Aside from the Grateful Dead
(and possibly Rush), there's perhaps no band that can boast a more die-hard fan base than Little Feat's. It seems that embracing a group with prime instrumental and songwriting skills, that authentically incorporates rock, country, blues and New Orleans funk, with some jazz and even fusion touches, that were the darlings of their top-tier rock contemporaries and DJs alikeand that for some reason never really got the popular attention they deservedmakes the embrace that much stronger.
It's also a forgone conclusion that back in the day, the majority of Feat fans likely felt as if it was only a matter of time before they could say, "I was into them before they made it big." Despite most all other indicators flirting with the top-end of the scale for a time, big commercial success proved (and still proves) elusive for Little Feat. But if ever there was a period when the band seemed closest to breaking things wide open, it was arguably surrounding the release of their live opus, Waiting For Columbus
Feat fans will certainly offer it up as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) live album(s) of all time. There are certainly many reasons for this and why it's the album most likely to appear in record collections containing only a single offering from the bandand why, in its long post-release afterglow, it provided a soundtrack about as ubiquitous at certain parties as the red Solo cup.
Recorded on the supporting tour for their Time Loves A Hero
(Warner Brothers, 1977) album, WFC
captured the band reaching a musical summit in many regards. The album featured much of their best catalog material, honed to road sharpness, and was augmented in concert by the legendary Tower of Power
horn section and other guest appearances. The album also made plain that live performance was an area where Little Feat could really fire on all cylinders. Waiting For Columbus
also showed a band at a crossroads. The preceding Time Loves A Hero
sessions had seen a nominal reprise of band turbulence (that was nothing new nor inordinately disturbing for Little Feat), but their talented and charismatic frontman, Lowell George
had over the years become increasingly equivocal as a leader. As a result, the emergent material on TLAH
showed much more stylistic diversity, largely due to keyboardist Bill Payne
and guitarist Paul Barrere
stepping up to the plate more and more for writing duties, in lieu of George. These burgeoning stylistic (and political) dynamics are fused into the weave of Waiting For Columbus
and if all that created added friction, it seemed to be channeled into the spark, power and creativity of the band's performances on the record.
This notion is further confirmed by the supplemental material included in the Waiting For Columbus Live Deluxe
box, which consists of three full, largely unreleased shows from that tour. These shows may sit strikingly au naturel next to WFC
's somewhat canonical set (that famously received a bit of nip/tuck augmentation in post-production), but they include many set staples not found on the original releaseAllen Toussaint
's "On Your Way Down," the Feat classics "Rock And Roll Doctor," "Teenage Nervous Breakdown," "Tripe Face Boogie," and "Cold Cold Cold," "Walkin' All Night," the funky "Skin It Back," along with other newer additions from TLAH
: "Red Streamliner," and the incendiary instrumental showcase, "Day At The Dog Races."
While the original Waiting For Columbus
itself has ever provided a striking portrait of the band's dynamic range and adventurousness, these additional shows provide an even wider aperture that reveals just how exploratory Little Feat was as a live band. There are obviously quite a few recurring songs throughout the additional concert sets, but they are often played in varying fashions with elastic arrangements, open-ended solo spots and impromptu sections surfacing from night to night.
The recordings of these shows are decent to good quality, though not glitch-free (one can almost see the soundman scrambling to get the vocal level up on the first tune of one show), but the performances are often just as inspiring as any on WFC
. With the same amount of post production tweaking, many of these alternate live takes might have easily supplanted those chosen for the original release. Presenting them in an unvarnished nature further humanizes the portrait of the band from Waiting For Columbus
complete with the humble, folksy and unscripted stage banter of a group with talents yet to be fully acknowledged (by the public at large and perhaps, even themselves). All this only serves to intensify the aura around WFC
as additional material should.
