Jorma Discovers ‘Dixie Chicken’
Whether is was a celebration of the end of a successful, but too brief, co-headline mini-tour, or an effort to help heal a city that just lost a seventh game by 37 points to the most storied franchise in the history of the NBA, last night at Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse Jorma Kaukonen joined Little Feat for a unusual hybrid version of ‘Dixie Chicken.’ This was the first musical cross-pollination moment of this tour.
Just after percussionist Sam Clayton lent his warm growl to a deep-grooved ‘Spanish Moon,’ Paul Barrere introduced Kaukonen to the delight of the Atlanta crowd (no southern city supports Hot Tuna more). However, Kaukonen was quickly shuttled off the stage after the first two verses as Kenny Gradney stepped up for a funky solo, butressed by drummer Richie Hayward and Clayton. When the trio was done, Gradney left the stage and Jorma Kaukonen and Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne (who originally formed the band with Lowell George in 1969 upon the suggestion of Frank Zappa) reemerged to perform with Hayward and Clayton and shower the riveted crowd with quartet-style rock improvisation. Kaukonen faced Payne and the two exchanged licks in exceedingly delicious fashion. The band then gradually moved the music back toward ‘Dixie Chicken,’ briefly referencing Bob Marley’s ‘Lively Up Yourself’ before Barrere launched into the final verse.
As Kaukonen explains in his tour journal, ‘Paul asked me if I would sit for a bit on ‘Dixie Chicken.’ I went to Myron, my pundit in these matters and lo, he had it on his iPod. I studied it so I wouldn’t be totally unfamiliar with the song. It’s a great tune, and a tricky one, I must say. When the time came to jam, Bill the keyboard player (and a great one he is) said, ‘We’ll go to A minor… I’ll cover you.’ Cover me he did and when the band came back on they were so tight they really made it easy for me to fit in. I love this job!’
These bands should be hailed for continuing to eschew the ‘Nostalgia Act’ temptation to regurgitate an unrotating setlist limited to hit songs from the many groups with which they have been associated with over the years (which with this bill would include Frank Zappa, Jimmy Buffett, Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Bob Seger and a litany of others) and instead they each chose to offer a more compelling setlist. Tuna’s opening set included deep-in-the-catalog gems like ‘Ode To Billy Dean,’ ‘Sea Child’ and ‘Living Just For You.’ They also brought forth classics like ‘Genesis’ and ‘Bowlegged Woman’ and offered slightly reworked takes on ‘I Know You Rider’ and ‘Come Back Baby.’ Little Feat’s set opened with ‘Marginal Creatures’ from their 2000 release Chinese Work Songs followed by Payne’s ‘Cadillac Hotel’ from 1995’s Ain’t Had Enough Fun and would later include a powerful cover of John Hiatt’s ‘Feels Like Rain’ (made popular by Buddy Guy) featuring the powerful lead vocals of Shaun Murphy (a former member of Bob Seger’s Magic Bullet Band who has also recorded with Eric Clapton). The night ended as it should, with a Little Feat encore saluting the greatest musical city in the southeast with, ‘Oh, Atlanta.’
These two enduring bands will rejoin for one performance at The Paramount Theater in Boulder May 10th. In the meantime, you can catch Hot Tuna at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa tomorrow night and at the legendary Boulder Fox Theater Thursday. Little Feat will play Tuesday at the Neighborhood Theater in Charlotte’s NoDa district, and then will join Creedence Clearwater Revisited Wednesday for a bash at the Innsbrook Pavillion just north of Richmond. Report by Rob Turner