Little Feat with Sonny Landreth

By Les Reynolds

After Little Feat' s concert at the Palace Theatre on May 30 (part of the Fifth Third Series), the jury could still be out concerning the California band's popularity nationwide; but there are still plenty of fans in Louisville! A bunch of them turned out that evening to see just what kind of music Little Feat had to offer and for the most part were not disappointed.

Sporting a new lead singer (a female – Shaun Murphy —and the second change since the death of Lowell George over a decade ago), Little Feat thrilled the vocal crowd with high energy boogie, funk and southern rock. Formed in 1970, re-formed in 1987, this group has had plenty of time to collect itself and revamp its style and presentation. Little Feat has done it quite well. Full of life at the Palace, Murphy and lead guitarist/vocalist Paul Barrere belted out new songs and some of their better-known ones. Unfortunately, the lyrics and (probably) some good slide guitar licks from Barrere were shrouded in a very muddy sound quality.

Murphy has amassed an impressive amount of experience singing with Bob Seeger's Silver Bullet Band for seven or eight years, Bruce Hornsby and even Eric Clapton. Her strong, lusty voice was something like across between Rebe McEntire and Bonnie Raitt, without, sadly, the stage presence of either.

Little Feat opened with "Let It Roll," the tune that marked the band's resurrection in 1988 and the quintet kept the tempo up all night, right through two encores.

Some interesting notes:

• Little Feat borrowed from Sonny Landreth twice — first, his percussionist for their entire set and later the great guitarist himself, who has performed as a sideman for the California band in the past. Since it was their show by then, Landreth just stayed in the background.

• Keyboardist Bill Payne added a real spark of personality definition to the group's sound, especially on an elongated version of their popular "Dixie Chicken."

• Little Feat's bass player proved an unusually mobile and expressive performer — unlike the traditional statuesque, stone-faced types.

• The band did a tribute to their former leader, Lowell George ("Sailin' Shoes"), on which rhythm guitarist Fred Tackett played a mandolin.

Rhythm, energy and (some) familiarity characterized Little Feat's performance, based around a tour promoting their newest release, Ain't Had Enough Fun.

• In the case of opening performer Sonny Landreth, seeing might not be believing as he simply dazzled the crowd with his amazing slide guitar playing. Again, unfortunately, much of his fretwork and vocals were mired in a fuzzy sound mix, so his loyal fans at times had to be content with the visual – but it was nearly worth it, anyway.

Landreth, recording for Zoo/Praxis, has two albums on that label: '92's Outward Bound and this year 's South of I-10. He's been a sideman for the likes of legendary British bluesman John Mayall, John Hiatt, Kenny Loggins, et al. The youthful-looking, 44-year-old Mississippi native has settled near New Iberia, Louisiana (south of Interstate 10) and brought his wealth of experience and the Cajun culture to the stage this evening through his incredible talent.

Opening with the (newest) title cut, he displayed both energy and grace as his band ripped through his short (45 minutes?) set with scarcely time to breathe between songs. His small band (percussionist, drummer and bassist) was tight and complemented him well. However, it was Landreth's show. He played with an unusually open-handed slide style on the neck of the guitar, a featherlight touch here, a heavy touch there; but it was his playing hand that had the magician's touch. He'd sometimes "spank" the strings and sometimes play them "rub-board" style, fingertips down. Landreth seemed to actually be playing both rhythm and lead guitar with the same hand, at the same time, alternating sets of fingers!

Those unfamiliar with this craftsman will find no meaning in the names of the tunes, except to note what he played: His (newest) title track (a solid, autobiographical tune), a few (titles unintelligible) instrumentals that had the crowd nearly too stunned to realize what was going on, "Shootin' for the Moon" (a driving rocker), "Turning Wheel" and "Creole Angel" (two real let-loose Cajun rock tunes), "Congo Square" (a spooky, funky tune featuring the rhythm section) among others, convinced the growing audience this was a guitarist par excellence.

Sonny Landreth combined the silky smoothness of Duane Allman, the breakneck speed of Clapton, the inventiveness of Mark Knopfler and the rootsy, soulful sound of Ry Cooder into his own eye-popping, you-won't believe your-ears style and sound. Quite a package coming from just one man — but, Sonny Landreth isn't, just one guitarist. Or is he?