Last week a nearly sold-out audience in Napa, Calif. got together to satisfy its fetish for thatstrangely named Southern rock and blues band that occasionally lapses into Dixieland jazz, Little Feat.
The band had before it two challenges: can the style still work after the passing of the band’s founderand big toe – and current inspiration – Lowell George as well as original drummer Richie Hayward? And can the group come close to replicating theperformance in its 1978 album “Waiting For Columbus,” arguably the best live album ever?
The band metthose challenges and, overall, Little Feat produced a delightful concert.Little Feat still has one founding member, piano player Bill Payne, and three others, percussionistSam Clayton and guitarists Paul Berrere and Fred Tackett, who joined the band in 1973 for thealbum “Dixie Chicken.”
In concert, they blended newer songs with the older classics. New tunes like “Rooster Rag” and “Salome” show a departure from the earlier blues/jazz influence, and at timesalmost feel like folk songs.I loved hearing the band sing “Fat Man In The Bathtub,” a Little Feat classic. And Clayton and drummer Gabe Ford capably kept the beat going on this percussion-heavy song.
Also, “Spanish Moon” and “Time Loves A Hero” were both amazing. Not a foot in Napa’s UptownTheatre was left un-tapping.One unexpected pleasure was the guitar work of Berrere. All the musicians in theband were very good, but Berrere’s guitar skills were a pleasure to hear and watch. Following theconcert, my wife and I debated as to whether Berrere was in the league of Eric Clapton.
As a loyal Little Feat fan, I was hoping to hear more jazz. Instead ofthe saxophone, trumpet and clarinet ensemble that accompanied earlier hits like “Dixie Chicken”and “Mercenary Territory,” Fred Tackett capably played his trumpet in a few of the songs. Payneplayed great piano, which took up most of the slack.But let’s face it: “Dixie Chicken” is mostly a piano jazz and drum song with a fullDixieland jazz crescendo in the middle. So Payne’s piano playing mostly worked, even without thejazz accompaniment.
Still, it would be nice to hear the jazz we all know so well in the original track.The band also used “Dixie Chicken” as a time to cycle through breaks for the band members andintroduce a powerful bass riff that wasn’t in the original song. For a die-hard Feat fan like me, it felta little flat-footed.And I would vote to add “Oh Atlanta” to the concert playlist. “Oh Atlanta” is such a classicLittle Feat song, that it just doesn’t feel right not to hear it in concert. The lack ofjazz instruments wouldn’t affect this mostly piano and slide guitar song. Plus, as the city of Atlanta is arecent addition to the list of concert locations, you just know Atlantans will be clamoring to hear it.
Another plus to experiencing Little Feat live: the show lacked the usual liberal barbs that somehow manage to findthemselves into movies, TV shows and rock concerts. The Dixie Chicks concerts a few years ago orthe up-coming Bruce Springsteen tour seem to portray the message “non-liberals not welcome.” Didn’thappen here. “It’s all about having fun,” Berrere told me before the concert.
The timelessness of most of the Little Feat songs was amazing. Think of it: here wewere, listening to many songs that had been written in the early-to-mid-1970s and you just couldn’ttell, besides the occasional lyric about “weed” or “joint,” which seem tame compared to lyrics in today’ssongs.
Concert play list:Time Loves A Hero, Day Or Night, Jamaica Will Break Your Heart, Spanish Moon, Skin It Back,Salome, Dixie Chicken, Rooster Rag, Willin’, Don’t Bogart That Joint, One Breath At A Time,Feel The Groove, Fat Man In The Bathtub, Abba Zabba
Future tour cities: Woodbridge, New York, Washington D.C., Davenport, Urbana, Columbia,St. Louis, Lake Tahoe, New Orleans, Phoenix, Winter Park, Dallas, Austin, Mobile, Jacksonville,Clearwater, Atlanta, Carrboro, Morehead, Dewey Beach, Baltimore, Plymouth, Webster, Salisbury,Westbury, Ridgefield, Harrisburg, Schwenksville and Ocean City.