Little Feat, The Music Theater, Tarrytown, NY- 11/6
Rolling into Tarrytown's intimate, wooden music theater on a quiet Thursday evening, Little Feat's method of improvisation was unique, if not altogether inspired. Performing a boogie-woogie based music, the group's time signatures border on quirky jazz-fusion, but are glued together with a bluesy rock and roll. So it's not surprising that the seven person band shined when they stuffed their own "Dixie Chicken" with a thirty-five minute long medley of classic-rock staples.
Though they offered no set break, Little Feat's performance was divided into two sections. Remaining faithful to their 1970s canon, Little Feat fashioned themselves a slightly psychedelic blues band for the first hour, much in the vein of Big Brother and the Holding Company. Later on, they mixed in strong flavor of country-rock, refashioning themselves as more of a top-notch California cover band.
Since the 1979 passing of lead guitarist and founder Lowell George, Little Feat has nodded to their fallen brethren by playing many of his trademark cuts and remaining true to the barebones rock he favored over the group's jazz experimentations. Shaun Murphy, a 1990s addition to the group's lineup, seemed to run the show for the evening's first sixty minutes. Little Feat's former all-boys-club played backup, remaining in the shadows and emerging for their solos. Murphy's vocal abilities are a nice variation on the group mixture of rock, blues, and country but while Little Feat did unhinge their limbs on some songs, like the Hammond heavy "On Your Way Down," as a whole the early portion of the show remained relatively sedate.
Musically, the group's spine is still their rhythm section. Veteran drummer Richard Hayward kept the group's tempo steady, taking occasional drum fills to show off his chops. Though the drummer never ventured into the complex, jazz-fusion unearthed with his 2000 side-project Justice League, Hayward kept the group's jams above sea level. Rhythmic partners percussionist Sam Clayton and bassist Kenny Gradney both followed Hayward's tight lead, but did add bits of flash via solos and Gradney's thick bass plucks.
But halfway through this barebones show, something seemed shifted. Perhaps it was the venue's "charity" sponsored bar or a desire to emerge from the theaters' cramped seats, but the crowd began to get quite rowdy. Screaming for their favorite long lost Little Feat songs, Tarrytown's concert goers began to make their presence known. Slowly, one by one, orchestra-seat ticket holders made their way to the stage, dancing along with "Rio Esperanza," from the group's 2000 Chinese Work Songs. On the venue's balcony, too, retired hippies began to revert back to the seventies, dancing in the isles and boogieing along with neighbors. Sensing the crowds' newfound energy, Little Feat also began to let loose, offering a long, bass heavy segue between "One Clear Moment" and "Just Another Sunday."
Ironically, the addition of British folk signer Julian Dawson helped spotlight Little Feat's Americana sensibilities. Serving as the evening's opening act, Dawson won his crowd early on, playing a jovial mix of Rufus Wainwright and Bob Dylan. While playing with the evenings' headliners, Dawson added harp and backing vocals, helping to texture the group's country-rock ethos. Fitting nicely next to Payne's organ crunches, Dawson's harp helped the group venture from their own trademark songs "Willin' " and "Dixie Chicken" into a smorgasbord of classic covers, throwing in verses and medleys from Johnny Cash's "Long Back Vail," the Band's "The Weight," and the Grateful Dead's "Dar Star." Using Barrne's liner guitar lines as guide, the group slipped in and out of songs, before culminating with their own hit "Dixie Chicken." Returning often to the "Dixie Chicken" chorus, the few hundred person crowd belted the songs' lyrics like a modern top forty hit: "I will be your Dixie Chicken, if you be my Tennessee Lamp/We will walk together down in Dixieland."
Ending with the crowd's collective energy at an evening high, Little Feat closed the Tarrytown Theater as if it was last call. As they exited, everyone seemed a bit sloppy, but indeed satisfied band included.