Photo courtesy Stuart Dahne Photography
Rams Head Live!
Maybe time really does love a hero, as the classic Little Feat tune once said. When the veteran rockers took the stage at Baltimore’s Rams Head Live! they were awarded a hero’s welcome by the boisterous mixed-age audience, some of whom looked like they weren’t even born when guiding light Lowell George died in 1979. As the band blew through an 18-song set, it was clear why they elicit such a response. Even with numerous personnel changes and a revolving door of lead singers, the six-member band keeps pushing forward, even when it would be easy to slip into nostalgia-land.
Wednesday night’s concert delivered the expected crowd-pleasers like “Dixie Chicken,” “Fat Man in the Bathtub,” and “New Delhi Freight Train,” but it also showcased the unexpected. That came in the form of opening the stage to two guest artists from the Baltimore region, saxophonist Ron Holloway and blues harp player Mark Wenner of the Nighthawks. Holloway, who stood center stage most of the night, traded licks with the band’s resident multi-instrumentalist Fred Tackett so effortlessly you’d have thought he was a full time member. And Wenner’s harmonica was a welcome addition to the jam that the group moved into during its unexpectedly slow rendition of “Dixie Chicken.”
The group just dropped its 15th studio album – its first without drummer Richie Hayward – but new tunes like Tackett’s “Jamaica Will Break Your Heart” and “Church Falling Down” sat comfortably amongst the old chestnuts. So did “Rooster Rag” and “Rag Top Down” a pair of new ones co-written by keyboardist Bill Payne and Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter.
New drummer Gabe Ford sounded like he’d studied enough of Hayward’s style to capture Little Feat’s loosey-goosey rhythms, but brought enough aggressive originality to the table that he avoided coming off like an imitator. The departure of female singer Sean Murphy (who replaced singer Craig Fuller) also hasn’t hurt the band artistically. Rather than find another replacement, Payne, Tackett, and guitarist Paul Barrere handle the vocals and harmonies so smoothly, you wonder why they didn’t configure the band in this fashion before.
Little Feat’s stage set up included a plastic snake comically draped over one of the monitors. But the audience didn’t need any visual reminders that they were getting first-rate Southern blues rock.