It was almost two years ago that I completed my survey of the Ten Best Live Rock Recordings
. At the time, I stated that the order of the recordings really depended on what day I was asked. Today, I return to reconsider the top of that Top Ten List. I previously ranked The Allman Brothers Band's The Fillmore Concert
as Number One and Little Feat's Waiting For Columbus
as Number Two. I did this because I did not consider Columbus
to be the best of the best due to a weak fourth-LP side. I always felt that the final side of the two-LP set was not up to the same superb level defined by the remainder of the collection. For all of the guitar noodling on the longer pieces from the live Allmans, the Fillmore
shows were a uniformly stronger set from start to finish.
On the flipside and on a personal note, after 30 years of music listening, Little Feat's 1978 masterpiece Waiting for Columbus
remains my favorite recording...period.
Rhino Records, in cooperation with Warner Brothers, has released Waiting for Columbus
in a deluxe edition that restores all of the music performed during the 1977 tour. This includes the three live pieces on Hoy Hoy!
plus seven previously unissued outtakes. All of this music now inhabits two compact discs. The set sports vastly expanded liner notes that illuminate the personal conflict in the band surrounding the tour that ended in the triumph of this recording. The new music heard within is of a quality to nudge Little Feat even with the Allman Brothers Band in the list of The top Ten Best Live Rock Recordings in the estimation of this humble writer.
Where do we start? This new release is assembled in a compelling way. The entire original concert is provided on the first disc. The second disc begins with "the encore," which includes "Willin,'" "Don't Bogart That Joint," "A Political Blues," "Sailin' Shoes," and "Feats Don't Fail Me Now." This effectively restores "Don't Bogart That Joint" and "A Political Blues" which were excluded from the original release of Waiting for Columbus
and were included on the CD release of The Last Record Album
. I always considered these encore pieces as inferior to the rest of the vinyl release. In retrospect, I suspect that was a bit unfair. As an ostensible concert closer this encore collection was very effective and has aged well. Mick Taylor's inclusion on "A Political Blues" is still very cool.
The previously released and unreleased "outtakes" restored here were not outtakes because of inferior performance, but rather were excluded because the playing time did not exist in the previous LP format. These performances are every bit as powerful as the pieces included and more powerful than the weaker songs on the originally released live album (I cite the "encore collection"). These outtakes include a potent "One Love Stand" that far outstrips the studio version and perfectly segues into a ferocious "Rock and Roll Doctor." There is an unreleased "Skin It Back" (and its reprise from Hoy Hoy!
"Red Streamliner" and "Teenage Nervous Breakdown" were also included from Hoy Hoy!
). The superb early "On Your Way Down" (played with a slower, lava momentum), a bright "Walking All Night," and the consistent "Cold, Cold, Cold," augmented with the Tower of Power horn section, juxtapose perfectly with a jazzy, extended "A Day At The Dog Races" from Time Loves A Hero
Several of these songs appeared live earlier this year on Pilot Record's release Late Night Truck Stop
(2002). Recorded in 1973 in Ebbetsfield Colorado, Truck Stop
displayed a much different Little Feat than the one performing on Columbus
. "Apolitical Blues," "Walkin' All Night," "On Your Way Down, "Dixie Chicken" and "Fat Man in the Bathtub" all still had the new whiff of the studio rising from them. As early as 1973, Little Feat had already combined "Dixie Chicken" and "Tripe Face Boogie" but it was to take four more years and tensions in the band reaching critical mass for these songs to be transformed into the dynamos they ultimately proved to be on Columbus
The majority of syllables I have read penned about the new Waiting for Columbus
mention two other live recordings in the same breath, the aforementioned Allman Brothers and The Band's Rock of Ages
. These three recordings already occupy the top of The Top Ten Best Live Recordings list. With recordings of this caliber, which recording should be considered Number One probably depends on which disc one happens to be listening to at the time.
Considering these three recordings separately, they each have their separate strong points. The Allman Brothers band favored an improvisational direction in their live shows that was characterized by coherent, though lengthy jams ("Mountain Jam," "Whipping Post"). The Band was unique in having three exceptional and important vocalists in Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, and Rick Danko. Additionally, the sepia-toned stories woven by Robbie Robertson (the "Night they Drove Old Dixie Down" and "Up on Cripple Creek") have no peer in recorded Rock music. Finally, Little Feat, better than any other band, demonstrated that live music could be better than its studio counterpart. Little Feat's power on stage what almost overwhelming (compare the studio and live versions of "Fat Man In The Bathtub" or "Dixie Chicken").
Considering these bands collectively, they share several common characteristics. Where The Band had the uniquely rustic vocals and drumming of Arkansan Levon Helm, Little Feat had the otherworldly beat of Richie Hayward and dense tenor vocals of Lowell George. Where the Allman Brother's band had an unmistakable twin-drummer drive and the most perfect electric blues slide guitar, Little Feat had the unmistakable and idiosyncratic slide style of Lowell George (which was to influence Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Brown, David Lindley, and Paul Barrere) and the funky percussion of Sam Clayton. Where Robbie Robertson pleaded:
...Get up Jake. Ain't no need in lying, you tell me that you're dying but I know that's not true...
Lowell George opined: ...I did my time in your rodeo, fool that I am; I'd do it all over again...
Where this is a critical comparison of these three discs, isn't it good to know that we have all three to hear? But for today, while I listen to the introductory "Join the Band," the Best Live Rock Recording is Waiting for Columbus