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Little Feat: Give ’em a hand

Stewart Oksenhorn
Paul Barrère of Little Feat plays at the Belly Up on Thursday night. (Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen Times)
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The question that seemed to be on most people’s minds just before Little Feat’s concert Thursday night at the Belly Up was: Just who is in Little Feat these days? Four people asked me, wanting to know just how authentic an outfit Feat ’06 is.Strictly speaking, only two current members – drummer Richie Hayward and keyboardist Bill Payne – were part of the quartet Lowell George put together in Los Angeles in 1969. But three others on the Belly Up stage – bassist Ken Gradney, percussionist Sam Clayton and singer-guitarist Paul Barrère, who has slipped into the late George’s shoes as bandleader – were added in 1972, when the band got an early shakeup.

The “new” members, female singer Shaun Murphy and guitarist-trumpeter Fred Tackett, joined around the time of Little Feat’s ’80s reformation (although Tackett can rightly claim longer tenure; before he was a full member, he was co-writing Feat songs and contributing to their studio recordings).Little Feat made that longevity their strong suit at the Belly Up. This might be the tightest roots rock band in existence. Tightness here is used in the best sense – a group of players that instinctively knows each other’s moves and feeds off the band-mind. Locking into the boogie rhythms – distinctively Southern, even though the only actual Southern connection Little Feat can claim is being from Southern California – and complex chord changes, the band was able to take most every tune into the jamming stratosphere. Every aspiring jam band should take a master class in group dynamics from Feat.Even though Little Feat has continued to churn out strong, new material, Thursday night’s set revolved largely around the old standards, mostly written by George. None of it was done by rote, however: The voodoo was there in the extended jam on “Spanish Moon,” and the crowd roared along with Payne on the rocking “Oh Atlanta.” The newish songs that did get played – “Hate to Lose Your Lovin'” and “Let it Roll” – were both highlights, and it made me wish they played, and perhaps trusted, the recent songs more.

Instead of new, original songs, Little Feat played unexpected cover material, a fairly recent trend for the band. The Grateful Dead’s “Dark Star” made an appearance in a long sequence that included instrumental passages from jazz and reggae, and George’s signature “Dixie Chicken.” “Dixie Chicken” segued smartly into more Dead, “Tennessee Jed,” a brilliant choice both thematically (the songs are set in Tennessee) and musically (the bent notes from the Dead’s song sound like notes Barrère would play without even trying). The energy flagged only with Murphy’s interpretation of Dylan’s “It Takes a lot to Laugh, it Takes a Train to Cry.” To be fair, the fault is laid more at the sluggish pace than Murphy’s singing. But Murphy, who at that point had been much better as a backing singer, made amends with a gorgeous reading of John Hiatt’s “Feels Like Rain.”

Little Feat turns 40 in a few short years. One hopes that Aspen will be on that anniversary tour.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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