Little Feat – Live in Holland (2014)

We’ve heard Little Feat live, of course. Grooved along on 1978’s Waiting for Columbus, and let it all hang down with the Rockpalast Live set recorded during the same 1977 jaunt. But neither captured the long-gone Lowell George at the peak of his powers like this wild and wooly show.

Recorded a year earlier, before it seemed that George was playing with one eye toward the door, Live in Holland more fully illustrates the earthy, and yet sometimes utterly unhinged, genius that was George. It’s a powerful reminder of the original complexity of Little Feat, which grew out of a partnership between former Frank Zappa bandmates George and bassist Ray Estrada. By the time Little Feat scored a breakout hit with the title track from 1973’s Dixie Chicken, however, the group had already begun evolving — with the arrival of bassist Kenny Gradney and congas player Sam Clayton — into the more groove-oriented, gumbo-rock amalgam that keyboardist Bill Payne continues to lead today.

George, slowly but surely, was becoming a part of a larger democracy in Little Feat, as heard on Waiting for Columbus. It became their best-selling album ever, but also his tombstone. George was, it’s clear now, bitterly unhappy with the direction of the group, as Little Feat edged into the jazz-rock that Payne and guitarist Paul Barrere seemed to favor.

A year later, George had already made his first tentative steps into a solo career before being felled by a heart attack. His absence as a centerpoint creative force on Columbus, as well as on contemporary studio efforts like 1977’s Time Takes a Hero, is made all the more clear with in the gutteral, wide-eyed joys of Live in Holland.

We hear something primordial coming from George here, something umkempt and wild — something that even the odd technical glitch (likely the reason Live in Holland, due in a CD/DVD edition on April 22, 2014 via Eagle Rock, is just now seeing release) can’t distract us from now.

“Rock and Roll Doctor,” from 1974’s more band-focused Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, is a rollocking, almost out-of-control joy ride, powered along by George’s bravado (both as a singer and as a scorching slide guitarist) and by the late Richie Hayward’s foundation-cracking cadence. The one-two-three punch of “Dixie Chicken,” “Tripe Face Boogie” and “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now” serves as a last will and testament to everything that made George such a crazy-ass delight — wily vocals, gritty playing, winking lyrics, all presented with a ferocious tenacity.

There’s more to Live at Holland, of course, than that. Since Feats, Barrere and Payne in particular had become more consistent contributors — and that’s heard to great effect here on tracks like the opening “Skin it Back,” as well as “One Love Stand,” “All That You Dream” and others. But the intervening years have afforded both men their time in the spotlight. (Certainly, without their efforts since the group’s post-George late-1980s reunion, there would be no Little Feat at all.) Live in Holland, on the other hand, gives us one last chance to celebrate a version of this great group that, with George’s untimely death, seemed to be lost forever.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso