Celebrating 50 years as a band, Little Feat returned to their roots, and a capacity house at the immaculate Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, for a Saturday night party on Memorial Day weekend. Though often referred to as a group with Southern musical leanings, particularly those of New Orleans, Feat was, in fact, born in Los Angeles five decades ago as the brainchild of the late Lowell George. So, it was with a fitting and festive two-hour set that the sextet and their guesting three-piece horn section, plus a little help from another L.A. legend, honored their historic beginnings and their ongoing artistry before a loyal and appreciative hometown crowd.
There was a discernible focus right from the drop, as the six took on two of the repertoire’s more challenging entries, opening with “Time Loves a Hero” and “Day or Night.” Both were exercises in group dynamic, arrangement, and timing, with Gabe Ford holding down the drum chair once immortalized by the late Richie Hayward. It’s never easy replacing a legend, but Ford has performed notably well in the seat over the past decade, cooking with bassist Kenny Gradney for a formidable groove that simmered throughout the night.
By no means a nostalgia trip, Feat made sure to visit their most recent album, 2012’s Rooster Rag, nearly as often as its chest of classics. They welcomed the horns for “One Breath At A Time,” then dipped back for a rousing “Oh Atlanta” that shifted the band and Saban audience from reserved concert performance to summer shindig. The fans stood and danced. The band smiled and relaxed. Little Feat was home again.
Guitarist and singer Paul Barrere dedicated “Old Folks Boogie” to himself, and percussionist Sam Clayton reached deep down into his bluesy growl for the vocal on an extended “Spanish Moon” that slid effortlessly into “Skin It Back.” Barrere and his counterpart, guitarist Fred Tackett, switched to acoustic guitar and mandolin, respectively, for Tackett’s haunting Rooster cut, “Church Falling Down.” Keyboardist Bill Payne took the lead for the title track, “Rooster Rag,” mentioning his recent fruitful songwriting partnership with longtime Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, following that with a sentimental sing-along on the Feat chestnut, and George’s most beloved song from the band’s first album, “Willin’.”
The mid-set acoustic workout rounded off with a nod to Allen Toussaint, as Tackett sang “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky” morphing into Barrere’s wink to Hank Williams’ “Lonesome Whistle.” It was a pleasing pairing, paying tribute to two of the band’s early and enduring influences. Returning to their electrics, Barrere and Tackett brought on another guitar slinger, The Doors’ Robby Krieger, for “A Apolitical Blues,” with Clayton again showing off his bluesman chops as the six-stringers stretched out.
For the final three of the show, the band enjoyed extended turns on “Fat Man in the Bathtub,” and, with Krieger, a penultimate rendition of their longstanding live centerpiece, “Dixie Chicken,” that showed just how special these musicians are individually and as an ensemble, especially as Barrere excited on guitar and Payne excelled on keys, once again. All that remained was the rollicking encore of “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now” and the all but obvious sentiment that not only has Little Feat never failed its faithful, these irrepressible six have aged into their 50th year with vitality, dignity, and the undiminished might to keep those dancing shoes moving all night.d