaun Murphy to the band for the current lineup. After four major label outings by this line up, the group inaugurated Hot Tomato Records and fully arrive in all of their post-LG glory.
This post-LG band is fully elaborated with a powerful and potent sound. While seemingly unnecessary, I am constantly accosted by fellow writers pining away for the Lowell George Little Feat. Tragically, George is dead, that genius is no more. But that genius has been replace by equal genius, one that has produced a new, unique, and immediately identifiable repertoire of old and new tunes. Little Feat is Little Feat. Part of this new and unique vision is the power of the band's live shows and live recordings.
Little Feat does not offer to replace Lowell George but to fulfill his musical prophecy.
Waiting for Columbus
was painstakingly produced by George and yielded the most finely crafted live Rock recording committed to tape. Every note, every instrument was apparent. The band today opts for a production that reveals the true power of the band. Way Down Upon the Suwannee River
illustrates a molten mercury momentum that redefines sonic natural law. Where George's production revealed the music in a vacuum, the new production fills in all of the spaces with perfectly balanced aural authority.
Little Feat opened the show with an extended "Two Trains," prominently featuring Fred Tackett's sinewy Fender Stratocaster. Shaun Murphy followed with "Drivin' Blind" from Ain't Had Enough Fun, wheeling away with a Cajun feel. The extended medley of "Spanish Moon"..."Skin it Back"..."Day at the Dog Races" followed, featuring Sam Clayton and Paul Barrere on vocals and Bill Payne's stratospheric keyboards
Fred Tackett presented material from his new recording with the title cut from A Town Like This. This song was presented in a more elaborated electric form here and appears as such on the to-be-released new Little Feat studio recording Kickin' It at the Barn. Also from the new album is Shaun Murphy's swamp ballad "I'd Be Lyin'," featuring her humid, sexy vocals over Barrere's wispy slide guitar.
Next is the show stopper, Shaun Murphy belting out Bob Dylan's "It Takes A Lot to Laugh" as if possessed by the spirits of Muddy Waters, Elvis Presley, and Janis Joplin. Barrere's superb slide guitar lends blues credentials to the songster bard's classic. "Fat Man in the Bathtub" follows with a quote from Bob Marley's "Get Up, Stand Up." The show closed with "Dixie Chicken"..."Tripe-aced Boogie," always a vehicle for Bill Payne's keyboard musings. The encore was a rollicking "Feats don't Fail Me Now."
Little Feat is just beginning to flex their creative muscles and the future looks mighty bright. Amen.