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To the Beat of a Different Drummer: Little Feat at Rams Head Live, Jan. 12

January 12, 2011

Little Feat has endured its share of lineup changes over its 40 year history, but in the two years since I last saw the veteran cult band, there have been some pretty significant changes. Founding drummer Richie Hayward took a break from the road for health problems in 2009, and sadly passed away last August. His drum tech Gabe Ford is now his permanent replacement. Singer Shaun Murphy, who joined in 1993 and was the primary vocalist on the band’s later albums, also parted ways with Little Feat. But the eight-piece band that came to Baltimore on Tuesday proved it could still put on a hell of a show for the fans that braved the snow to see them at Rams Head Live.

Without the band’s original singer/guitarist Lowell George, who passed away in 1979, or Murphy, vocal duties in Little Feat’s live shows now get spread among the four remaining members from the band’s classic 1970s era lineup. Guitarist Paul Barrere, long the de facto frontman, sings many of George’s originals, including the now traditional airing of the band’s signature song “Willin’” as a medley with a cover of “Don’t Bogart That Joint.” But perhaps the best singer in the band these days is keyboardist Bill Payne, who sounded fantastic on a rendition of the title track of 1990’s Representing the Mambo, one of the band’s best post-George albums, and the sole song from the band’s unusually brief encore, “Oh, Atlanta.”

The band’s Baltimore show was especially heavy on 1974′s Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, which was actually recorded nearby in Hunt Valley, with a set that included the album’s tracks “Spanish Moon,” “Oh, Atlanta,” and “Tripe Face Boogie.” But as always with Little Feat, the songs are merely a launching pad for the performances, and the numerous instrumental tangents featured solos and showcases for a saxophonist and a harmonica player, as well as some mandolin and trumpet playing from longtime multi-instrumentalist Fred Tackett. After four decades of mixing genres, the members of Little Feat can dip effortlessly into blues, country, funk, or jazz fusion in the course of a performance with incredible ease, and hopefully they’ve all got at least another decade left in them to keep at it.

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