The Scene: The Bluebird was an interesting mix of aging hippies, buttoned up 50 somethings out for a rare show, and Jamband kids checking one off the “Legends List” last Thursday night. Early on in the night I had the pleasure of exchanging some notes with a guy who had seen Little Feat for the first time back in 1978 in Ohio and had even caught former Feat frontman Lowell George playing a solo show just a few days before he died. The true fans were out for sure and while there were chairs on both sides of the room for those who didn’t want to stand all night, the middle of the room was chock full of people who wanted to cut a little rug to the Swampy Cajun Rhythm and Blues of one of the all time great American bands.
Little Feat: Little Feat is one of the true legendary jambands of all time and last week at The Bluebird, they proved it yet again as they delivered a high energy two hour set that wove in and out of classic originals, fresh new tunes, and even a choice cover. It was just a little bit past nine when longtime Feat Paul Barrere, Fred Tackett, Billy Payne, Kenny Gradney, and colorful Sam Clayton took the stage joined by a relatively new member of the band, Gabe Ford, on the drums. While Ford didn’t join the band until a few years ago, he spent several years as the Drum Tech for the late Richie Hayward so he’s no stranger to the Feat family and he did his former boss proud behind the kit all night.
From the get go we were treated to vintage Little Feat as they warmed up for a few minutes with a jam that eventually meandered into “All That You Dream” from the group’s 1975 release, The Last Record Album. Tacket blew a little Trumpet, Gradney laid down some funky basslines while Clayton spiced up the rhythm with some well placed percussion, and Barrere shredded his Fender Strat, but one thing was sorely lacking from the PA mix, Payne’s trademark Keys. It’s one of the key things that makes the Little Feat sound everything that it is and why he wasn’t louder in the mix I will never know. Truth be told, the thought crossed my mind that maybe he was turned down on purpose because he had lost his chops over the years, but as I paid closer attention that Barrelhouse Blues Piano that he is known for was still there, it was just barely audible. It was really too bad because as good as the band sounded without him, I can only imagine how much better it would have been had we been able to hear this master of the keys struttin’ his stuff.
From the first time I saw Little Feat back in 1990 headlining the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, I’ve been in love with Sam Clayton’s deep and guttural growl, and when he and Gradney kicked into “Spanish Moon” I knew I was in for my first dose of the big man’s vocals in several years. Clocking in at nearly 10 minutes, this version showcased some great guitar work from Barrere and Tackett and even the crowd was in pretty good voice as we all sang along with Clayton on the beloved classic. From here the band dished out a double dip from their surprisingly good new record Rooster Rag as they ran through “One Breath At A Time” and “Ragtop Down.” The latter tune was written by Payne with famed Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter and featured Payne on lead vocals for the first time of the night. If this song and the title track of the album are any indication, this collaboration between Little Feat and Hunter could be a very interesting next chapter for the band.
As Tackett squeezed the first few notes of “Dixie Chicken” from his Trumpet, the room went wild and the band took us on a twenty-five minute excursion into the land of Dixie. They jammed together as a band, let the rhythm section take over for a few minutes, and even sandwiched a cover of “Tennessee Jed” in there somewhere before ending up back in the main theme of “Dixie Chicken.” It was great to see this fourty-plus year old band still pushing limits and breaking down walls musically. After a couple more tunes from the new record, Barrere broke out the acoustic for Lowell George’s legendary truckin’ anthem “Willin’.” As we all got lost in the melody and sang along ’bout “weed, whites, and wine,” the band transitioned into “Don’t Bogart That Joint” to the delight of the crowd before closing out “Willin'” with the help of all the singers in the audience.
They wrapped up the show with a fifteen minute version of “Fatman In The Bathtub” and I thought I detected a hint of Payne’s keys in the mix, but it was a too little too late to redeem my thoughts about the sound at this show. That said, the energy this group of guys in their mid-sixties was pouring into the show was nothing short of awesome and it was a thrill to see them in such a small room. They returned for a one song encore with a take on the appropriately titled “Mellow Down Easy” to usher us out onto Colfax and as I made my way past the merch table on my out the door, I rubbed elbows with Paul Barrere and saw Gradney signing a few autographs. These guys know where their bread is buttered and they couldn’t have been nicer about talking to a few fans. They may not be playing the big sheds anymore, but they are clearly loving what they do and they are still doing it damn well.
Stage Presence: B+
Set/Light Show: C