Though Little Feat would later survive the estrangement and untimely death of the irreplaceable Lowell George, and a subsequent disbanding for nine years, only to continue on afterward to produce a later catalog of music that maintained their loyal following and musical reputations, WFC remains a document of the band at an unequaled, unrepeatable point in their history. As such, it might be difficult to find anyeven among those who largely scoff at anniversary box set reissues and expanded editionswho would dispute Waiting For Columbus
being worthy of the treatment it's been given here in the Live Deluxe Edition Box
The (CD) box set features each of the four double-CD setsthe original release and the three companion concerts housed in mini double album sleeves and a full-color, 36-page booklet with photographs, band commentary and extensive recording notes to accompany the more than seven hours of music presented.
Despite the many iterations Waiting For Columbus
has seen over the years, the Live Deluxe
box seems less like yet another cashing in on a classic album (as some box sets do) than WFC
finally getting the treatment it fully deserves. In a perfect world, the band might have also, but for now, this box set seems an excellent (if partial) remedy for thata fitting tribute to a touchstone album by a perenially under appreciated American band at the height of their powers.
Author's note: For a more detailed review of the original Waiting For Columbus
release, see C Michael Bailey's review here
Waiting For Columbus (Original Album Remastered)
CD 1: Join The Band; Fat Man In The Bathtub; All That You Dream; Oh Atlanta; Old Folks Boogie;
Time Loves A Hero; Day Or Night; Mercenary Territory; Spanish Moon.
CD 2: Dixie Chicken; Tripe Face Boogie; Rocket In My Pocket; Willin'; Don't Bogart That Joint; A
Apolitical Blues; Sailin' Shoes; Feats Don't Fail Me Now.
Live At Manchester City Hall July 29 1977
CD 3: Walkin' All Night; Skin It Back; Fat Man In The Bathtub; Red Streamliner; Oh Atlanta; Day At
The Dog Races; All The You Dream; On Your Way Down; Time Loves A Hero; Day Or Night.
CD 4: Rock And Roll Doctor; Old Folks Boogie; Dixie Chicken; Tripe Face Boogie; Medley: Willin' /
Don't Bogart That Joint; Feats Don't Fail Me Now; Rocket In My Pocket, Sailin' Shoes, Teenage
Live At The Rainbow August 2 1977
CD 5: Walkin' All Night; Fat Man In The Bathtub; Red Streamliner; Oh Atlanta; Day At The Dog
Races; All That You Dream; Mercenary Territory; On Your Way Down; Skin It Back; Old Folks Boogie;
CD 6: Rock And Roll Doctor; Cold Cold Cold; Dixie Chicken; Tripe Face Boogie; Medley: Willin' / Don't
Bogart That Joint; Feats Don't Fail Me Now; Rocket In My Pocket; Spanish Moon; A Apolitical Blues;
Teenage Nervous Breakdown.
Live At The Lisner Auditorium August 10 1977
CD 7: Walkin' All Night; Red Streamliner; Fat Man In The Bathtub; Day At The Dog Races; All That
You Dream; On Your Way Down; Time Loves A Hero; Day Or Night; Skin It Back.
CD 8: Oh Atlanta; Old Folks Boogie; Dixie Chicken; Tripe Face Boogie; Feats Don't Fail Me Now;
Rocket In My Pocket; Sailin' Shoes; Teenage Nervous Breakdown.
Lowell George: vocals, guitars, cowbell, maracas; Bill Payne: vocals, piano. electric piano, organ,
synthesizer; Paul Barrere: vocals, guitars; Kenny Gradney: bass; Richie Hayward: drums, percussion,
vocals; Sam Clayton: congas, percussion, vocals.
The Tower Of Power Horn Section:
Mic Gilette: 1st trumpet, trombone; Greg Adams: 2nd trumpet, horn arrangements; Lenny Pickett: 1st
tenor sax, alto sax (solos), clarinet; Emilio Castillo: 2nd tenor sax; Stephen "Doc" Krupka: baritone
Mick Taylor: guitar on "A Apolitical Blues"