Few bands that formed in the early 1970s managed to survive and continue touring to the present day. Little Feat is one of the few that have, in no small part due to their outstanding musicianship and the idiosyncratic songwriting of founding member, Lowell George, which has stood the test of time. Early on, the group established a reputation as one of the most exciting and original bands on the planet. Initially, it was Lowell George's ability to craft songs with sophisticated melodies and intriguing lyrics, as well as the high production standards on the group's studio recordings, that gained them high critical praise. By the mid-1970s, the emergence of jazzier elements being incorporated into the band's sound and strong songwriting contributions from guitarist Paul Barrere and keyboardist Bill Payne added great diversity to the group's material. However, it was the impact of Little Feat's concert performances that truly established such a dedicated fan base that has fueled the band's longevity.
Few would have expected the group to carry on following the death of Lowell George, and indeed at the time it appeared as though Little Feat was gone for good. Over the course of the next decade, several Little Feat-inspired bands surfaced. The surviving members pursued interesting side projects and were in high demand as studio musicians, but no one seemed to fill the void left by Little Feat. Despite no longer existing as a band, their audience and the appreciation for their music continued to grow. After nearly a decade of hoping, Feat fans were finally rewarded in 1988 when Little Feat phase two began, now with Payne and Barrere firmly at the helm. Two new members were recruited to fill the void left by Lowell George; former Pure Prairie League lead vocalist, Craig Fuller, whose vocals were strikingly similar to George's, and guitarist Fred Tackett, who had been involved on many of the group's earlier studio recordings.
The initial release by the new lineup, 1988's Let It Roll, became a tremendous success, garnering the band its first hit single and it's first gold record since their live album, Waiting For Columbus, which now had gone platinum. The band received more exposure than ever, including a high profile appearance on Saturday Night Live and opener slots with the Grateful Dead. Concerts were booked nationally and Little Feat played sold-out shows all over the United States, introducing a whole new generation to the group's unique sound. By the end of the year, the group was in truly incendiary form again and had many reasons to celebrate.
To do just that, Bill Graham presented Little Feat at Oakland's Kaiser Convention Center, headlining a bill that also featured Ivan Neville and David Lindley. To help celebrate the occasion, Little Feat also invited Bonnie Raitt as a surprise guest, to help them ring in the New Year. Thanks to the high quality of the Bill Graham Archive recording and the band playing before a wildly enthusiastic Bay Area audience, this New Year's Eve performance is a must-listen for all Feat fanatics.
Little Feat always kicked up a storm in the Bay Area and from the first funky notes of "Fat Man In The Bathtub" to the rip-roaring set-closer, "Tripe Face Boogie," this show proves to be no exception and contains nearly everything a Feat fan could desire. Although Lowell George is certainly missed, his spirit does indeed permeate this performance, not only through his songs, but also in the way Craig Fuller seemingly channels George in his voice. It's downright spooky at times, but also a delight to hear these musicians live on stage again and so fully engaged in the moment. Performing strong, new material, as well as a near-perfect overview of the original band's accomplishments, this recording displays an inspired band in remarkably great form. The chemistry of the core band remains and if anything, they sound tighter and more confident than ever.
Drummer Ritchie Hayward starts the set off by establishing the funky groove that kicks off "Fat Man In The Bathtub." Two more classic Feat numbers follow with Lowell George's "Spanish Moon" segueing directly into Paul Barrere's "Skin It Back." These three opening numbers establish a deep groove that continues to intensify as the set progresses. It doesn't take long before the Bay Area audience is bopping right along. At this point, the group takes the opportunity to introduce the first new song of the set, the percolating Barrere, Fuller, and Payne collaboration, "Business As Usual." What soon becomes obvious is that these musicians are thoroughly enjoying themselves and that contagious feeling permeates the rest of the set. This performance also shines a most positive light on the non-Lowell George material and reminds listeners that Barrere and Payne were also extremely compelling songwriters. The smoldering grooves of the next number, "All That You Dream" is a prime example, which precedes a brief monologue about what a great year it's been for the band. Their exuberance next fuels a killer rendition of "Rocket In My Pocket" that thoroughly quells any doubts about the new lineup. By the end of this number, the band has the audience just where they want them, completely entranced and open to anything the band has to offer. Sensing the time is right, Little Feat delves deeper into the new material, delivering a funkified "One Clear Moment" and the spicy New Orleans flavored "Cajun Girl."
