Little Feat And Los Lobos At The Kentucky Center

By Martin Z. Kasdan, Jr.

The Kentucky Center brought Little Feat and Los Lobos to the Whitney Theatre for a wonderful night of topflight, intelligent rock. Both bands have been together for decades, both have new recordings out and neither was content to rest on its laurels. In a recent conversation with Feat drummer and founding member Richie Hayward, I made the mistake of referring to Little Feat as the opening act; he quickly pointed out that the two bands were co-headlining. In performance, it was clear that Hayward's comment was neither defensive nor a mark of wounded pride - it was the simple truth. Each band reached heights in its own particular way, with Little Feat frequently moving into jazz-like improvisational territory, while Los Lobos used tremendous dynamics during a set which moved through genres as diverse as Mexican polkas to hard-driving R&B.

A mixup with our tickets caused us to miss the beginning of Little Feat's set; we found our seats shortly before the band launched into a Lowell George-era classic, "Spanish Moon," which morphed into a very jazzy jam before transitioning into another Feat standard, "Skin It Back." Next up was a more recent song, the title track to the 1989 album, Representing the Mambo, during which guitarist Fred Tackett switched to trumpet for a solo. Jazz fans such as myself were hooked when the band then started playing Miles Davis' "So What." From this classic jazz line, Little Feat moved into some serious jamming, including a quote from the Grateful Dead's magnum opus "Dark Star," which ultimately turned into "Dixie Chicken," the title tune of the band's third album from back in 1973. After the first verse, Kenny Gradney took an eloquent bass solo, followed by a Richie Payne keyboard expedition, which in turn became the introduction to "Mercenary Territory." Another Grateful Dead song, "Tennessee Jed," followed, this time played through rather than just hinted at as per the "Dark Star" instrumental line earlier. Allowing as how this is not your neighborhood Dead cover band, "Tennessee Jed" turned the corner and became part two of "Dixie Chicken." This was followed by Shaun Murphy's only spotlight piece of this 90-minute set, a deep, slow, bluesy rendition of Bob Dylan's song "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry." It seemed as though she channeled the spirit of Janis Joplin in her intense reading of this song. Paul Barrére's slide guitar solo was a lesson in taste and power, to be emulated by those whose idea of good playing is simply to cram as many notes into a bar as possible. Another Little Feat classic from the Dixie Chicken album, "Fat Man in the Bathtub," became the opening segment of another lengthy exploration of songs and styles, as it turned into "Gringo," whose instrumental portion quoted yet another Grateful Dead song, "Fire on the Mountain," subsequently turning into the Bob Marley anthem, "Get Up, Stand Up," before returning to "Fat Man."

Los Lobos did not veer into improvisational territory and kept focused on the energy underlying the various styles of music they have amalgamated and assimilated into their own sound. While the self-styled "just another band from L.A." began with sounds from el barrio, their decades of recording and touring have seen Los Lobos evolve into a hard-hitting rootsy band not afraid to move from genre to genre while maintaining a cohesive identity. They performed several songs from their latest release, The Ride, including "Charmed" and "Rita." Smart pacing enhanced Los Lobos' segment of the evening's festivities, as they, like Little Feat, interspersed their newer material with many of their classic tunes, including a burning rendition of "Don't Worry Baby." They pulled out a traditional Colombian form, the cumbia, asking the crowd "Do they let you dance in here?" For some of us, at least, the answer was "yes." The cumbia was followed by the title track of their 2002 album, Good Morning Aztlán after which they sang "Hurry Up Tomorrow." The dancers who had sat back down were pulled back up by the hard-charging medley of "I Got Loaded" and the Bobby "Blue" Bland evergreen "Turn on Your Lovelight." They dedicated the following song, "Vamos a Bailar" (roughly, "Let's Dance") to Little Feat, before returning to another recent tune, "This Time," from the 1999 album of the same name. Los Lobos then paid tribute to Bob Marley with his love song, "Waiting in Vain" before moving from Jamaica to Mexico with a Latino polka which the band dedicated to Kaelin's, our redoubtable home of the cheeseburger. The polka went over so well that they did a second one, before closing their set with a song with Spanish lyrics. For an encore, they revived the Neil Young and Crazy Horse song "Cinnamon Girl."

If there was any disappointment in the evening, it was that the bands did not come together for an encore. Nevertheless, this was a wonderful night of music from two bands which, both individually and collectively, show that maturity and youthful exuberance are not mutually exclusive.