A three-CD live retrospective aimed at the band’s loyal following.
Chris Parkin 2011
With whippersnappers such as White Denim declaring their fondness for Little Feat there’s still a slim chance that this easy-rolling swamp-boogie outfit might appeal to a new generation. Certainly, if plaid shirt-wearing kids pick up any one of Sailin’ Shoes, Dixie Chicken and Feats Don’t Fail Me Now they’ll find a band who paired – gloriously at times – raw, bluesy, hot-diggity-damn trad’ rock with weird, voodoo-fuelled Southern Americana. After all, founding member Lowell George was a Mother of Invention with Zappa.
But newcomers shouldn’t start with this three-disc live collection. Little Feat are – in the Grateful Dead tradition – a Jam Band and any latecomers in search of the swinging, tight-knit Louisiana rock found on Dixie Chicken and Feat Don’t Fail Me Now will find that (disc one aside) they go on a bit. But for fans already accustomed to the group’s neglect for time keeping, there’s much to savour.
This is a ‘best of’ of the live recordings released by the band’s own Hot Tomato Records to satisfy long-time fans who follow the band around, taping their every performance because, like, no two shows are ever the same, dude. And the vibe certainly varies across these discs thanks to Little Feat’s line-up changes.
The first disc features the original Lowell George-fronted outfit and is a brilliant, rough-and-ready ride through the band’s halcyon days (1971-78), morphing from rickety, sand-whipped blues into a swampy groovesome lope once Kenny Gradney and Paul Barrere replace The Magic Band’s Roy Estrada. A demo version of Fat Man in the Bathtub is brilliantly, wryly grubby; there’s a peculiarly ghostly Sailin’ Shoes; and Rocket in My Pocket and Dixie Chicken hit deep grooves. A strung-out Bill Payne chatting from behind his keys gives an idea of the fun they were having at the time.
Disc two and three, though, are for the diehards. They’re a very different beast here – better groomed and without George following his 1979 excess-fuelled death. Disc two (1988-2001) features a fine wiggy tribute to him in the shape of Rock and Roll Doctor, and Hate to Lose Your Lovin’ is sweaty-hot boogie. But things are smooth and rootsy, the groove and swing drying up along with their aging hips.
Original members Bill Payne and Richie Hayward (who died in 2009) are with the band throughout and there are still quality moments on disc three (2003-04), such as stoner classic Skin it Back and belting renditions of Let it Roll and Feats Don’t Fail Me Now. They’ve sure as hell still got the chops in these later years, but not the strange, good-time spirit that always leavened the trad’ leanings.