Little Feat – Highwire Act – Live In St. Louis 2003 (2003)

FrontCover1.jpgHighwire Act: Live in St. Louis 2003 is the fifth live album by the American rock band Little Feat, released in 2004. (see 2004 in music). There was also a video of the same performance released on DVD.

Essentially, this double-disc set is the soundtrack to the DVD of the same name. Sonically, it is sublime; the subtleties of a live performance are all left in. The interplay between guitarists Fred Tackett and Paul Barrére is exceptional, as are the drop-dead-on-a-dime fills of keyboardist Bill Payne. The track selection leans a little more to the classic side of Little Feat’s vast catalog, with many tracks from the 1970s in the set, including “Time Loves a Hero,” “Skin It Back,” “Old Folks Boogie,” “Oh Atlanta,” “Spanish Moon,” “Dixie Chicken,” “Tripe Face Boogie,” “Fat Man in the Bathtub,” “Willin’,” and “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now.” The latter material is served well, too, particularly “I’d Be Lyin’,” by new lead vocalist (though she has been with the band for a decade) Shaun Murphy, and Bill Payne’s “Cadillac Hotel.” And while it’s fair to say that this is the band’s best live outing since Waiting for Columbus, it in no way gets to the emotional and performance heights that classic slab did, even if the band does play “better” now. This set will not likely win the band any new fans, but if you’re one of those who stuck it out after the passing of Lowell George, this collection might just be the thing you’re looking for. (by Thom Jurek)

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Little Feat and the Allman Brothers Band have much in common. Both bands incurred losses of integral personnel (Lowell George in the case of Little Feat and Duane Allman in the case of the Allman Brothers Band). Both bands realized a fallow, sub-productive period following these losses. And both bands emerged from the 20th Century with a second wind that can be boasted by few other rock groups founded in the late 1960s. Corporately, both bands took creative control of their band books and subsequently released new studio recordings showing plainly that these bands were not finished doing their thing, but were just getting started on their second wind.

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The Allman Brothers Band have recently released One Way Out , a concert token recorded during the band’s 2003 stand at New York City’s Beacon Theater. The band reprised much of their old material but also showed they were prepared to create new concert standards for themselves. Now Little Feat has done (continued to do) the same thing with their new live recording, Highwire Act Live in St. Louis 2003. This concert, recorded in St. Louis Missouri in mid-2003 and released as a DVD, was so popular that it has now been released as a two-CD set.

One might ask, “Do we really need one more live Little Feat Recording.” When the playing is as impassioned as this (and just like mirror situation with the Allman Brothers Band), there can conceivable never be too many live recordings by Little Feat. Both bands have clearly benefited by the addition of new band members and then the stabilization of their respective lineups. In the case of Little Feat, it was the final addition of songstress Shaun Murphy and long time Feat associate (and fellow Arkansan) Fred Tackett to the fold that has brought the band to its current high level of creativity.

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On Highwire Act Live in St. Louis 2003 the band retains several song combinations they have used on past live recordings. “Spanish Moon” and “Skin It Back” are coupled, as they should be, as well as “Dixie Chicken “and” Tripe Face Boogie” and “Time Loves a Hero” with “Day or Night.” The concert characteristic that makes Little Feat a darling of the Jam Band bunch is the propensity Feat has for rearranging their songs from one performance to the next. This is most beautifully illustrated when considering this present “Dixie Chicken” with that previously released on the band’s last disc, Down Upon the Suwannee River . On the latter recording, Paul Barrere introduces “Chicken” with a potently humid “Lafayette Railroad,” which was originally released on the LP Dixie Chicken. This present “Chicken” begins with a shuffle vamp that includes an eerily Miles Davis open bell from Fred Tackett. In both cases it is Bill Payne who is the real star, weaving 300 years of piano science into each performance.

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The “new” (read, post-Lowell George) Little Feat classics included are “Cadillac Hotel” form 1995’s Ain’t Had Enough Fun and “Cajun Girl” and “Let it Roll” from 1988’s Let it Roll. “Let it Roll” has become a veritable concert favorite with its whiplash hooks and Barrere extends the interior of the piece with some white-hot riffing. Little Feat’s most recent recording, Kickin’ It At the Barn , provides its two best songs, Barrere’s “Night on the Town,” featuring some inspired acoustic slide by the guitarist, and Shaun Murphy’s swampy “I’d Be Lyin’.”

One of the biggest differences between the Lowell George brand of live Little Feat and the present band?s live performance is in the production. Lowell George favored a lean finesse sound while Barrere and Payne have opted for a wall-of-sound mixing that takes advantage of the sheer power as a live band Little Feat is able to express. This power is evident on Live From Neon Park , but was not in as full of bloom as outtakes found on Ripe Tomatos, Volume 1 and Raw Tomatos, Volume 1. I readily cite “Rock & Roll Doctor” from on Raw Tomatos, Volume 1. The music is characterized by sheer momentum, urgent and unstoppable. (C. Micheal Bailey)

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Personnel:
Paul Barrere (guitar, vocals)
Sam Clayton (percussion, vocals)
Kenny Gradney (bass)
Richie Hayward (drums, vocals)
Shaun Murphy (percussion, vocals)
Bill Payne (keyboards, vocals)
Fred Tackett (trumpet, vocals)

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Tracklist:

CD 1:
01. Introduction / Time Loves A Hero (Barrère/Gradney/Payne) 5.59
02. Day Or Night (Payne/Tate) 9.48
03. Cadillac Hotel (Payne/Wray) 6.47
04. Spanish Moon (George) 8.26
05. Skin It Back (Barrère) 6.41
06. Cajun Girl (Kibbee/Payne) 6.42
07. Night On The Town (Barrère/Tackett) 5.59
08. I’d Be Lyin’ (Creamer/Mariani/Murphy) 5.35
09. The Blues Don’t Tell It All (Murphy/Payne) 6.20

CD 2:
01. Old Folks Boogie (Barrère) 7.19
02. Oh Atlanta (Payne) 4.53
03. Dixie Chicken (George/Kibbee) 17.45
04. Tripe Face Boogie (Hayward/Payne) 7.18
05. Fat Man In The Bathtub (George) 11.45
06. Let It Roll (Barrère/Kibbee/Payne) 9.30
07. Willin’ (George) 8.07
08. Feats Don’t Fail Me Now (Barrère/George/Kibbee) 5.26

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