It's at this point that everything kicks up a notch as Bonnie Raitt joins the band, first feeling her way in on "Hate To Lose Your Lovin." This new Barrere/Fuller collaboration is a superb addition to the band's song catalogue and this is one fantastic performance of it, featuring extraordinary piano work from Payne and Raiit channeling the spirit of Lowell George via her slide guitar. Payne and Raitt also dominate on "Oh Atlanta" which again features impressive solos from both. Barrere's bouncy "Down On The Farm" follows in fine form, culminating in a great call and response jam between Barrere, Payne, and Raitt. Throughout Raitt's time on stage, her background vocals also grace these performances, but it's her slide guitar work that helps raise them to such remarkable heights.
At this point, the group encourages Raitt to do a few numbers and what ensues is most interesting. Raitt, who in 1988 was just a year shy of her huge comeback album, Nick Of Time, journeys back, revisiting where she was during the final years of the original Little Feat. Performing two key songs from her 1977 Sweet Forgiveness album as well as a choice Koko Taylor number, its as if Raitt is propelling everyone back to a decade earlier and the results are remarkable. Both Tackett and Payne played significant roles on Raitt's Sweet Forgiveness album, so it's not surprising just how tight and focused these performances are. Raitt kicks off her showcase spot with the leadoff track from that album, About To Make Me Leave Home. This is a nice gritty blues, featuring a strong vocal from Raitt and plenty of slide guitar distinguished by her trademark sustain. Establishing the perfect balance between cocky and seductive, Raitt and the band next cook up a storm on Koko Taylor's "Man Sized Job," followed by the hot rockin' "Three Time Loser," again featuring soaring slide work from Raitt. The chemistry between Raiit and Little Feat was always undeniable and this three-song sequence proves it is still fully intact despite a ten-year break in performing together. Raitt remains onstage for "Rock And Roll Doctor," another superb performance, before the band gears up for the midnight festivities.
Leading up to this is another new album number, "Let It Roll." One of the highlights of that album, this is an astonishingly hot performance that leaves the studio recording paling by comparison. "Let It Roll" serves as a lead up to the midnight insanity, but with several minutes left to kill, the group utilizes this time to introduce all the musicians and joke around leading up to the countdown to 1989. Following "Auld Lang Syne," the band kick things back off with Barrere's extremely appropriate "Old Folks Boogie," a song featuring percolating grooves and humorous lyrics in equal measure. However, the absolute smoker of this entire performance is next, as the band sinks their teeth into nearly 19 minutes of solid jamming to close the set. This begins with "Dixie Chicken," one of the group's classic songs, but here it serves as a vehicle for serious exploration. The first of these offshoot jams occurs immediately after the first verse, with Bill Payne breaking into a phenomenal piano solo, which then morphs into a Mardis Gras feel. Fred Tackett adds trumpet to the mix, significantly contributing to the Dixieland-style improv. Following the second verse, the lead guitarists cut loose for another spontaneous jam that features enticing call and response work between the two. Following the third and final verse, the entire band goes into hyperdrive, culminating in a rip-roaring "Tripe Face Boogie" that threatens to burn the house down. A solo section, first showcasing the percussion stylings of Sam Clayton and Ritchie Hayward, followed by an impressive keyboard improvisation by Bill Payne, is featured before they finish pummeling the audience with the conclusion of "Tripe Face Boogie." Hayward's drumming has been outstanding all evening, but here he propels the band into the stratosphere. It's a killer conclusion to a remarkably great set and despite the late hour, the audience has no intention of letting the band go.
Three choice songs are featured during the encore. First up is a lovely semi-acoustic reading of "Willin'," before Bonnie Raiit rejoins the band. Another up-tempo romp ensues, this time in the form of "Feats Don't Fail Me Now," which has full audience participation. Finally, these musicians wind the night to a close with "Apolitical Blues," bringing the set full circle by returning back to the beginning of their repertoire. Despite the physical absence of Lowell George, his spirit deeply permeates this performance and being one of George's signature songs, "Apolitical Blues" serves as the perfect conclusion to one of the most memorable nights in Little Feat history.